The Real America? Soviets to Find It in San Marcos

Times Staff Writer

The goal is to let Soviet citizens see the real America--not just the bright lights, fancy museums and awesome monuments of the big cities, but also mom and pop going to work, coming home to the kids, and maybe a night of bowling and beer.

So where else to see the unvarnished side of life in these United States but in San Marcos?

With that in mind, four Soviets will arrive in San Marcos on Jan. 28 for a six-day visit as part of the “Soviets, Meet Middle America” program sponsored by the San Francisco-based Center for U.S.-U.S.S.R. Initiatives.

The four--a deputy chairman of the Latvian Republican Peace Committee, a teacher from the Moscow Institute of Steel, a deputy minister of education from Tbilisi, and a researcher from the U.S.-Canada Studies Institute--will be fresh from four days in Duncan, Okla., a farming community 100 miles from Oklahoma City.


After San Marcos, it’s four days in Pittsburgh and a quickie stop in Washington.

“Seeing monuments and attending official receptions is fine, but the only way for real communication between Americans and Soviets is one-on-one, in the homes and workplaces of ordinary people,” said center official Kay Anderson.

“We’re looking to show the Soviets the real heartland of America. If we’re going to dispel stereotypes and fear, it’s got to be person to person, not just government to government.”

Other U.S. cities hosting small groups: Metairie, La.; Goodyear, Ariz.; Durham, N.H.; Monroe, Wis.; Mercersburg, Pa.; Pompano Beach, Fla., and Aptos, Marysville, Moraga and Redwood City, Calif.

The flip side of the year-old program will send Americans, as yet unselected, to small Soviet towns.

San Marcos was selected after an application was submitted by San Marcos residents Don Chapman, an airline pilot, and his wife, Julie, an elementary school teacher. They had traveled to the Soviet Union in 1987.

Chapman sees the visit as a chance to “bring together ordinary citizens to discuss face-to-face the important issues of our time.” Three of the four Soviets speak English; local interpreters are being sought for the fourth.

Two of the Soviet visitors will stay with the Chapmans, and two with Tanis and Alan Brown.

The Browns--he’s a middle-school teacher--have never been to the Soviet Union but they’re friends of the Chapmans and have hosted other foreign visitors, including a Japanese student. Tanis Brown says she’s open for suggestions on what to show the visitors. Her tentative list of quintessentially American experiences: a shopping mall, a school, San Marcos City Hall, Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, a Rotary or Soroptomists meeting, Car Country Carlsbad, and as many private homes as time allows.

“I’m planning a 40th birthday party for my husband with a Mexican fiesta theme, and I want the Soviets to be part of it,” Brown said. “We’ll have tacos and burritos and a pinata. I think they’ll like it.”