Sometime on Tuesday, America's Population Tote Board will roll over to a magical number. 300 million people will call the United States home. Demographically, it's the birth of a new era in American history.
But whoever becomes the face of that population milestone will never know what it's like to be Bobby Woo. You'll meet him on tonight's CBS Evening News – and he was truly a born celebrity. On November 20th, 1967, at six-pound, thirteen-ounces, the newborn Woo was spanked into life at an Atlanta hospital. His mother, a naturalized citizen born in China, had given birth to the 200 millionth American. Who said so? "Life" magazine. As the country got closer to its milestone, a "Life" team of photographers and reporters staked out hospitals across America. Woo's birth, at 11:03 that morning, came closest to matching the country's census clock. At least, that's what the magazine reported. The U.S. Census bureau never designated anyone as the population milestone.
"Life" heralded Woo as the new "Average American." The magazine published a big photo spread when he was born, and a follow-up story when he turned five. Newspaper reporters dropped in from time to time to check in on his childhood. Woo remembers not liking the attention much, mostly because he was a shy kid. But he also maintains his celebrity was undeserved, because the process was so unscientific.
"I absolutely know there is no chance that I am actually the real two-millionth American," he says. "The Average American doesn't really exist. But what you ended up with in the process was the Random American."
And now, thirty-nine years after Woo's birth, someone is about to become the new face of America. Number Three Hundred Million has a true cachet, and whoever it is, ought to have endorsement deals lined up from here to the highway. There's just one problem. Whoever it is will never know it.
Every 11 seconds these days, we add an American. (You can go to the U.S. Census Bureau's home page for an update.) Most often, the arrival comes as a newborn. Sometimes an immigrant takes the oath of citizenship. And yes, the ever-growing number of illegal Americans is also counted. There are all sorts of guesswork about who it will be – an Hispanic baby boy born in Los Angeles, for instance. But no one knows for sure.
Whoever it is will be lucky to have a life like Bobby Woo. His success has been anything but "average." He went to Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He's now a partner at a prestigious law firm in Atlanta, where he lives in a suburb with his wife and three young daughters. Woo credits the influence of his parents, and an older sister, but also says his designation as the face of America was also a motivator. "Once you are told that, you don't want to let down that distinction. It definitely had a positive influence on me."
America's seen sweeping changes in Woo's lifetime. Like most of us, he'll see plenty more by the time American's 400 millionth American is born – sometime around 2043.