I'm working on my impressions of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, because dear Felicia asked and because it was an experience I'll never forget.
But I also want to record what happened to me leaving and entering the United States of America, the country in which I, and my parents, and their parents, and a few of my great-grandparents, were born. I would like to add that members of my family fought for this country in World War I, World War II, and Vietnam. My father had a distinguished, lifelong career in the Air Force.
I also happen to be part Arab and look very Arab, as physically I take after the Lebanese half of my family.
Leaving O'Hare, we were boarding the United flight to Amsterdam as usual, until I got to the gate agent. I held out my boarding pass, but he didn't take it.
"Are you an American citizen?" he said.
"Yes," I said.
"Where were you born?" he asked.
"Pennsylvania," I said, wondering where this was going.
He demanded to see my passport. He didn't ask this of anyone else (and I was among the last to board the plane). I had already cleared the passport check at the check-in counter and O'Hare security, but I was still asked for identification before boarding the plane.
Flash forward to the return trip.
We left from Brussels and landed at Dulles. I went through passport control, got my checked bag, and headed for customs and security.
This was the interchange between the customs official at Dulles (the one who takes the little declaration cards, and either sends you on to your next flight, or sends you to have your bags inspected) and the six or so people in front of me in line:
"Carrying any food? Welcome home. Straight ahead, please."
This was what I got:
Him: "Carrying any food?"
Me: "Belgian chocolate."
Him: "Where were you traveling?"
Me: "Holland and Belgium."
Me: "Excuse me?"
Him: "What were you doing in Holland and Belgium?"
Me: "Leading a university tour."
Him: "An American university?"
Me: "Yes, Northwestern. In Chicago."
Him: "What is your occupation?"
Me: "I'm a designer."
Him: "A what?"
Me: "A designer. A web designer."
Him: "Are these your bags?"
Him: "All of them?"
Me: "Yes, all of them."
Him: "You're an American citizen?"
Him: "How long has your family been in this country?"
Me: "About 150 years."
Him: "Yeah, right. Keep moving."
Some welcome home. Mind you, there's no racial profiling going on in this country. Nope.
It makes one wonder whether Arab-Americans might at some point be heading for the kind of treatment the Asian-Americans received during Word War II. Certainly the growing attitude seems to be the same: It doesn't matter if you were born here. It doesn't matter how long you've lived here. It doesn't matter what you may have done for your country. You're still not really an American.