Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Welcome Home

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."
Him: "Why?"
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?"
Me: "Yes."
Him: "All of them?"
Me: "Yes, all of them."
Him: "You're an American citizen?"
Me: "Yes."
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.


Anonymous said...

Wow. I wish I could say I'm surprised, but I'm not. Even so, I'm so sorry to hear that you were treated in such a degrading manner.

Anonymous said...

Franklin, your story reminds me of the surprising thing I hated about Switzerland.
On line at Immigration, my very white husband, very white northern European-looking me, our two very white kids, are waived through with out questions or stamps, merely HOLDING UP four US passports.
The lovely Arab woman in front of us is pulled to the "special" room, no questions, no waving of passport, nothing.

spyderkl said...

It's not a big surprise to me either.

My 72-year-old dad, who is a Russian Jew but looks Middle Eastern, is subjected to various humiliations every time my parents fly. The last one was the most memorable...apparently he had to strip naked for a couple of TSA workers. Needless to say, none of us are flying any time soon. I'm really sorry you had to be subjected to that too.

birdfarm said...

I'm so sorry to hear about this, Franklin. Infuriating, though, as some of the others noted, not surprising. Are we letting our not-surprise lull us into inaction? Thousands of people have been deported already. What have I done about it? Ummm... ranted to some high school classes. Why are we letting this continue???

Rabbitch said...

How horrible for you. I'm so sorry to hear that. I'm an immigrant, I've been in Canada for 37 years, but still an immigrant and don't identify myself as Canadian. My maiden name is Northern Irish, but nobody stops me and asks me much of anything at all, like if I feel like blowing anything up and such, because I'm a nice, white, middle-aged lady in a minivan with a little kid's carseat in it.

My husband, who is visibly Native American gets questioned far more extensively, and his family has been in the US for nine billion years or something.

It's all just ass.

Yarn Cat said...

Just discover your blog recently because of your book so here I give out a belated comment on this entry.
Rest assured, it is not just in US. It happens everywhere!
I was born in Hong Kong, have British nationality, engaged to a Canadian (white if people wonder). We are living in Europe and EVERYWHERE we travel, there are occasionally questions like:

1. Q: Er, Miss, what are you going in this country?
A: Er, I LIVE I work, live and pay taxes here, see?

2. Q: Oh, your English is perfect! Where did you learn that?
A: Er, I speak it all my life because your guys (the English) ran the place (Hong Kong) before, no?

3. Q: Oh, how lovely you are with a Canadian, so you don't need a work permit to work in Europe?
A: Er, no, I am British, how does that relevant to the Canadian?

4. Q: Are you in restauration? (I am NOT making this one up, I swear!)
A: No, I work in a bank. Why?

5. Q: You are vegetarian, is it because of Buddhism or something?
A: Er, I am not Buddhist. And fyi, I don't have any friends who are, most of them are Protestants. (ref.Q2)

I can make a list of a few hundreds more. I can probably write a book about questions like that.

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