Sunday, September 11, 2011

Airport Security

Welcome everybody to our 9/11 edition of Ghetto Hippie.  Today I've posted an article that I wrote for a Swedish Magazine called MANA. (That's right, people in Sweden ask me to write for their magazines.)  The article they asked me to write is about discrimination against Latino's in the post 9/11 U.S. from a personal perspective. If you want to check out the magazine go here.  Hope you can read Swedish, if not, Google will gladly translate.  You won't find my article on the website, it's only available in hard copy.  So if you want a hard copy of my article in Swedish, order the magazine.  If you are content reading it on the web in English, you can read right here on Ghetto Hippie.  As a bonus, you get the full article I wrote, it was cut substantially by the editors of the magazine. So without further adieu:

I develop a pit in my stomach along with a corresponding bead of sweat every time I go through airport security in the United States.  By all accounts I am a law abiding citizen.  In spite of having nothing to hide, I feel angry and fearful as I walk through the roped aisles on my way through security. 
There is something quite disturbing about being told by armed individuals to take anything off even something as simple as sneakers.  Insisting that my flip flops are a potential weapon is absurd and insulting.  We are told that it is a necessary security measure in lieu of the famous “shoe bomb” attempt in 2001.  Instead, I always wondered if the idea came from some sadistic person charged with defining airport security protocols saying: “Let’s just make everyone take off their shoes because we can”.  I’ve taken many flights since 9/11 and with one exception; I’ve had no problems traversing the brief journey through security.
The exception came in 2007, when I was returning from a brief vacation in Mexico.  As a U.S. born Puerto Rican, travelling to Mexico feels somewhat familiar.  I’ve made many journeys to Puerto Rico and it’s clear that former Spanish Colonies share a certain kinship.  Beautiful Spanish architecture is a commonality shared by Latino Nations.  A token of genocide and colonization bequeathed to us from the Conquistadores. 
                Unlike Puerto Rico, Mexico has preserved much of its pre-colonial architecture like the pyramids of Teotihuacán.  At first I felt sheepish as I and hundreds of tourists transcended the steps of the ancient structures.  Tourism is typically a voyeuristic endeavor but Teotihuacán was built for the purpose of hosting hundreds of people.  The scene felt appropriate, seemingly honoring the intents of its design. Here I stood with citizens from around the world and yet there were no metal detectors or body scans. 
                I returned to the United States the day after I visited Teotihuacán.  As I meandered through the security at the Mexico City International Airport I was on such a high that I didn’t have a pit in my stomach.  I placed my carry-on bag on the conveyor belt and started to slip off my shoes when I noticed I was the only one removing shoes.  I didn’t understand what was happening until it dawned on me that people can keep their shoes on in Mexico.  I realized how foolish the exercise really is.  We’ve been asked to remove our shoes to protect us from a theoretical shoe bomb in spite of the fact that anyone could bring such a device in from Mexico or any other country for that matter.  As I sat on the plane I became convinced that the exercise was really just about power and control.
                Arab people have paid the largest price for America’s post 9/11 security culture.  Discrimination against Arabs has practically been encouraged.  We are made uncomfortable, told that we are in danger, and asked to assist in reporting “suspicious activity” or people.  The dominant culture has defined Arab people as the embodiment of “suspicious” much like Japanese people during World War II.
In addition to the acute discrimination against Arab people, Latinos have been victims of racism in the post 9/11 era.  Since 9/11 there has been intensified border security focused almost exclusively on keeping Mexican people out of this country.  Armed vigilantes were roaming the border of Mexico in states like Arizona and Texas around the time I was returning home from my travels.
I imagined what it would be like passing through customs as a Mexican American.  I supposed many law abiding citizens would walk through with a pit in their stomachs.  Wondering if this is the time they might come under scrutiny, presumed to be an invader coming to steal a slice of the American Dream.  These thoughts were lingering somewhere in my mind as I grabbed my bag from the conveyor belt at baggage claim. 
As I headed to the first checkpoint, a federal officer approached me and asked if I could come with him.  He was a Latino male, most likely having Mexican heritage.  He said that he would like to search my bags and that this was a routine check.  I turned around and watched everyone else walk in a different direction.  The officer could see the frustration on my face.  He asked me why I looked so nervous, convinced that I was hiding something.  He pushes me up against a divider and tells me not to move.  I tell him to get his hands off me.  He and his partner begin feverishly going through my things ripping through gift bags and reading my journals.  Meanwhile I’m racking my brain wondering if I penned something that could be misconstrued as a legitimate reason to detain me. 
I made clear to them that I thought the search was unwarranted.  His partner, a white woman several years older than me looks up from my journal and says to me: “You’re deep”.  She had realized this search was in vain.  It was probably the Spiderman puppets I bought for my kids that gave it away.  Her partner looks at me; my bag completely empty with all of my stuff strewn across a table and says: “this bag feels heavy; I’m going to X-Ray it.”  When the X-Ray search yielded nothing, he told me that I was free to go and left me to pickup my belongings and put them back in the bag.
I will never know if I was stopped that day because of mere chance or if racism played a role, and that’s the problem.  The power brokers in our country have demanded that we give up some of our liberties in exchange for security.  I do not see this culture of fear and scrutiny as a path to freedom.  It should be seen as the obstacle that it really is.  I don’t believe we can heal from the history of racism, in an environment of fear.  

1 comment:

  1. Any small alarm means the strictest and most stringent of rules is sure to follow. Not all these rules are warranted. I don't ever remember rules being eliminated as a result of reviewing their efficiency, besides the bomb drills in schools during the 70s. I suppose those were eliminated when someone woke up and realized that if a school is being bombed (which it has never been by people from other countries- only upset Americans have threatened schools), hiding under a desk won't do much to save students.

    The further along we go the more rules and regulations there will be. America as a country has thrived on fear since its inception. Slavery, fear of the English, enrolling the Natives to have fear of the pilgrims, fear of the unknown, fear of communism, XENOPHOBIA.

    So it is only natural that there be something to fear- and now the rich-white-landowning-controllingeverything-MAN has chosen Arabs (or people that resemble those characteristics). It's funny how the flavor of the year has never been a fear of war. Now that would be something to fear!

    Fear adds to the absence of peace but peace is not exclusively the absence of fear.

    Who will they fear next? When will the fear end?

    There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they grow up in peace.

    -- Kofi Annan