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
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
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.
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
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.