Race, Violence, and the Airport Immigration Agent

Image Source: dcgreer
“Where are you coming from?”

I answered, “Guatemala.”

“How long were you there?” The immigration agent flipped through my passport, searching for my recent stamp.

“Six days." 

“Reason for your visit?” 

“Visiting family.” 

“You got family in Guatemala?”

“Yes. My in-laws.”

He eyed my husband standing next to me. “You’re Guatemalan?”

“Yes, sir,” Billy replied, holding forward his Guatemalan passport.

The agent did not take it. He looked back at me and quietly scoffed before asking, “And where’d you get... this?”

Assuming… he meant Billy?… I nervously answered, “Um.. we met at church?” 

He didn’t respond, stamped my passport, and uttered the obligatory, “Welcome home.” Then, he turned to Billy and quietly scanned his documents before stamping and passing them back.

I’m not sure I can describe how violated and angry I felt after that experience. Billy had made a habit of prepping me each and every time we were about to encounter immigration agents. Still, I usually brushed aside his warnings because I am used to being given the benefit of the doubt. I am used to engaging people as equals. I am not used to feeling powerless, disrespected, and humiliated. 

There have been countless other times in our marriage that the most baffling or outrageous things will happen to Billy. We analyze and rant before timidly asking, “Is this because I’m/you’re Latino?”

True. Billy’s white skin may dismiss some outright racist encounters, but his accent often gives him away. For those who are ignorant, frustrated, confused, or downright hateful about race, Billy can still be a target.

When I think about race and violence, this somewhat minor incident with an immigration agent comes to mind. Because these types of all-too-common experiences start to wear on a person. Honestly, when I hear about racial tension or flashes of violence, I understand it. 

The violence doesn’t begin with a fist or a gun or whatever. It begins with a thousand tiny comments, glances, and giggles - microaggressions - that erode the brotherhood. 

Soon after Ferguson, the poll taking began. It wasn’t long before stats were floating through Facebook that white people thought we should talk less about race. I sighed.

I realize how much it is a privilege to “not talk about race.” Race, ethnicity, and the meanings they hold in our society affect our family on a regular, dare I say, daily basis. 

It is important that conversations happen. I know we don’t all love these talks because they might make us uncomfortable, ashamed, heartbroken, or confused. Okay. We must still have them.

My hope is that one day racial tension and violence do not exist. I know that won’t happen by ignoring real experiences or silencing people’s voices. I’d rather stay in the conversation because I do believe in God’s redemptive power.

I'm linking up with the September 2014 Synchroblog: Race, Violence, and Why We Need To Talk About It. Check out other participating links:

Jeremy Myers -  It’s the White Man’s Fault! It’s the Black Man’s Fault!
Wendy McCaig -  Race, Violence, and a Silent White America 
Glenn Hager -  Can We Even Talk About Racial Issues?
Carol Kunihom -  Who is Allowed to Vote? 
Wesley Rotoll -  Race, Violence, and Why We Need to Talk About It 
Kathy Escobar - We Have a Dream


  1. Juliet Birkbeck2:04 PM

    Those million tiny slights, day after day, year on year, they are so poisonous and have such potential to destroy, to humiliate, to weaken. Thank you for sharing this insight.


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