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What constitutes being an American?  It’s been ten months since I have stepped foot in America, and almost five years since I have lived here.  As I filled out the customs form, I was confused. Do I write resident or visitor? After numerous crossed out lines, I decided on visitor.  And this is how I feel.

I entered the line at Newark airport for passport security, a staff member of Latino descent asked me “passport or green card?”  “Passport” I said, finding it odd that I am supposedly in my “homeland”, but feel excluded.  It’s as if I don’t belong, after receiving my passport printout, I turn it into another staff member of Asian descent.  He says I must return to a separate line due to the fact my scanned form had a big X over it.

“Why did I pop up as an X?”  I inquired to the another worker of Latino descent in the new line I joined.  “Was it because I live overseas, or because I visited numerous countries since my last time here?  Is it because my passport is due to expire in 6.5 months?”  He responded with “No, it’s because you ate chicken mcnuggets at McDonalds and forgot to pay for them.  You got too much ketchup.” I added, “and sweet and sour sauce.”  Relief.  I’ve heard horror stories of intensive questioning at passport security, and to minimize it all with comedy was a major relief.  But I began to wonder, why did I pop up as a warning or seem as if someone who has a green card?

Initially I thought, maybe it’s the style of clothes I am wearing.  I look so European, that I must be a green card carrier.  Maybe it’s flattery for my image having an X over it, because I seem as if I could be this beautiful spy in a Jason Bourne film.  But in reality, it’s most probably because I have brown skin.  (Although living in England for five years, this is the whitest I have ever been). It’s interesting because all of the staff members I encountered were of other ethnic minority origins as well.  I try to not let it get to me, and find relief that the passport worker made the experience a light hearted comedy for a moment.

Welcome back to America, but is this home anymore? I wanted someone, a staff member or anyone at the airport to greet me with “welcome back,” I heard it uttered to another stranger.  Why not me?  But I may be a foreigner.

I take the train from Newark to Trenton to be picked up by mother and step-father.  As the train is nearing completion, a fellow passenger of Latino descent mutters something to me which I couldn’t understand.  He repeats it, I still cannot make out what he said.  He then said, “habla espanol?” “Mas o menos” I reply.  He was inquiring of the book I was reading, approved of it, and went on his way.

Perhaps I should not be offended that nobody thinks I am “American.”  This is how I had perceived the situation, I expected when I set foot on land that people would know I am from the Midwest, this is where “I’m from.”  But all of these people I interacted with who made these assumptions were ethnic minorities themselves.  Maybe they were relating to me as if I was a family member. My mom and all of my maternal lineage is from another country, green cards I guess aren’t so far off.  Their quick judgements made could have came from a place of solidarity.  They could possibly also receive these comments when they return from foreign lands.

I began writing this particular blog post with the undertone of not belonging anywhere, in the UK or in America, and other various complexities.  But beneath all of this, there’s this realization that these assumptions did not come from a place of hate or exclusion.  It could come from a place of empathy, relatability, and connection.  In their minds, I could have been a family member.  Nobody was rude, they may have been trying to connect.

Given the complexities and tension in America at the current moment, there are so many ways I can choose to view these situations.  It could be a situation of hate, exclusion, judgement, discrimination, or numerous other factors.  But I choose to view it from the lens of love and compassion.

Why would I want to view it as anything else?

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