My partner and I went back to the states earlier this summer. Whenever I fly back to New York, I’m always more giddy than exhausted. I can’t wait to see my friends again, revisit old hangouts, take my walks, see the latest exhibits and do some shopping.

If I’m traveling with my parter, I have to remind him that I do, in fact, love him, that I’m happy we live abroad, that I’m glad we get to experience life as an expat, and that I know we will one day (eventually) return to New York. I’ve got that little speech down cold.

Happy not to have to wait in the long-ass, “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me” foreigner line, I lined up behind fellow Americans in one of the short, fast lines. I cringed that we were so unwelcoming to foreigners but my spirits lifted when I saw the picture of Obama on the wall. The last time I was back in the states, I was greeted by Monkey Man Bush.

When I got to the front of the line, the handsome immigration officer smiled and told me that I had to go through additional screening.

“What’s that?” I asked trying to look like I hadn’t just stayed up all night drinking red wine and catching up on my Oscar-nominated movies.

“Oh, it’s just a secondary screening. Nothing major. Some people are flagged for it. Maybe it’s your Spanish surname.” He said.

“My Spanish surname?”

“Yes.” he said suddenly regretting he had brought it up. “Please follow me and I’ll escort you to the room. I’m really sorry about this.”

Now, I’m happily “married” but am glad when a good-looking man in uniform flashes his eyes and raises an eyebrow at me, especially after a 16-hour nonstop flight.

My mood soured when Captain America left me to fend for myself in that big, soulless, government-dehydrated, secondary screening room. Memories of being made to wait in that small, windowless room at Tokyo’s Narita Airport came flooding back. There I was, an American living illegally in Japan with his American partner, having to lie about my reason for entering the country. “I come to vacation! I love Japan. Asia is fun!”

But dammit, here I am an American being made to wait in a large windowless room at JFK Airport. And why? My Spanish surname? It’s New York for God’s sake!

The expressionless, short, bald man wearing glasses and a gold bracelet called my name. I got up and walked over.

“We’re going to have to conduct a secondary screening. I’m going to ask you a series of questions and if you get any of them wrong, my buddy and I are going to beat you with this stick you see here. Do you have any questions?”

I said that I was told that I had to go through secondary screening because of my last name.

“No, no, no, no. Absolutely not. It’s probably because you’ve been to certain countries that flag the system.”

“Oh, then my partner should be joining us shortly. He’s been to all the countries I’ve been to plus some. He’s white.”

The defiance in my mind must have crept into my voice because the little man in uniform shot me that “Don’t get smart with me, Mister” look.

“Where have you been? Do you live in Hong Kong? Why? Why were you living in Japan? Why did you go to China? Malaysia? How long will you be here? When are you going back?”

“I’ve been to North Korea, Iran and Venezuela. I own Hong Kong. Because I do. I was living in Japan as part of a dare. I went to China for shits and kicks. Malaysia for more shits than kicks. I’ll be here as long as I fucking want to, I’m an American. I’m going back when I want to go back.”

Baldy had the nerve to say, “Welcome home.”

After I exited the room, my partner said, “What was that all about?”

“Baby, I’m brown. I live in Hong Kong and I’ve been to Malaysia and mainland China. I go to Macau all the fucking time. What do you think it’s all about?”

It was my very own teachable moment. My partner always says I’m whiter than he is because of how I was raised, but he’s wrong. Needless to say, he wasn’t asked to step into the secondary screening room.

A few weeks later, my family and I went to Panama for vacation. Fun place. Coming back to the states through Houston, Texas: Land of Bubbas, Big Macs and Bullshit, was no picnic. Guess who was picked for additional screening!?

If I thought New York was bad, Houston was a scene out of Midnight Express, and not one of the good ones. I was one defiant little shit, putting the officer who whistled at me in his place. I was polite but firm and compliant when necessary.

I was taken to a large processing center with bad lightening where men wearing turbans stood next to women wearing saris. There, foreigners waited and were barked at. There, a woman was ordered to “Be quiet. You can rebook your flight!” There, one man in uniform processed a room full of 40. There, my name was called after ten minutes because I was the only American in the room. There, the Asshole Bubba started his interrogation and was about to search my bags when I did some name dropping of sorts. His demeanor changed and he let me go immediately.

Welcome home indeed.

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