What does it mean to be an immigrant in today’s America? As an immigrant, I know I have never looked over my shoulder as much as I have in the past year or so. In spite of immigrating to America a month before 9/11, I felt safe and welcomed. As a brown person in America, I felt secure. I had instances when someone told me how lucky I was to be in California because I would not be safe elsewhere. This conversation happened as I asked someone in a bus stop what that bird was. He answered “sea gull” and offered words of warning on being brown in America post 9/11. Did I fear for myself or my family- No, because I felt safe. This was a one off situation that I could care less for.
Fast forward to sixteen years later, a green card and sixteen years on the American soil- I never thought I would be looking over my shoulder as much as I do now. I never thought I would witness the current state of affairs here. With every terrorist attack or every gun massacre, I sit on the edge of my seat praying and hoping that person was not an immigrant. Why? because I am scared that would create a new law banishing immigrants, a new travel ban or a new immigration policy. In spite of being a green card holder, I feel less secure than I felt walking the streets with a visa stamp on my passport as an American Alien.
I was eighteen years old, an immigrant from India and a new American Alien. As soon as I stepped foot on the American soil, I was stamped as an alien. As an eighteen year old, I did not know why in an instant I was called an alien. Hollywood movies had added fodder to my idea of what an alien would look like, and I looked nothing like that. I did not realize how big of an moment that was. That Alien number allowed me to live in America, have my American adventures, and eventually become a resident of that place. What happens when an eighteen year old is forced to move continents? An Alien in America from America Deconstructed follows her journey on the American soil, her dreams and desires, her struggles and above all her journey to fulfilling her American Dream!
In 2001, my family and I immigrated to America from India. After a long flight ride of twenty three hours we were excited and nervous as we stood in the visitors line waiting for our turn. We checked our papers a million times. I could feel the tension in the air on our side of the airport while the residents and citizens line had people smiling and talking. As we approached the officer, he stared at us with not a hint of smile on his face. As an immigrant waiting to enter America, I did not feel welcomed at all. I was scared as he turned each paper in our file and scanned it. It was probably ten minutes before he spoke to us, but those ten minutes were probably the longest ten minutes ever. “Welcome to America” he said as he stamped our passports. I was excited to finally make my way into America.
Little did I know the visa that was stamped in my passport would make me an alien. With every immigration document I filed, I became more alien. Somehow between leaving the visitor line to making our home in America I had gone from human to alien. I was given an alien number, and every time I walked through immigration I was nervous as all the sci fi movies played in my head. Would they scan my retina to see if I was really human, or would they draw my blood to see if it was green? Well, it did not happen yet and now that I am an official resident of America, I am no longer an alien. I am in between- something between an alien and a citizen but not quite there yet.
I detest the word alien and wonder what it really means. I guess I could consider it as being called exotic from Planet India or I could be the ET stuck in America trying to phone home.