Looking American

Two stories that make me skeptical that immigration enforcement in the current US cultural environment will be pursued in a way that’s not racist:

1. Although I’m so American that I’ll fight with you about how much more American than you I am (this is a quintessential sign of Americanness), I have a weirdo foreign name (like Reince Preibus!) and an abnormally featureless accent that (often inaccurately) telegraphs “not from around here.” (Most common guess, including by Canadians, is Canadian.) It’s not uncommon for me to walk down the street wearing a “London Film School” fleece while carrying a canvas bag that looks like the EU flag, and some book by a foreign radical. Has anybody ever, ever asked me to prove I’m in the country legally? They have not. (I mostly get asked for directions. I do my best.)

2. I (mostly) grew up in a majority-hispanic neighborhood full of vibrant small businesses and grandparents sitting on porches to watch kids walk home from school. At my approximately 90% hispanic middle school, we regularly had to go through metal detectors and there were always cops nearby in case suddenly these 13-year-old kids of grocers and dressmakers decided to erupt into gang war. All fashion popular in the latino community was assumed to be a gang symbol. There were persistent urban legends that part of the gang induction was murdering a white person.

To reiterate: 13-year-old kids who were in the school orchestra and worked on science fair projects were definitely, definitely on the verge at all times of becoming violent criminals.

I thought at the time that was just how middle school was, that people were unjustly terrified of middle schoolers, and that part of being a young adult was getting hassled by a vast and paranoid security state. (I hated middle school.) Turns out, only sort of.

Do these anecdotes prove anything? No. Do they give me good reason to suspect that American citizens less pale than me are going to get hassled about their day-to-day presence being “illegal” for reasons that don’t have a lot to do with clues about who was and wasn’t born here? You betcha.

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