Many foreigners dream of someday visiting the United States. They don’t want to light anything on fire or work at Wal-Mart for less than you would; they just want to see it. They want to take their kids to Disney World, see the ample green space, see an NBA basketball game, drive through a suburb, eat a $5 foot-long sandwich, or—for example—go to the Superbowl.
My 14 hour flight home from Amman, Jordan was miserable. My iPod battery was dead and there was a chorus of babies crying for at least nine of those hours. The in-flight movie was terrible and I didn’t have a window seat. But it was all worth it as the plane made its final descent toward O’Hare International.
I’d helped a Palestinian family fill out their customs cards; many of the fields were lost in translation—they spoke the language, but those things are confusing even for an English major. I beamed with pride and gratitude as I watched their faces fill with wonder and excitement as the tiny brown and blue blocks became visible suburbs with pools in the backyard, with the Sears Tower off in the distance.
Sometimes—or usually—I forget that most countries don’t have an elaborate system of mostly well-kept highways and the opportunity to live in a home with a backyard. So it’s invigorating to see foreigners marvel at our infrastructure and everyday luxuries. I hope that doesn’t sound patronizing because it’s not meant to be; this is getting somewhere.
You are visiting the United States for the first time. It took you years of paperwork, connection-building and money saving to get your tourist Visa. Some cranky idiot on the plane helped you fill out your paperwork, and there were babies crying your whole flight, and it took you two hours to get through customs. After having your passport skeptically inspected and your pockets emptied, you were brought into a gray-walled room with rows of backless benches, with a single piece of décor—a giant decal behind a line of uniformed police standing at computers, which reads “Department of Homeland Security.” You wait there like a suspect for 45 minutes before your name is called, you are probed condescendingly, and your name is entered into a computer. Eventually, your passport is stamped and you are allowed into the United States.
You excitedly make your way to the luggage area, collect your things, and hop on the Blue Line all the way to Union Station. It is the most anxious train ride of your life. Eventually, a couple cab rides and nearly-missed buses later, you are downtown in Indianapolis, IN, and greeted by your cousins. You have not seen them for 23 years.
You go to a Minor League Baseball game at Victory Field. You have a pint of beer for a fraction of what it costs at home. You spend most of your time at their suburban home, drinking tea and mulling over current events and eating four-course meals that last three hours. Your child plays with his cousins in the backyard. He learns how to put a spiral on a football.
As the sun goes down, you and your wife borrow your cousin’s car. You go for a drive with the kids, to get them a dish of the Ritter’s Frozen Custard your cousin raved about. The system of roads and traffic signals is familiar, but different. You and your wife talk about plans for tomorrow, to visit the Indiana Museum of Art and see the fireworks show downtown. A teenage girl is texting in the right lane and going 15 mph under the speed limit. You signal, move to the left lane, and honk to let her know you’re there. It’s the polite and safe way to drive where you’re from.
At the late hour, your behavior is perceived as aggressive and erratic by the Brownsburg Police patrol car behind you, and you are pulled over.
You’re not drunk. You weren’t speeding. But you don’t speak English very well, and your passport is at your hotel. In Indiana, this is now a crime. You are arrested in front of your wife and kids. Because of the color of your skin and your clumsy English, you spend the night in jail.
You somewhat expected this at the airport, but Indiana was supposed to be a “nice” place.
You think to yourself; this is third-world, racist bullshit. Most of America agrees with you, but a scared little man from Carmel went on a power trip, and Indiana is now one of the worst places in America to visit—let alone live—if you are not white.
Most of us that live here will stay, regardless of race. But an enormous workforce of young and talented minorities will look at Indiana’s universities and job market and keep moving right along. Maybe that’s what Delph and the immigration bill’s supporters wanted all along. But it will kill us, in the long run, and I’m humiliated to be a part of it. In a few months I’m going to be the father of a bi-racial child, who—presumably—to the eyes of many Caucasians will be of uncertain ethnic background.
I don’t want him or her to grow up in a community where a police officer can make him prove he has a right to be in America. While I’m not going to run from it, I certainly wouldn’t move here by choice. Not that Indiana’s business owners would miss me, but there are a lot more talented people than me that are reading about Indiana’s “Arizona-style” immigration bill and dismissing Indiana as a terrible culture in which to raise a family.
Even if a single person is not arrested over it, the allowance of racial profiling is symbolically destructive to Indiana’s reputation. These are the Jim Crow laws of our generation, and I don’t want to have to explain to my grandkids some day that I was on the wrong side of the counter.