This morning in the early hours of dark o clock, which is early down here in the south where the sun in the winter still visits us before breakfast time, I dragged myself out of bed, put the Baby in the sling, waited outside in the frigid, though not frosty air, and boarded a bus. I was responding to a summons as imperious as any royal summons could possibly be. Arrive at 8:00 am on Jan 24, 2007, bring with me this paper and proper identification or I would not be seen. If late I risked the loss of any future audience with said governing body and eventual banishment from the kingdom. I have already spent a lot of time and money in hopes of being granted this appointment so I carefully prepared.
The bus only comes once an hour. In this land of rampant consumerism dominated by freeways and parking lots, not enough people use public transit to make it practical for the bus to run with any more frequency than that. I watched as the college students boarded in hoodies and scarves, all of us waiting for the morning sun to break through the chill and warm the air. Down here, this is the way the poor travel, those who are unable to afford a vehicle, and registration, and insurance, ride the bus. The Baby woke and I fed her while she lay nestled in the sling safe from critical and complaining eyes that may have chosen the ridiculous path of offense. We were eyed by one or two people but most were unaware that she was having her breakfast.
The half hour on the bus, whose route wound tortuously closer to than farther away from our destination, over and over, finally brought us to a mecca of civilization, other wise known as a Lowe’s, Staple’s, Smart & Final complex complete with mini strip malls on either side, storage units, and a 24 hour drive thru window at the Jack in the Box. It was hither, to a small blank storefront sandwiched in between a Mexican restaurant and Subway, that I had been summoned. Even though I was more than 15 minutes early, there were three people in front of me also waiting for the “privilege” of becoming known by this great power. I stood in the line now forming in my jeans and sweatshirt with my tiny baby, flanked by two tall beautiful and impeccably dressed Hispanic women. I wondered briefly if there was a dress code and I had failed to read the summons correctly.
I stood and listened to the murmur of hushed conversations float gently in the air around me, mainly in Spanish. The Baby began to fuss in her sling. The Asian man with the red passport spoke English with an American accent to the Slavic man behind him.
At 8 o clock the door opened and the eager supplicants were greeted by a man in a uniform worn by the guardians of the state who required us to present our identification and summons before allowing us to gain entry. With great deference those in front of me addressed him as Sir virtually genuflecting as they presented their papers. Those with cell phones went running back to their cars to deposit them for no cell phones were allowed to pass through this magical door.
Once inside I received a number and found a place among the rows and rows of chairs, all facing one direction. In front of us were desks and tables and a few machines. A harassed looking greasy haired woman in casual sport clothing prepared cloths in a pile upon a table folding them one at a time. One at a time, in a quiet orderly fashion we presented ourselves at the front desk. My documents were stamped in red and scribbled on and returned to me. The baby had been breastfeeding as I was called so I stood and went forward with her still latched on in the sling, I was directed to sit down in a chair facing the rest of the room. So I sat and nursed my baby in front of a room full of people staring at me, but most of them probably didn’t know. After playing the avoid eye contact game with everyone for a few minutes, the greasy haired woman took me and my papers over to a computer attached to a machine that sort of resembled a photo copier. After typing in the information she took my fingers one by one and rolled them across a glass surface as the image appeared in the computer screen above me. Five minutes later the federal government was in possession of a complete set of my fingerprints, with which to determine whether I had a past I have not divulged that involves criminal activity and to keeps tabs on me with from this time forward.
I stepped out of the office into the now warm day. The smells from 10-15 restaurants blended in my nostrils, the large store facades greeted me, I was one step closer to joining the civilization which has created such homogenous chain marketplaces, to living the American dream, I was one step further along in the process of obtaining a Green card.
Soon I will need to visit a doctor who will determine whether or not I am the carrier of any infectious diseases like AIDS or TB which will prevent me from obtaining resident status and require my deportation, and I will have injected into my body substances that I don’t want in it and worry about the way they will affect my infant’s health as I nurse her. If I were a citizen I would not required by law to be vaccinated, but as an alien I have no such right. My application to remain in the country where my husband and children have citizenship will not even be considered unless I produce a vaccination history. Why is it that I feel I must lose so many of my personal freedoms to remain in the land of the free?