When I Learned I Was An Alien

I’ve been thinking a lot about the one time my family was detained at the border for (at least what felt like) an entire day when I was a child and how scared I was. This, despite having papers and being nothing but upstanding citizens. It was the last time I crossed that particular border. I remember asking my mom why they called immigrants “aliens.” It was the first time I had heard the word in that context . It was on a poster on the wall. I thought aliens were green with antennas. My mom thought that was cute. It was the first time I realized I was an alien. Weird.

How we call humans aliens. Like we’re not all of the same earth. I remember wondering if we were in trouble even though I knew full well we hadn’t done anything wrong. I remember thinking they didn’t need a reason to do anything to us. We’re aliens. I most of all remember having my mother there to hold my hand and tell me we were okay, especially when my dad was taken out of the room. I remember holding on to her hand so tightly. And that experience pops into my head every time I’m at an airport. Every time I fly internationally. Every time someone looks at me uncomfortably in a public space. I remember that I’m an alien and that’s enough of a reason to treat me differently and to not see where I’m coming from.

This isn’t a country that wants immigrants. It hasn’t been that country for a while, especially for those running from authoritarianism, from war, from famine, from the effects of climate change. I am Asian. My family is highly educated. I am highly educated. I am of the privileged few. And yet these experiences still follow me. We came here because we had options, and I’m not kidding when I say I would give up my spot for someone who does not have that privilege. Though, I would argue there is certainly room here for us all.

Removing children from the people whose hands they hold when they’re afraid is a disgrace. It may not be a violation of any human right written anywhere, but it sure is an inability to see the humanity in others. Gathering families running from horribly dire situations and locking them up, together or apart, is yet another inability to see the humanity in others. It has long term impacts on a child’s (and eventually adult’s) psyche. It is so much more than just a simple detainment. This isn’t about what is legal or illegal, but about the ability to see the root cause, to see where others are coming from, what others are feeling. Fundamentally it’s an inability to care for experiences that aren’t our own.

Just something I’ve been thinking about lately.


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