By Larissa Lamarca
Red, white, and blue stars and stripes hang over me as I stand at the border of the United States of America; no border is quite like it. Entering New Jersey, there is only one question on my mind: How could a place I have never been to be home? Everyone is on a mission, entangled between one another, focused on getting from plane to security to baggage and out. The marathon to the exit is clearly halted by the large intimidating room for immigration control. Two signs, bigger than my sixteen-year-old body, read in black: US citizens to the right, Non-US citizens to the left.
Muscular agents wearing black and blue uniforms guide people into various lines. Other agents sit behind glass in one of forty grey box rooms for passport control. The sheer fact that New York City can be seen from inside the airport clearly hints at the length of the line for non-US citizens. Of course this is the line I find myself in. Meanwhile, in envy, the US citizens place their passports on one of around forty scanners, and march right out of the hell hole I find myself in.
A snake made up of arms and legs: it is impossible not to notice bodies of all sizes, colors, patterns, and languages. The dull, gray, rectangular room, the size of a warehouse, is not more than 300 yards away from the plane I spent eight painful hours on. This warehouse of people narrows me inside myself. I hear French, Spanish, Mandarin, some form of English and many other jumbles of words I cannot make out. In front of me is a family of three, who may have come here from the Caribbean as they came off the flight before mine. Having lived and travelled most of my life so far has certainty not prepared me for the mix of cultures this warehouse contains.
Looking left – then right – then left again, I come to the realization that I must be in the most diverse four walled room to exist. People of all backgrounds approach the agents alone. As a united people of this World, we must all prove our identity to the agents separately. Feeling lonely, I busy myself by finding similarity between myself and the thousand others. Paying closer attention, I realize that all we have in common is our carryons and passports. Looking at my red passport, I feel less alone and secure.
As I creep up the immigration line one foot at a time, I tell my shaking self not to stare: “Do not glare at that group of people from India. Do not make eye contact with the Asian couple two rows ahead! You have got to stop being awkward, do not or you’ll look judgmental!” Shutting my eyes, I realize my heart is racing. Breathing in, and out, in and out, the impulse to stare begins to fade, and a new inner strength slowly creeps in. Shifting my gaze from the people, I look at the red passport and breath in and out, now counting the many small American flags hung in the room.
Gripping tightly to the documents I have not let out of my sight, I glare down at my hands containing my whole life: past, present, and future. I recall the journey I wish I didn’t take; who knows if I will ever return to where I am from. I take a few more creeping steps up the endless line of global citizens. I allow myself to reflect, drawing my focus from the intimidating immigration officers, into my semi-stable mind.
Saying goodbye, at sixteen, to the woman who has shaped me since before my first breath was the hardest part, or so I thought. Moving with my father to a place better equipped to provide me a future left no other choice after the divorce than to leave my mother behind. I recall our last embrace in the center of a large white fluorescent-lit room, surrounded by the comforts of my native Swiss German language. As I loosened my grip and began walking toward the gate that would forever separate me from my home, I turned to see her wave as we both held back our own tides of water. The tiles of that airport seemed to become unstable with every step further from my mother’s grasp. I took a leap of faith with my one-way ticket to the great unknown, the land of new hope, my very own American Dream.
“We have now reached cruising altitude”
“Ma’am? Please move up the line. Sir! You need to be behind the red tape!” Coming back to my senses I continue to weave my way up the long line. Now around halfway, the American flag up ahead looks bigger. Exhausted from my trip, feeling a jungle of emotions, I can see the passport control box rooms. As more and more agents appear up ahead, the line begins to turn into multiple smaller lines. My red passport is still in my hands when I am told to step behind a gentleman in a smaller line. I grip onto my life as I think back to the comfort of the airline seat yet wonder how I got to where I am now.
Five minutes turned into an hour, an hour into six. How did I sit in fear, excitement, and with no entertainment for so long? That’s right, no entertainment—the monitor for my seat was broken. Not that it mattered. I had found a letter from my mother in my bag, wishing me well, telling me she is proud. Switzerland was home for as long as I could recall. The airport had been fast paced but for me it was no issue as I knew that airport inside and out from all my previous travels. The only difference this time was the one-way on my boarding pass and the chaos of a massive foreign airport I never thought I would travel to.
I recall staring at the plane’s slow movement on the TV screen in my aisle. From Switzerland, over England, an entire Ocean, over Canada and down onto US soil. All I did was reflect the whole way. It seemed like I was the seat stuck on the plane, and the seat was the person free to travel back to whatever country the plane took it to next. Time didn’t move.
“Welcome to The United States of America. Please remain seated with your seatbelts fastened.”
“Next please!” Somehow, I made it to the front of the line. I check my watch and see an hour has passed. By now my heart is racing faster than the Monaco race cars. In my hands is the red passport, slightly wet from my sweat. I hope my face looks neutral. How hard can passport control really be? The red, white, and blue glares down at me from all sides. No matter where I look I cannot escape the flags.
“Next!” I step up to the passport control. The agent reaches for my passport that I shakenly offer to him. He opens it, scans it, and asks:
“Where did you come from?”
“How long will you be staying?”
He stars at the red passport one more time, slams a stamps onto a page, looks into my red face, smiles, hands me my closed red passport and says:
“Welcome to the United States.”