Where Are You From?

Some topics have the power to ignite passionate and even out of control discussions. I believed that the new immigration law passed in Arizona would bring back the controversial subject of illegal immigration to the front page. However the media coverage has been rather discreet.
Is it because it is embarrassing to write or tell that now in Arizona a police officer can ask for proof of residence to anyone he believes is living there illegally?
As an immigrant who became a US citizen, I am still on a regular basis asked about my origins. Although I am by nature open to conversations, I have occasionally resented the insistence of some people. Over the years I’ve created a sample of possible answers to the frequent question: “Where are you from?”
Depending of the person who is asking me, I have volunteered genuine information. Sometimes I’ve said that I am from California but it always triggers more questions. Often I’ve wished I could remove the infamous ‘Made in France’ tag attached to my tongue like a too obnoxious piercing.
When I read about the Arizona law, I was reminded of an incident that happened a few years ago close to my home in California.
I was driving a brand new car and I realized that the headlights didn’t seem to work properly. Just as I decided to park and check on them, a CHP officer pulled behind my car.
“Do you know why I am pulling you over?” he asked, after checking my driver license, the car registration and proof of insurance.
“I believe that my lights are not working properly,” I said.
He nodded, checking the inside of my car where my son, his sister and her friend were sitting. “Your ID says you live in Coarsegold,” he said. “Coarsegold is that way.” He jerked his thumb south of my direction.
“I am driving back my daughter’s friend to Bass Lake,” I explained.
He looked back into the car. “Which one is it?”
The girl waved from her seat.
“And these kids are?” the officer asked.
“Mine,” I said.
“All right,” he finally said, handing me back my papers. “Drive safely.” Then, leaning at my window, he added, “Anyway, Bass Lake, Coarsegold, that’s not really home. Where are you from?”
I told him I was originally from France but that I left years ago. He nodded and said, “That’s what I thought.”
His words tasted of guilt in my mouth. I had done nothing wrong except fidgeting with the headlights of a new car. It was no big deal since he didn’t give me a ticket. Yet, my heart pounded in my chest as I couldn’t quite forget neither understand the distrust thickening his voice.
When skin color and foreign accents trigger instant suspicion we forget that this country is home to many more legal immigrants than illegal. I have no instant remedy to offer to cure the issue of illegal immigration but any kind of profiling is certainly not the solution. If they had ever created a better world, we would know.

%d bloggers like this: