By MaryCarl Guiao
Do we know our history so we know where our work lies?
There’s no time like when you’re that close to the opening event featuring an interactive, investigative hip-hop experience with Complex Movements that we are all eagerly anticipating, for the US border guards to suddenly bring our travel to an hour and a half halt. Prince’s Purple Rain album is on its second rotation because we forgot to bring the over-five-hour-ride mix CDs that the not-so-closet-DJ in our group had made for our road trip. Also, we’re stoked; the four of us friends have our hearts set on the 15th annual Allied Media Conference and we’re literally a minute away from our destination, Detroit, Michigan. The now four-day AMC is a festive, 2000+-attended, inclusive, working-together-heavy, media justice skills-doing space. For the past four years, my colleagues in community radio land have been urging me to join them in all the fun knowledge and skill-sharing at the AMC. This past June 20th, I was finally making my way to my first AMC.
It happened quite suddenly. Our friend’s car was fully searched while we were held at the border waiting room and interrogated, without any reason made known to us other than the inexplicable (that is, in a non-racist, non-xenophobic, non-classist way) excuse that this was “standard” procedure. I thought that we all looked and acted Westernized and college student-y enough to not be harassed at the border; I certainly made the effort to dress plus be the part. I’m also confident that we exude maturity — or definitely a matureness appropriate for each of our ages — we’re all in our early 20’s to early 30’s — and I had hoped that this would help us cross without any hassle. Even though we are a group of three Canadians and one US citizen without criminal records, we’re conscious that these behaviors matter to border officials.
Everything started to make sense when I began to recollect the stories of my Canadian-citizenship-status-having friends who are dark-skinned about how they are consistently disrespected, especially harassed, at the border in some way or another. Two of us are dark-skinned. I’m visibly Asian, and the fourth of us is a self-identified Caucasian. For years I’ve written articles on, and hosted and produced radical community radio show episodes focusing a lot on anti-racism work and the politics of criminalization — heck, a month earlier I had aired a couple interviews surrounding formalized and reinforced racism, xenophobia, and classism in border guard protocol as well as in the general national borders culture, so I was surprised that I was surprised that this is what was happening.
This is what kicked off what I’d deluded myself into thinking would be more of a vacation time for me. I’d been so looking forward to being just stress-free, especially from dealing with racial intolerance, for a handful of days. I’d planned to only feel right at home during this short while, hanging out with my mix of racialized, low-income, working-class, queer friends in a predominantly Black community where the majority of city residents are low-wage service workers. Devastatingly, there are countless more examples of these forms of violence and abuse occurring moment-to-moment and everywhere, and countless more that are far more intense and traumatizing in their outcomes.(more inside…)