Airport Security

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Now I am nearing the front of the line. I scramble to take off my shoes, simultaneously trying to pull my laptop out of my bag. Behind me, I can hear my parents doing the same. My mom hands me my ticket, and I inch forward towards the security check. I move a step closer. “Can’t you read?” the TSA officer says to me. “It says take off your belt.” I know my cloth belt will not set off the metal detector. I have traveled enough to know that. I still pull off my belt and put it with my shoes. In front of me I see a dark haired woman struggle to remove her brown leather jacket. She looks confused. As I step forward to help her, a glaring TSA agent interrupts me. “It says to take your shoes off! You’re holding up the line!” she says to the confused woman. The woman replies with a heavy accent, “I’m sorry. I’m going.” As she proceeds through the checkpoint, I hear her mutter under her breath, “estupidos Americanos.”
I wish I could say I had a rare experience at the Chicago airport, but that would not be true. I understand how embarrassed and offended the woman in the security line felt. I frequently have similar experiences. My family is originally from Pakistan, and we have to go through ‘random checks’ whenever we re-enter the country. Almost every time we pass through immigration, the customs officials send us to the agricultural line. We spend an extra hour unloading our luggage, just to hear the officials grumble about the extra work. Returning home is stressful, not welcoming.
I value airport security. Like thousands of other travelers, I want to feel safe when I’m cruising high altitudes with strangers. Perhaps when I am traveling, a vague fear of unknown dangers haunts me, so I am stressed. Perhaps this stress is reflected on those staffing the airport, so they are abrupt. But, we must remember that visitors will judge our country based on their daily interactions with us. I know we don’t have to abandon our values-or our common courtesy- to make our airports secure.
American airports give the wrong impression of our country. Beyond the airport doors, I encounter friendly Americans willing to welcome people from all backgrounds. We value diversity. Our demographics attest to it. Perhaps if we all remember our values, and what it is we are truly trying to protect, we will be able to bridge the gap between the impression and reality of our nation. Then next time I’m standing in line at the airport, the person in front will smile and murmur nostalgically “los Americanos…”





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