SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2008        Personal Memory Ethnographies


Coming To America

     My first encounter with law enforcement here in America came when I was three days old in Phoenix, AZ. It was my sister in-law, Nichole’s birthday and she needed some items from the mall for her big day. My brother, Adam and I decided to take her since we were not contributing anything as far as setting up items since we had done it before. I also embarked upon the great opportunity to get to know my in-law’s better. So off we went to the mall and after a few hours we were on our way back from the mall when Nichole received a phone call from her mother. Her mother said that unfortunately she couldn’t attend the birthday party because she was caught up in some sort of delay in the airport on her way back from the midwest. On hearing this Nichole started crying and told us her mom was not going to be at her 12th birthday party because of the flight delay. We tried to console her, my brother doing most of this since he knew her better until she stopped crying.

All of a sudden, I heard a loud siren and saw a police car on the rear of the car. One minute later I saw three other police cars, one going to the very front and one to the left side of my brother’s car. My heart started pounding because I hadn’t seen such many cops on one place except on the TV and it was either acting or a very serious offence had been committed. Two officers from each side of the vehicle came walking towards the driver and passenger side of the vehicle and one of them who was on his side asked him for his drivers’ license and identification card. Adam handed him the items he requested and asked the cop what he had done wrong. After running his ID and plate numbers, the officer told my brother and I to step out of the vehicle and sit by the curbside.

While all of this was unfolding I was in utter confusion and I remember the officer asked me a question but I couldn’t answer. Adam told them I was new to the country and I didn’t know English very well. The officer then told Adam to follow him while another officer was talking to Nichole who was still in the back seat of the car. After a few minutes the officer signaled the other cops that they could go and the ‘situation’ was taken care of and also told me I could go back to the car. My brother then came back to his seat and started the car ready to go. The officer who stopped us then leaned to my brother’s side window and said ‘next time bring your wife to avoid further confusion’.

Nichole then asked Adam what was going on. Adam told us that we were stopped because there were two black guys and a white girl in the back and that according to the officer looked suspicious. Nichole started to cry apologizing for but Adam emphasized that she didn’t do anything wrong and she should just enjoy herself in her party. When we reached to the party’s venue turns out that Nichole’s mom had made it and she just wanted to surprise her. My brother’s wife then saw a puzzled look on my face and also dried up tears on her sister’s face and so she asked Adam what was wrong. Adam told his wife about our ordeal with the law enforcement and my sister in-law thought it was no big deal and was just a case of mistaken identity.

I have heard Adam and his wife talking about their interracial relationship and the vibe that I’ve always received was that Francesca believes that there are people who look at them ‘awkwardly’ but she doesn’t really care. On the other hand Adam is very cautious of their whereabouts, how people look at them, and as a result of this Adam is always hesitant at going to places where there is a lot of white people as if trying to control what he can actually handle or control.

When I look back on my torment with the cops it does not scare me now but I can still remember the fear that those cops installed in me was very severe. I may attribute my ‘brevity’ today to maybe some of the worse cases of racial profiling that I have read. I had read about racial profiling before but this experience just made me understand the reality of this issue. In the US society, racial profiling has always been problematic because it relies on negative stereotypes to guide enforcement behavior that often convicts people of the same appearance regardless of innocence or guilt.  A very interesting dimension as a result of profiling is that good cops are hesitant to act on good instincts even if they see a wrong doing just because they do not want to be labeled racists. The last thing I remember about that incident was when my brother looked into my puzzled face and told me “Welcome to America bro!”


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