SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2009       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Josephine Garcia


Although the clouds were heavier than usual that January morning in 2002, I failed to recognize their dreary presence. Heavy with thoughts of school and work on my mind, I walked to school fighting the gray stiff breeze that was pushing at my lungs--I had no idea what the day would bring. When I arrived at school I stopped in the cafe to get a warm drink and then I received the call—my beloved aunt had passed away.

I remember when my wife called me that fateful morning. The voice I heard over the phone resonated with shock and grief. Her dear sister had passed away. After I heard the news I drove home immediately, however I can’t say I remember exactly how I got there.

Our family in Texas was already waiting for us, so we began making arrangements for the trip. I wasn’t sure I could face my broken-heartened children as each one of them trailed home, after hearing the news. My wife was busy in the phone, she came to me with tears in her eyes and an urgency in her voice; the only flight available was a fifty passenger jet. I knew we couldn't wait any longer, so we decided to book the flight.

After the initial stage of shock and despair, my parents began to make arrangements for our trip--to where my aunt had lived. The first thing to do was to make airline reservations. I remember my mom called the airline company, barely able to speak. She asked about bereavement flights, not knowing whether such a thing existed—we had never gone through this before. The reservations specialist apologetically explained to my mom that such offers were not made through their company, and the only evening flight to our point of destination was a small fifty passenger jet plane. My parents booked the flight immediately, not wanting to waste any more time because the rest of the family was waiting.

All the way to the airport, I kept trying to keep my thoughts together to be strong for my family. The girls were crying, sniffling, but my wife was silent. When we arrived to the airport we somberly unloaded our luggage, I paid the driver for the transportation and directed my family toward the gates. We made it past the security checkpoint; however we still needed to pass through the gate. When we arrived at the gate I could not believe what they put us through.

Between crying and trying our hardest to comfort each other the six of us, my parents, my siblings and I, diligently packed our bags, not knowing how long we would be gone. The Blue Shuttle came to pick us up and we were on our way, anxiously yet reluctantly. Upon arriving at the airport we expected the usual check in, security lines and identification checkpoints just to make it through to the boarding gate, however when we reached the gate we got far more than we expected.

The announcer called for the passengers of the flight to line up and prepare to board the aircraft. Lining up next to each other, my parents stood behind us kids to make sure we would get on safely. Suddenly three white security personnel approached us and forcefully began asking my family questions. One of the guards was directly telling my parents to get out of line and the other two were asking my siblings and me where we were going. In their ignorance they assumed we did not either understand or speak English, so they directed questions to us in broken Spanish. My older sister, who is quite shy, surprised the rest of us by asking the guards to speak to us in English, because we spoke it well and we barely understood what they were asking us in Spanish.

As my family approached the gate the announcer called for all passengers to board. I stood behind my children to make sure they would get on the plane. Three security personnel approached and began aggressively asking us questions. They commanded my wife and me to get out of line. Although absolutely angered at how they were speaking to us, I tried to remain calm. As respectfully as possible, I asked the security why they were doing what they were doing. Avoiding my question the guards told my children to get out of the line, to sit down and to remove their shoes. Filled with anger toward the guards, I asked my children to do what they asked so that we could get through the gate. Humiliated, I knew the sooner we did what the guards asked, the sooner we would be allowed to board the plane. Though in my heart I knew my family was being mistreated, that day was not the day to make it known.

As I gazed around, I could see the rest of the passengers were staring at us, looking at us as if we were criminals or terrorists. I also noticed we were the only Hispanic family about to board the plane. The guards told us to step out of the line, as they wanted to ask us more questions. We were absolutely puzzled. Respectfully, yet strongly my dad asked them why they were doing what they were doing. In response they repeated that we needed to get out of line, sit down and remove our shoes. With no other choice in view, we complied with their requests.

All the other passengers were allowed to board ahead of us, we were so embarrassed. Carefully examining our shoes, the guards did not miss a spot. They also sorted through our carry on items that had already been screened when we first arrived. Looking us over—up and down—they asked where we were going, why we were going there and when we would be returning. Finally after a long half hour they allowed us to get on the plane. I remember the humiliation I felt as I walked down the aisle, looking for a seat. We could not even sit together, as we had anticipated and I knew the people on the plane were wondering who we were and why we had been allowed on—no doubt concerned for their own safety.

Even though my siblings and I are third generation Americans and our first language was English we are accustomed to this type of racial/ethnic profiling. However we had not felt it so directly until that day. In terms of the broad social context of this event, I would have to say this incident happened partly due to timing. In September of 2001, just a few short months before my incident, the World Trade Center in NYC was attacked. Airport security, nationwide, was on high alert and airline companies were no doubt taking every precaution possible. My family, though clearly singled out, was possibly called into question because of the rushed ticket purchase. However the manner in which my family was treated was not in a cautious professional way, one that would suggest proper screening. Clearly anti-immigration sentiment as a result of immigration issues and reforms present around the timing of my incident played some role in the attitude displayed toward my family. It is truly disturbing to me to know that to this date discrimination such as this occurs again and again.

Although this event happened years ago, I clearly remember the feelings associated with the whole day—grief, sadness and intense anger. This incident has been one that I remember so vividly because it happened on a very sorrowful day for my family. Death was not something we had ever faced so closely and these new feelings we were presented with were difficult not only to cope with, but also to understand. This airport incident, having happened on this particular day, January 28, 2002 was like salt on an open wound. We were already experiencing deep pain having lost such a beautiful person in our lives; the treatment we received was indeed the last thing we expected.


Return to Personal Memory Ethnographies homepage