|Rogelio Manzo @ Fogged Clarity/|
Lawrence Ralph on happy slaves and detained passengers @ Transition Magazine.
It’s the summer of 2007 and I am visiting Brazil in part as a gift to myself. I have just successfully defended my dissertation proposal, thus I am a freshly anointed PhD candidate. A grad school colleague and friend, Regina, is from Brazil and has returned home to conduct ethnographic research for her own doctoral thesis on race and economic transformation in the capital city of Brasilia. She has invited me to stay with her family for two weeks. This is perhaps one of the major fringe benefits of a doctorate in Anthropology: friends engaged in research in all parts of the globe who can be counted on for free room and board.At the tail end of my trip I land in Miami with three hours to kill before I catch another flight to Chicago. In advance of boarding, I must join a long line for re-entry to the United States. Agents are seated at computers within arm’s reach. They follow federal protocol now, but I am reminded that this has not always been the case when I spot the “Homeland Security” insignia on a Customs agent’s shirt.Two months after the September 11 attacks, President Bush created the Office of Homeland Security, which became a governmental department in 2002. This department consolidated agencies that were perceived to have a significant homeland security mission. Related programs that had been developed in isolation from one another over the years—programs like U.S. Customs and Border and Customs Enforcement—now all came under the purview of a single entity. Through the Department of Homeland Security, the federal government assumed responsibility for screening passengers and luggage, taking over from private companies who were broadly believed to have been negligent in their duties.When I arrive in Miami, along with hundreds of people who have been traveling overseas, U.S. Customs agents screen us under the federal govern- ment’s jurisdiction. They scan our passports. They smile and welcome us back into the country. This immense line is partitioned and wraps around us like we are awaiting an amusement park ride. Everyone is fumbling with the documents they handed us on the plane. What was the nature of your trip? What is the name and address of the person with whom you stayed? Did you bring any fruits or vegetables into the country? Muscular brown and black spot- ted dogs patrol the boundary.read more