‘Welcome back.’

Note: This post isn’t fully thought out, and it may just be more like stream of consciousness… bear with me as I compose my thoughts.  And I know it’s long, but please continue — I’d really like for you to hear what I experienced.

I had a profound experience at the airport today. I’m not one to get teary or emotional, so the fact that I did is saying something.

This past week, I was in Mexico City, meeting new friends and learning more about an organization I care deeply about. Through this organization I visited the Center for Immigration and Deportation (not the official name). In this center, there are hundreds of men, women, and children who are waiting to be deported back to their home countries (usually Guatamala, El Salvador and Honduras). They were caught in Mexico without papers; 95% of them trying to cross the border (illegally) into the United States.

I sat there, listened to their stories (honestly, I watched more of their body language, but Lyd translated some for me) and I actually felt bad for being there. Here I am — a tall white girl from the United States. I’m from the very country they risk their lives to get into. What do they think when they look at me? One gal said that I should adopt her and take her with me back to the States. It was a joke… but I’m sure there was a hint of hope in it. I have what they want and I legitimately can not give it to them.

Fast forward a couple days, and I’m back on US soil. I flew into Houston and went to the short US Citizens’ line to get back into the country, proceeded to an open kiosk, answered the computer’s questions, got my little printout, and was done. I didn’t get grilled about where I work, my fingerprints weren’t taken, and I didn’t have to endure the stress that goes along with any immigration line. I had the golden ticket … the US passport. (I fully recognize I was entering the US as a US citizen, which is different than entering a foreign country with a foreign passport… just how I yearned to have an EU passport when that line was moving quickly and I was stuck in line with all the foreigners.)

I did wonder though, as I got through the line in less than five minutes, if someone in the other line who has never been to the US was just excited to be here. Many coming through on planes have visitors visas (which, by the way, if you’re coming from Mexico, cost about $200USD and require a full application/approval process prior to coming, and approval isn’t guaranteed), so they are here for a short amount of time. But I remember my first time going to Europe — how excited I was just to be there. Who in that line was having the same feelings for the country I take for granted? For the country I don’t even think twice about, really… it’s just always been my home.

And then something happened that made me angry, but mostly sad. I went up the stairs and, admittedly, I got frustrated with the people in front of me who decided to stop in the middle of the lane. After what I witnessed next, I scold myself for my internal thoughts to those people who were confused and didn’t understand exactly what was going on.

First a note, if you’ve never experienced the connecting flight security line in the international terminal it's always an interesting sight. It’s usually small and in a random corner of the airport and manned by only a few people. There often is a lot of confusion with a lot of the people not speaking the native language, as they’ve come off an international flight. (I’ve experienced this ‘chaos’ in India, Dubai, Mexico, and now the US.) No one’s exactly sure what to do and are just trying to figure it all out.

Okay, now back to today. The setup for this security gate was like Y shape. There were two conveyor belts, one on the left, and one on the right, but the people formed one queue down the middle to go through the metal detector. I was on the lane in the right. The people in front of me were the same that stopped in the middle of the lane earlier, so I was a little frustrated by them, and I had the thought ‘have you never gone through a security line before?!’

Anyway, the guards were sticklers for making sure your bags were fully on the conveyor belt before you joined the queue for the detector. I made sure my bag was, and then proceeded to the end of the queue. Right then, there was some curfuffle over on the left side’s conveyor belt. An older gentleman, clearly foreign by his accent—I want to say Italian—was a bit confused about the whole thing and for a quick second looked around to see if he had to push his bag onto the conveyor belt. The man behind him, a man in maybe his mid-30s and American, started yelling at him, calling him names, and tell him to push his da&% bags onto the belt. The older gentleman, who spoke pretty decent English, shot back that he was just following directions and was clearly thrown aback by the other man’s reaction. More words were spoken (i.e. yelled) and the TSA guards came and calmed things down, while the older gentleman ended up in the queue right behind me.

I turned around and said, “I’m really sorry about that.” and sincerely added “Welcome to our country.” in a soft voice. I didn’t say it sarcastically like, ‘hey, yeah, welcome to America, the land of completely rude people.” but in a legitimate, “no seriously, you’re welcome here.” And I meant it. I think he was just as much thrown off by that statement as the other fellow’s! He said, just as sincerely, “Thank you! That was really nice of you to say.” And he repeated it to me, as I stepped through the detector.

I obviously don’t know this older gentleman’s story. He may well have been an American citizen, although I don’t think he was. But as I left and gathered my things, I hoped this didn’t ruin his trip or give him a bad impression of what America is like. But it also made me think… what if he had been one of the people I had just thought about? Someone who was so excited about coming to America for the first time, even for a short visit, and this was his first interaction. And that made me incredibly sad.

But not only that, it made me sad for the other guy who was yelling. What I didn’t mention was that his wife and kid (about a year old) were standing right behind him, and she didn’t say anything. She stood by and watched, albeit alarmed, and the kid started crying. (This is totally projecting, but that cry seemed to give me a glimpse into their home life. You know that cry I’m talking about? A scared ‘Daddy’s yelling again’ cry.) It made me sad for him and his family. If he cuts loose with strangers in the security line at the airport, what is he like at home? I’d like to think he was just having a bad day, but that still gives him zero excuse to act like that. That was off topic, but a prayer was said for that little family right then.

After the security, I had to pass through one last stop, which was going through customs. It really was nothing, but it was probably the most profound thing to happen to me during all this.

The guard looked at my passport, took my little printout, smiled at me, and said

“Welcome back.” 

in a soft, gentle, welcoming voice.

I sincerely said ‘Thank you.” and entered the main terminal with tears in my eyes.

I think maybe it was all I experienced in Mexico, mixed with the interaction at the security line, but it was enough to make me want to have a good sob (and if I hadn’t been in the airport, I probably would have!). But I’m not sure what the emotions are behind it. When I relive the story at the security line and the stories at the immigration center, it makes me incredibly sad and a bit heartbroken. My heart aches for it. There is so much hurt in the world.

It’s also, though, a feeling of complete gratitude and my heart swells with it. The blessings I’ve been given that I am completely unworthy of receiving. And being able to live in a country that still holds a ‘dream’ for so many people (unfortunately, it’s often an unrealistic dream). I pray though, that I will use those blessings to God’s glory. My life ‘motto’ if you will is Blessed To Be A Blessing … and my heart jumps at the opportunities God has given me (and continues to give me) to live that out.

I’m not sure what my point is with all these words. I guess I had to digest and share. Take what it what you will. I guess what I want you to take from this is to … well, I don’t even know. I just hope you’ll take something from it.

If you have immediate questions about PICI or what I experienced (a blog post is planned for later this week), please let me know.