Reading Khulud's piece on being treated as an almost terrorist every time she travels I remembered my latest travel experience. I was arriving in Hong Kong from Johannesburg, where I met up with my parents and was going to meet my sister, who flew in from Beijing. As we filed up before the immigrations counters I got the chill I usually get: being from such an infamous country, Colombians are usually required visas to go anywhere. I think I can count the countries who don't demand a visa from us with my fingers. But this was Hong Kong, it was bound to be different, right?
Wrong. As I stood before the immigration officer with my sweet charming face, I noticed he pulled out a slip of paper my parents didn´t get. It said in plain english Restricted Tourist. He filled it out with my details. I asked if anything was wrong and he said no, not at all with a big smile on his face. Then he stood up, walked to the next counter and said something to his partner. They both came to me and informed me in a very polite language I was being randomly picked for a few extra questions. Before I could inform my parents (US passport holders, obviously) I was asked to follow my passport into a little room.
As I sat there with a bunch of other people looking misserable and feeling a bit lost, a noisy, tall woman with crazy black hair and a tiny skirt walks in, almost shouting at the officer in chinese. I was impressed because I was taught to always be polite to authority, specially if they are holding you in little rooms, so I looked up at her face. To my great surprise, this bold woman was my sister, two years younger but taller than me, with amazing curly hair and much darker skin (I'm as white as they come). It had been a year since I last saw her, so I couldn't help my self and cryed out to her. We hugged and kissed and almost cried with emotion while the officers in the little room yelled at us to sit down and be quiet.
It turns out my sister had been in that little room before, a month ago when she travelled to HK for the first time. She was being randomly picked 2 times in a row! It seemed our profile was somehow wrong: two young women from Colombia could not be regular tourists, something suggested either drug mules or sex slaves, maybe? Colombians don't travel just for fun. We were interviewed thoroughly, every single paper or document we had they wanted to see, know which other places we were to visit, why I had been in Joburg, where in Bogota did I live, everything. After over an hour of interrogation and making copies of all our documents, we were finally released.
I must admit I was treated very kindly, always with a smile and polite words. But this was not the 1st time I was "randomly picked", nor would it be the last. And it still bothers me to be afraid to go infront of an immigration guy every time I travel. My parents were obviously worried sick, so much so that they made a scandal outside the little room's double doors and were finally let inside. But as we were leaving, returning to HK for our flight to Joburg, again just my parents and I, I was again asked to step aside and follow my passport. That was enough. My mom started crying her eyes out, my step dad yelled out it was abusive and against human rights to be discriminated that way, and demanding we were told why I was constantly targeted and harassed. If they took me, he said, we would denounce them to the US embassy and every one who would listen. To my utter bewilderment, they didn't take me. They got scared of his threats, I could see they didn't quite jnow what to do. By now we had over 10 officers about us, who just looked at each other and yelled in Cantonese. After about 5 minutes of confusion, they gave me back my passport and told me I was free to continue.
Although I was glad I was let off, I couldn't get over the feeling this would have never resulted that way if I had stood there like crazy shouting threats and cursing them. I felt small and helpless and completely embarassed, even though I had done nothing wrong. Unlike the first time, I felt different and unwanted, and that was not a good feeling. It was nice to be protected, but what if my parents hadn't been there? What if they had regular Colombian passports also? Who protects me, as a Colombian citizen, from so much harassment abroad? And the worst bit of all, why do I need protection, why am I not like the rest of people on our flight, welcome?