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Filming While Dark

The knock on the door. It was not unexpected. How many times had I previously heard that knock on the door? How many times had I seen red and blue lights flashing behind me and had ended up behind bars because I was “Driving While Brown”? How many times had immigration agents questioned my legality and my humanity?

This time, it's the Homeland Homies who show up at our door asking for me. I come to the door and state, “That's me.” I'm wearing a sweatshirt with the word America and an American flag emblazoned on it. It was a gift from someone who perhaps thought I might look good in it.

They flash their badges: “FBI.”

“Did you rent a car in San Diego in May of 2002?”

Startled, I search my memory as the cadence of the 1950s-era type of question seems eerily familiar: Are you or have you ever been a communist?

They continue: “You were seen filming near a military installation in San Diego this past May.”

I freeze in disbelief. I hear in my head: Are you or have you ever been a terrorist?

“The informant who reported this tip was concerned because you're dark,” the agents say.

My eyes widen. It's true. I am dark. I see mass roundups and detention camps.

My mind swirls as I see Big Brother—eyes and ears everywhere on the lookout for brown people walking, running, driving, eating, reading, talking, copying, e-mailing, flying and filming suspiciously. Yet this is no futuristic movie. They're here in front of me, questioning me.

Meanwhile, my memory returns: “My wife and I travel a lot,” I tell them. “We've been filming a documentary all over the country, and I do recall being in San Diego that month. I interviewed a friend who related that as a child, she used to freely cross the border along the beach to eat tacos. Nowadays, it has a fence all the way into the ocean.”

The fence was installed to prevent Mexicans from crossing freely.

The agents ask me the nature of the documentary. “About the origins and migrations of Mexican and Central American people,” I respond.

What do you do for a living? they ask. “My wife and I write a syndicated column.” We're opposed to mindless war because we uphold all life as sacred and we write about the need to protect our rights and freedoms, I want to tell them, but they don't ask. Satisfied, they say there's nothing untoward about my filming. They simply are following up because of the military installation and that small matter of my skin color.

After more questions, they leave and I realize that the informant couldn't have seen me at that interview because I was in my friend's car, not my rental car. Details. Perhaps the informant saw me when I filmed the yellow signs that warn motorists of migrants crossing Interstate 5. There must be a deeper meaning here, but it hasn't come to me yet.

At no time were the agents unprofessional (though they didn't give me any information on how to contact them). They were as courteous as the agents who routinely randomly search us at airports, and as courteous as the ones who recently flagged me down as a terrorist at the Dallas airport, only to clear me shortly thereafter (as always, same name, wrong person). It's not their conduct that bothers me. It's that it's happening at all. I wonder if I now have a file and whether my e-mail account and phones have been compromised. I will reread the USA Patriot Act.

More troubling is that all brown people are now potential suspects. Bring out your duct tape. In this color-coded world we now live in, my code is red-brown. Yet the government claims we need even more laws to secure the homeland. Sure, if bringing about Big Brother is illegal, just pass a new law (Patriot Act II) to make it legal and don't ever question the wisdom of war. We're not far from the day when we all have to look over our shoulders or hesitate every time we hear a knock on the door or speak our minds.

Like a bad “B” movie, the administration made veiled threats that there might be repercussions against Mexicans (all brown people) in the United States if the government of Mexico did not support its war against Iraq. Vigilantes must be whooping it up and reloading in the desert.

There's another knock on the door. Are we scared? No. We reject living in a state or nation of fear.


The author and his wife, Patricia Gonzalez, write “The Column of the Americas,” and make films. Roberto is also author ofJustice: A Question of Race\\

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