Friday, 28 October 2011


It's late on Thursday nite and I'm about to go to bed. I'm back in the USA - Pittsburgh this time - and geared up for another conference.

This morning I left my place really early and walked to the subway, caught the train-then-bus, waited in several lines, put up with some questions from some border guards, got a stamp on my passport, and came to Pittsburgh. Inconvenient? Perhaps, if you are in the mood to grumble about standing in line and spending a lot of time geting through processes.

As I waited for my carry-on things to come through the xray machine I needed to wait for the Muslim woman in front of me to be searched by the additional hand-held metal detector... she smiled an apology for holding things up, and I found myself smiling back, hoping to give over the impression that I could see she has to put up with this kind of targetting all the time, that I was in solidarity with her, that if anything I was apologising to her for not being pulled over for extra screening myself. I realised as I thought all of this that this was itself a kind of condescension, that I was projecting as much generalised 'stuff' on her because of her hijab as the border guards had.

I also recalled the story I heard of a Samoan mother, baby and accompanying nurse who were held at the Honolulu border because there was a problem with the mother's papers even though the baby and nurse were US nationals... they were en route to the hospital because the baby was so sick, and despite the mother pleading the guards to let the baby and nurse go through and just hold onto her, they didn't. And the baby didn't make it to hospital.

Yes, these are the stakes of crossing borders and my own privilege as I pass between the US and Canada is so explicit it is almost odious. The response to privilege is to dismantle rather than disavow, and yet in this hotel room tonite it is hard to imagine what kind of dismantling I could really contribute towards. Certainly refusing to come to the US at all is a plausible moral position, but it seems to miss an important point, that the people who experience the border differently from me are - by virtue of their decision to cross the border despite the risks - not able to make the same decision and so that it itself a kind of privilege.

I'm giving a paper this weekend at this conference about transnational writing networks in the Pacific, and specifically how Pacific poets refer to each other and specfically name each other in their work as a way of building up a record of their collective existence despite the massive range of borders and centres across the regoin. I am wondering how these things connect... if I have any thoughts, I'll keep you posted :)

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