The clash of cultural expectations
“I need the address.”, the immigration official shouted at her, as she, a septuagenarian Indian woman, with her limited English, repeatedly, pointed to the paper containing the phone number of her daughter.
She was ahead of me in the immigration queue and now, was standing at the immigration counter adjacent to mine at SFO airport. After getting my immigration work done, I asked the officer, “She seems to be having trouble understanding English, do you mind if I assist her?”. “Go ahead”, replied the officer. “Auntiji, kya hua?” [what happened], I asked. Embezzled and embarrassed with the harsh treatment, she broke into tears, the officer directed me to take her to secondary screening. We went there and waited for them to make a decision.
She was from the Himalayan city of Shimla, making her third visit to the USA to meet her daughter and son-in-law. I tried repeatedly calling them but they were not reachable. She was traumatized and confused, vowing never to return again. It took less than ten minutes for them to declare that everything is fine and she can proceed but given language, barrier things could have gone rough. We crossed the immigration barrier and she met her daughter.
The incident happened in early 2013 and I almost forgot about it as a one-off thing, till I read about Sureshbhai Patel, a sexagenarian Indian with limited English, visiting his son in Alabama left paralyzed by Madison Police. Mr. Patel is paralyzed for life, the officer Eric Parker’s career after a brief break is back on track. A similar incident, worse ending.