- From Mexico to Palestine: An Occupation of Knowledge, a Mestizaje of Methods
No connections here No illuminated parallels Two different histories and two different peoples Make no links Do not confuse the issues [ . . . ] I somehow know love will save us The proof is in the stories not broadcast The poems not published The truth between the lies The stories whispered in the dusk of this day1—Suheir Hammad
My individual and collective memories as a Chicana are permeated by border crossings. During an academic exchange in which I traveled to Palestine,2 an opportunity that is often denied to Palestinians themselves,3 these memories collided in my mind’s eye with my experiences at military checkpoints and the apartheid wall. My time in the West Bank combined with my personal history motivated me to think through and make the connections between these seemingly different and regionally distant communities through a transnational and comparative ethnic studies framework.
One particular checkpoint crossing entrenched itself in my memory more deeply than the rest and became the impetus for the thoughts I share in these pages. The encounter allowed me to see with stark clarity the interlocking ways in which modes of exclusion manifest themselves in military boundaries set up by settler colonies with the aim of increasing “national security.” After finishing our work at the academic institute, two professors and I were planning to leave the West Bank by crossing into Amman, Jordan, through the Sheikh Hussein Bridge in the north. We had packed our bags and arranged for a taxi to take us to the border, a journey made jagged by permanent and flying military checkpoints.4 Driving for a long stretch of time, I learned, is something taken for granted only in contexts outside of military occupation, [End Page 821] where occupying forces do not render such mobility impossible. After securing our luggage on the roof and in the trunk of the vehicle, we climbed into the taxi in Nablus to begin our trip. The three of us were female. The two professors were Palestinian. One had been born and raised in Palestine. The other professor, born in exile, was traveling to her homeland for the first time, an opportunity made possible only through her U.S. passport. While the three of us carried U.S. passports, the fact remained that we were women of color, automatically rendering us suspect.
The taxi stopped and the young Israeli soldier, with weapon in arms, came to the driver’s side. The interrogation began. Who were we? The taxi driver responded that we were three Americans. We had already given the taxi driver our passports, knowing all too well the scrutiny we would have to face in order to be granted passage. The Israeli soldier, who had emigrated from New York City to Israel, looked inside the vehicle, took note of our brown faces and asked the taxi driver if we were “American American” or “Arab American.” The driver responded. “American American.” The Israeli soldier took one more glance at us and requested to see our passports, most likely because we did not look “American American.”
Inside our blue passports, our names betrayed the brownness of our origins, and presumably our alliances. Thus, we were profiled under the guise of national security, as the Israeli soldier made us get out of the vehicle, take down our carefully arranged luggage, and open each piece so that he could search our belongings. Interestingly, the “search” was conducted in such a manner as to maximize fastidiousness and inconvenience along with a militaristic flair, without an actual inspection. The soldier made a performance of making us open all our bags and suitcases, briefly penetrating his weapon into each of our bags, leaving us with the cumbersome task of repacking and reloading. What exactly did he pretend to be looking for? Weapons? Bombs? Or perhaps more powerful than that, footage of soldiers or proof of injustices? Regardless, the “inspection” was an act conducted on the pretense of some perceived “threat” created by our lack of legitimacy as “Americans.”
Essentially we were not “American” enough to be allowed easy passage. I also had to...