Borderlands: An Open Wound

April 2nd, 2009

Field Notes #1

Posted by sewonchung in Research

When: 03/08/09
Where: On the airplane flying towards Tucson Arizona from Atlanta Georgia.
Who: Two strangers—a man and a woman

Difficulty of Drawing Borders of “Nationality”

The airplane just took off into the air. I feel distracted. I am listening to a conversation between two passengers next to me—a woman and a man. The woman is in her early 60s but looks in her mid-50s and the man looks to be in his early 30s and married. She talks a lot and tries hard to engage the man next to her, telling him about her trip to Costa Rica. The man, on the other hand, speaks in short sentences and looks off into a distance every once in awhile. The woman does not seem to notice and she continues. The man with a short military haircut and bulky built body tells her that he’s in the army. He adds that he is an Arizona native, born and raised. The woman says she lives in a community in Arizona. Lots of retired folk there but everyone is very active. She explains that she has been taking watercolor classes and it’s so much fun.
→ The woman laughs and starts, “You know a funny thing, I noticed these buses taking migrants across. You know anything about that?”
→ He shrugs and says has been living in Germany for the past 9 years serving in the army. He doesn’t really know much about U.S. politics anymore.
→ “What do you think about Obama?” the woman asks.
→ “I don’t know too much about him. We’ll see,” he replies.
→ “Well, I heck liked that girl from Alaska. It’s too bad that man kept calling himself a maverick. It frightened a lot of people.”
→ The man is not talking much anymore but nodding at everything the woman says. The woman returns to the conversation about the bus. She says she noticed that the border patrols nicely take these people to the base, feed them, give them water, and send them on a bus back to their “home.”
→ She says, “I mean, I imagine that costs us a ton of money to do that for all these people. I asked the border patrol what he thought about this situation. He just laughed and said, ‘Well, a job is a job, you know.’”
→ She abruptly starts talking about Costa Rica, “Well, I mean, when I was in Costa Rica I met this couple. They are from Costa Rica so you know, Hispanic, but very, you know, high class, hmm high class society types. Educated and everything.” She fidgets and says, “I don’t know where I was going with that. I mean, Arizona is great for retired active folk.”
→ The man starts talking about a small town in Arizona where he was born and raised. His family has been there forever. He added, “But I’m married now…children in the planning. I’m trying to retire from the army and searching for a job in Germany. We want to continue to live in Frankfurt. I think for me, that’s my home.”
→ The woman looks confused and asks, “Is your wife German?” and then quickly adds, “Well, children are nice.” The conversation dwindles off from there on.

IT’S INTERESTING TO BE SUCH A VISIBLE YET INVISIBLE RESEARCHER IN THE FIELD (IS ANYWHERE AND EVERYWHERE A FIELD? WHAT’S PRIVATE?) AT THE MOST UNEXPECTED TIMES—WHEN I AM HALF FALLING ASLEEP CATCHING AN INSIGHTFUL CONVERSATION BETWEEN TWO STRANGERS. BECAUSE OF THEIR STRANGER-STATUS, THE TWO WERE CAREFUL ABOUT SELF-REPRESENTATION. THEY WERE WARY OF MAKING STRONG POLITICAL STATEMENTS BUT THEY BOTH THOUGHT IT WAS IMPORTANT TO ESTABLISH AN UNDERSTANDING OF EACH OTHER’S POSITIONS AND IDEA OF “HOMETOWN.” FOR THE WOMAN LIVING IN ARIZONA, SHE SEEMED CONFUSED ABOUT SEEING BORDER PATROLS AIDING ILLEGAL MIGRANTS AND HELPING THEM GET “HOME.” HOWEVER, NEITHER WANTED TO TALK ABOUT ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION. THE WOMAN TRIED TO MOVE THE CONVERSATION AND SAY SOMETHING POSITIVE ABOUT LATINO MIGRANTS BY TALKING ABOUT THE COSTA RICAN COUPLE BUT COULD NOT REALLY RELATE HER EXPERIENCE WITH ONE ANOTHER AND JUST TALKED ABOUT HER NEIGHBORHOOD IN ARIZONA INSTEAD. THE MAN, RETURNING HOME IN 9 YEARS, WAS ALSO EAGER TO TALK ABOUT THE SMALL TOWN WHERE HE GREW UP, A PLACE DIFFERENT FROM HIS CITYLIFE IN GERMANY. AT THE SAME TIME, HE IDENTIFIED MORE WITH GERMANY AND THOUGHT OF HIS NEW COUNTRY AS HIS HOME. HE QUIETLY ARTICULATED THIS AND THE WOMAN SEEMED GENUINELY CONFUSED ABOUT IT. SHE MUST HAVE ASSUMED FROM HIS APPEARANCE THAT HE WOULD FEEL A CERTAIN WAY ABOUT THE BORDER OR THE RECENT ELECTIONS BUT IT TURNS OUT HE IS NOT REALLY INTERESTED IN EITHER. HE DIDN’T SAY HE BECAME MORE “GERMAN” DURING HIS SERVICE ABROAD BUT HE CLEARLY DISTINGUISHED HIMSELF AS SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO PERMANENTLY LIVE ABROAD AND RAISE CHILDREN THERE, IN HIS NEW HOME. THIS JUST MAKES ME THINK A LOT ABOUT THE FLEXIBILITY OF “NATIONALITY” OR THE IDEA OF “HOME.” AND THIS IS ONLY THE FLIGHT TO ARIZONA AND HERE I AM WITH PAGES OF NOTES ALREADY. I CAN’T WAIT!

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