It was the second time we were being interrogated interviewed by TSA when man said that to my mother and me in New York when I was nine years old. I was nine years old when we started getting screened for security more than once. Our offense? For my mother, it was stuttering when she spoke English. For me, it was not doing the talking for the two of us when it was “clear” to others that the language came more naturally to me than it did to my mom.
Whenever I played Papers, Please, I was nine years old all over again and the TSA man was peering down at me from his seat, judging me and my mom based on our appearances without even looking at our papers. People can ask me all they want about “exactly how” I reacted to the game, but until they are faced with the threat of being forced to leave a country that was supposed to be their home based on the prejudices of an official drunk on power, they will never understand the primal instinctiveness or the rawness of my perception of this game.
I have been playing Papers, Please since we were first assigned the game to play, and no matter which ending I reach, the reactions are the same. The memory of a scared girl not knowing what deportation or forgery meant but knowing that there was a man who wasn’t doing his job and making her mom upset always invades my mind, and I am reminded that not much has changed in the years that I’ve travelled back and forth between America and other countries.
When you’ve been detained on your own and with family multiple times per trip per year for multiple years, there comes a time when you stop caring about the fact that you’ve been detained and more about the reasons behind your detainment, because let me tell you, I’ve been stopped for the oddest reasons. There were times when the people working at TSA just told me directly that I was most likely stopped because of the color of my skin. These people were usually the ones who were the most skeptical of the system, of course. To their credit, they apologized on the behalf of those who weren’t so cognizant, but when the airport security of the “land of the free” has so many parallels to the border control of a fictional, Soviet-inspired nation, I think we may be tackling a much larger problem than people would like to deal with.
Then again, I could just be hypersensitive to everything because of my own crappy experiences with airport security. Let me know!