When Arizona passed law SB 1070 this April, I was immediately filled with such deep emotions that I could barely put them into words: shock, shame, horror, fear. I had spent my adolescence in a rural community in America where I was “profiled” on a daily basis. The stares, the taunts, the name-calling came back to me in a rush of memories. Being followed in stores. Being denied employment. Being told to my face by my classmates and by adults that I looked “wrong” because of my dark hair and eyes, my straight body, my round face. I knew what it was like to be profiled, and I knew it felt like Hell.
I also knew it had nothing to do with immigration status or finding people who were in America “illegally.” After all, I was born in America, and I am an American citizen. My only crime was that I didn’t look like everyone else in my community.
I posted a few notes about this on Facebook, but then my editor and friend at The Jakarta Post Weekender Magazine asked me if I would write up my experiences as an essay for The Weekender. I agreed.
Here’s the link: Being Profiled by May-lee Chai.
When I was a child, I had always hoped that one day some person would stand by my side and speak up for me against those who questioned my right to exist. As an adult, I know my rights and I can stand up for myself. But I still write about these issues so that I can be that one voice that speaks up for those who cannot yet speak for themselves–whether because they are too young or because they are afraid or because no one will listen. I also write because I know that I am not alone in opposing this kind of injustice, and I want my voice to join with the others who are speaking up now and will continue to do so. We cannot allow our civil rights to be taken away.
[To see more clearly the original layout of the article from The Weekender Magazine, with the beautiful graphic by Lucynda Gunadi, you can download the pdf here: weekender_AUGUST_2010_being_profiled. The photo montage is meant to illustrate the article; it is not a photograph of me.]