February 26, 2010

From Santo Domingo to Sao Paulo with three kids

My task of remaining calm as we moved the family to Brazil became a bit more difficult when we had a couple of unexpected problems as we prepared to go to the airport. The first issue was that I had to return my wireless router to the Internet company personally. I had sent my husband, but, apparently, I had to go myself. Our second issue was that we nearly had too many bags to fit in our friend’s SUV.

Fortunately, we had planned to leave well ahead of schedule and were able to resolve those two problems and still get to the airport before noon for our 2:20 flight. We made it through check-in, immigration and customs fairly easily. We had overstayed our tourist visas in the Dominican Republic and everyone had to pay a US$30 fine – except for me. The Dominicans were nice enough to waive my fee when I told them I had technically not overstayed as I had traveled to Haiti for a few days.

The kids managed to keep themselves occupied in the airport and on the plane with their video games and other things we brought along to entertain them. The flight to Miami from Santo Domingo went reasonably well. I told the children that their reward for good behavior on the long trip to Brazil would be a trip horseback riding over the coming weekend. That seems to be working fairly well.

When we got off the plane in Miami, we were greeted by three large men in Homeland Security uniforms. They weren’t waiting for us, but seemed to be waiting for someone on the plane. I stopped to wait for my daughters behind me and they asked me to keep moving. Whatever they planned to do, it seems they didn’t want an audience.

We passed through immigration without much incident, and were told to go ahead when I gave my customs form to the customs agent. However, as we were making our way out of the customs area, an agent called Fernando and asked him to come and have his bags checked.

I was bothered by this. We had already been approved by customs; they had already told us to follow the green dots out of the door. However, one of the agents saw Nando with a pile of suitcases and made us go back – the wrong way – through the customs line. We put all ten of our bags through the x-ray. As we were headed out, I asked the agent why he had singled us out when we had already passed through customs.

He told me that it was a random search, because we had so many bags. We do have ten suitcases – three large ones and seven small ones. But, there are five of us – so only two each. I looked at him, and said: “That’s okay, I know why you stopped us.”

My suspicion is that my husband, Nando, was racially profiled. When I, a white woman, handed my customs form to the Border Patrol agent, he waved us through without realizing that Fernando, my brown-skinned husband, was with us. One of his colleagues made up for that oversight by calling us to go back through the line.

I did find it ironic that the Border Patrol agent’s last name was Pardo – as that is a Spanish word for a person of color. I am at least glad that I found a way to call him out. So much for our “welcome” to the US – one by over-zealous security forces whose mandates in the war against terrorism and the war against drugs mostly work to police and surveil people of color in the US.

On a more positive note, all of the non-security agents we encountered in Miami were pleasant. And, we had a delicious meal at la Carreta Cubana. Nando had pollo asado, and I had ropa vieja. The food was tasty, and they gave us very generous portions. At least we wouldn’t be hungry during our long flight to Sao Paulo.


  1. I'm glad you said what you did to the agent. At least someone was willing to be honest in the situation.

  2. Emily: Thanks! I am glad I did too. It was the least I could do. I always feel better when I am able to respond to situations like this instead of just letting them slide.