Saturday, December 31, 2005

america's racist and power-hungry border guards

when returning from costa rica to the usa, i went through miami. i had forgotten a form that i should've been carrying with me, and so they sent me to the inner sanctum, where they would verify that i was who i said i was, and really had the required authorization to enter the united states.

no before detailing what i consider to be verbal abuse, i want to be up front: i should have had this form. coming in from canada, i would've probably been fine. coming from costa rica, it's another story. that been said, the us government issued this form to me -- they knew i had it.

i was taken to the office of a border guard who other border guards indicated was the one who handled the "tough cases." he proceeded to ask me a bunch of questions about my original entry from canada. after a number of questions it was clear to me that he felt that i hadn't paid for some required documentation, and he was going to ask me to pay anywhere from $65 to $200 to put everything on the up-and-up.

now i knew i had paid for these documents (well, to be more precise, google had paid for them when renewing my visa). as such, i asked him if i paid now could i somehow get some refund when i could prove later, after returning home, that i had the documents all along.

this was the wrong thing to say, it seems. i suppose i was, in my own small way, countering his authority. his response was, "that's not my problem. and you know what? i've sent lots of canadians back to costa rica. i can send you too. why don't you just pay the money now, and make everything easier?"

i agreed and he continued: "and suppose i send you to costa rica or canada. then to get back in you have to get lawyers involved. google lawyers. over the holidays. you think they'll do this for you? are you important at google? are you bill gates' son?"

me: "no, not that important."

him: "i didn't think so. so what don't you focus on getting back into the country in the easiest way possible."

i was pretty taken aback at this point. but then he added some icing. he got up to leave the room, but just before leaving he turns to me and asks: "so where are your ancestors from?"

i'm a bit shocked at this point. what does this have to do with anything? i respond: "my dad's from india, my mom's from canada."

him: "but where's your mom really from? like her parents?"

me: "they're british a few generations back, scottish, english, ultimately."

he said nothing at this point and just left. a few minutes later he and his boss come back into the office and say to me: "look, you had good grades at cornell, you seem like a smart guy who made a mistake, so we'll let you go, no charge." they laugh about this for a few minutes, how their grades weren't so great, and expect thanks from me. which i sickeningly give. my racist officer then tells me that he's putting a warning in the system about me -- best i don't forget that form anymore.

my feelings

this experience was my most humiliating and degrading at the border to date. in ithaca after 911 they called the ithaca police in to interview me, and that was pretty bad, but this was way above this. i couldn't say anything to this guy except "yes," "thank you" and other agreeing statements lest i wanted to be verbally abused and possibly tossed back to costa rica or canada.

i was screwed either way: if i capitulated, which is what i did, i lose my dignity. i really feel like i lost my dignity. they made me feel awful, worthless, and just lucky to even enter the united states.

if i stood up for myself, i could've easily been banned from the us, or been given an extremely difficult time when trying to enter ever again. it's awful.

the signs and writing on various papers at the border control office indicated that the officers are to treat people with dignity and respect. i got none of that. instead i was verbally abused, racially profiled, and stripped of my dignity.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

costa rica photos

i've posted some of my photos on flickr. i'll comment more about the trip soon...

Saturday, December 24, 2005

content creation: make it easy!

i was in costa rica for a week recently. i'll have pictures soon, but i wanted to first share my thoughts on something that occurred to me while sitting in the airport waiting to leave.

the duty free store is a few meters away from me. a man starts to walk past the store, to my right. just as he walks past, the eric clapton song "layla" starts to play on my ipod. this man looks a bit down. his wife is next to him, she looks tired, looks like she just wants to get out of this country. he isn't the happiest camper either: maybe a bit o' the booze to cheer him up, hmm? anyway, he stops walking, turns towards the shop, thinks a bit, then goes in.

it was perfectly timed to the music. i wanted to film it, slap it with the music, put it on a usb card (or some cheap transport medium), and give it to him. that's where technology needs to go. easy realization of complicated ideas. turn my imagination into reality, for the general consumer.

Here's a pictorial rendition of the stage i set in words above:

Thursday, December 08, 2005

graduate studies: 1 semester down, no closer to a thesis :)

today i had my last classes of the semester. wow, one semester almost done (short of a problem set and a project due next week). it's been an interesting 4 months.

i've been thinking a lot about what i actually want to research and explore going forward in my phd. i'll be honest: of the 3 classes i took this semester, i found my theory class the least interesting. some of the theorems and ideas were cool, but i didn't feel excited about any of the ideas -- nothing leapt out at me and said "study me, you like me!"

the class that actually stimulated me the most, and really excited me was not even in the computer science department. it was a class on participatory media. "what's that?", you ask.. well, we were trying to define it in the class. But here's a description of the class taken from the private wiki:

The Net is a platform for participatory media. The recent and ongoing emergence of inexpensive, worldwide, many-to-many publishing and communication media, built on the platform of Internet and wireless communication technologies, has already influenced both politics and journalism. This class explores political activism in the Net context, as well as key aspects such as mass media, political communications, and smart mobs: emerging forms of technology-enabled collective actions. We will read and discuss issues, theories and real world examples from the US, Philippines, Korea, Mexico, China, and elsewhere.

I became really interested in how people are connecting with each other now, especially for political causes, and I did a mini-study of China. This got me thinking about the importance of building technologies and systems for the public good.

Finally, today in my systems class the profs spoke about their research, the research community, and what inspires and drives them. mothy made a point which really resonated with me: he spoke about building systems that interface between areas, turn ideas on their heads, and at the same time do something new that helps move the community forward (NOTE: maybe he didn't say exactly this, but that's what i started thinking about).

why did this resonate with me? well, i guess i've realized that i have real interests in developing systems, and to connect this with my participatory media class, i also have a strong interest in connecting these technolgoies with public, or mayb political, movements.

now how do i mesh this all together?