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Name game

Posted: August 11, 2017 at 8:59 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By the time this paper is picked up to be distributed around the County, I will be on my way to New York City, taking a weeklong break from the stresses of everyday life and ensuring the paper gets to press so it can be picked up and distributed around the County.

This should be a relaxing break, a nice road trip, some culture and lights. No big deal. New York State is Ontario’s next door neighbour, hardly a foreign land, despite the international border. I’ve been there a handful of times, each a pleasant experience.

This is what I expected when the trip was planned a year ago. And yet I will spend at least part of the trip biting my nails, worried about what will come next.

On my passport, under the heading ‘Place of birth’, the word Jerusalem is printed in allcaps.

Jerusalem is an international city, as far as the UN is concerned. I wasn’t born in Israel, although the city is within that country’s borders. Instead, a long-standing dispute over a land with holy connotations to many has resulted in ambiguity about my birthplace.

This, along with my very un-Anglo-Saxonsounding name, has resulted in minor hassles in the past. Authorities in the US and Morocco have both eyed my passport with suspicion, asked me questions I didn’t feel were fair, and pulled me aside for a ‘random’ bag check.

In the end, each time, I have made it through after a minor delay. An annoyance, to be sure, but cross-border travel is rarely a pleasant experience, save perhaps the delight of the destination.

New York is a great city. Its wealth and long history of a veritable 1812 Overture of culture clashes means there is no end of places to visit, things to see and food to sample.

But New York is also a part of the United States.

And at the moment, being from an ambiguous, conflicted place and with a name like mine, trying to cross the border into the US could lead to more than a simple inconvenience. What if they don’t let me in? What happens next?

When I planned this trip, none of these worries existed. It’s hard to believe it’s been less than a year since they materialized. It feels like longer.

Chances are it will be fine. Chances are I’m worrying over nothing, and by the time this paper is opened up by a reader wishing to enjoy the new edition with their morning coffee, I’ll be sailing past Syracuse and probably finding other things to worry about.

Truthfully, I am lucky. Through nothing more than an accident of birth, my life has been very easy thus far. There are those who planned a trip to New York and other US destinations last year who can be quite certain they will not be permitted to cross that border.

I appreciate that. I also appreciate that, had I been born to the same family 70 years ago, my story would be quite different.

See you in a week.

mihal@mihalzada.com