Crossing A Border? Here Are Some TCK Pro Tips!

Who has had a supremely pleasant experience crossing a border where the officers are kind, welcoming and let you in with no problems? No? Me neither. Let’s just say, there’s a reason comedians make fun of border patrol and airport security. I included my favourite comedy routines on the subject in this post to help lighten this heavy subject.

I grew up between two of the most hostile countries when it comes to border patrol and security. So, I got really good at dealing with it. My parents said France and Switzerland border patrol care the most about paperwork. As long as you have that in order, they are usually okay with you. That sounds mild compared to my passport countries. Okay, Napoleon, I don’t appreciate the paperwork headache, but as long as I don’t get a hard time at the border, thank you!

Whether you are crossing a border for travel or immigration purposes, it’s helpful to know how to deal with border patrol. I will include tips on dealing with airport security too. Border patrol and airport security is a content warning in its own right. However, I want to mention I will include some examples of stories that people may find disturbing.

Before You Leave:

Do any necessary paperwork. I know that doesn’t sound like fun, but it will save you an enormous headache later. Make sure your passport is still valid too. If it isn’t or if you have less than 6 months on it, renew it! Being born in Switzerland and living in France, it was my birthright to learn how to fill in paperwork properly. It was one of those cultural things my parents made sure to teach me. That served me well when I moved to England and I expect it will serve me well here in Canada too. I remember when I was old enough to do paperwork, and my Mum gave me practice forms to fill in. She made me practise… and practise… and PRACTISE until I was almost tearing my hair out.

My Mum was sympathetic but also strict about the fact that I needed to know this. She told me stories later about how she learned how to deal with paperwork in France/Switzerland. This was before the internet really took off too, so hey, I learned paperwork from a master!

This is why I love Roz’s character from Monsters Inc. Every scene with her makes paperwork and border patrol a little easier to handle.

It really helps to think of border patrol officers like Roz, or even like in Life is Beautiful, Guido and Joshua call the concentration camp guards, “Mean Guys Who Yell.”

One More Thing:

Check the laws, regulations and rights when you cross the border. I’m serious. Anyone can get stopped at the border and you have to be prepared in case it happens. Additionally, if you are arriving in a country that has questionable (or dare I say abusive in some cases) human rights practices, you have to be even more prepared. More on that later.

Check requirements for airport security and customs too. If you’re in doubt about taking something with you, either don’t take it or ask at security or customs if it’s allowed. I heard a story once about this elderly German guy who was flying into the USA. He brought baking soda with him to brush his teeth. He was detained for hours while security tested it. They came back and said, “it’s baking soda.” Um, they could have figured it out by pouring apple cider vinegar on it and creating a mini volcano!

Case in point: what happens when you take fruit across the US/Canada border.

Now that you’re prepared, here’s are my tips when you are going through security or crossing the border.

Golden Rule: Do NOT Use Humour!

Just DON’T! When I was younger, my Mum told me this story to remind me not to use humour. Groucho Marx said that he was a smuggler when he went through the border. They detained him even though they knew who he was. Plus, the previous video with Leland Klassen conveys that message of not using humour too.

One time, my Dad used humour with Border Patrol. We had just got permanent residence in the UK, and my Dad was arriving back in the UK after a trip to the US. He was having his papers checked at Border Patrol and they asked him how he got permanent residence. Side Note: One of our family discussions at the time was about this guy who gave Β£1,000,000 to the Labour Party to obtain UK citizenship.

Anyway, Border Patrol asked my Dad, “How did you get your permanent residence?”

He joked, “I gave Β£1,000,000 to the Labour Party!”

The woman questioning him looked blank and said, “Good for you.”

Okay, that worked out in the end. Still, I don’t advocate using humour. Border Patrol has NO sense of humour! They just get on with the job.

Honesty is the Best Policy:

If you are familiar with typical questions you are asked, I suggest you practice your answers if you have ANY uncertainty of what you are going to say! Border Patrol may try to throw you off with an atypical comment or question. It’s normal to freeze when that happens. I don’t have any right answer for when that happens. Just be kind to yourself, especially if you say something that you feel like you shouldn’t have said in retrospect. Frankly, I get panic attacks when that happens. Sometimes, I can come up with a good save in answer to an awkward question, but it takes practice. It didn’t happen overnight for me.

Here’s something people don’t often tell you. Sometimes, you have to tell the border officers which law(s) is/are applicable to your case. Border officers have to keep track of MANY different laws. I had a situation once where I had to tell the border officer the law that applied to me. Sometimes, you wonder if they really don’t know that law, and it’s true that it can be the case. Other times, it can likely be just needing to know all these different laws and it’s hard to recall them at the drop of a hat.

I’m glad Trevor Noah makes the situation lighter in this video.

If You Make A Mistake, Own It:

You might make a mistake in your paperwork or answer a question wrongly. In that case, admit the mistake. Don’t try to flatter the officers, like how Mike Wazowzki tries to flatter Roz. Yes, there will be consequences. I made a mistake once. I thought one regulation applied to me, but it turned out there was a new one. Because I was preparing to move I didn’t check for updates. It takes a while to go through those regulations, and it’s one of those things you only want to do once when you move.

Decide Which Information is Important to Share and Which Isn’t:

To be clear, I’m NOT saying you should hide information! Far from it! What I am saying is you should prioritize what information you should share. When I got dual nationality, I learned that I have to decide on a case by case basis whether I should disclose it. I don’t say I’m a dual citizen if I am entering one of my passport countries. They don’t need to know that. They just need to see my passport. I disclosed my dual nationality to Canadian immigration when I moved. When you look at immigration forms, they ask if you’re a dual citizen. Canada’s the first country I have seen who does this! That makes me very happy that they are recognizing that a lot of people are dual citizens.

When I repatriated to the US, my Dad sat me down and had a serious talk with me about being careful who I tell that I’m a dual citizen when I’m in the US. Basically, if anyone asks me if I’m a US citizen while on US soil, I have to say yes. You’re considered a security risk if you’re a dual citizen in the US. Honestly, I find that completely disgusting and backwards! There are more TCKs in the world than ever before because of globalization and more people are getting dual nationality than before! Frankly, the US and other countries need to catch up!

Know Your Rights:

This is where it can really get ugly. Your rights can still be violated if you’re a citizen of a country that you are entering. My uncle re-entered the US after a trip to a country in South America that the US deemed a security risk. They threatened to do something that would have violated his rights as a US citizen. He said, “I’m a US citizen. You can’t do this to me!” It worked because my uncle knew his rights. If you don’t know your rights, it’s easier for border patrol to exploit you!

Here are two more tips I have. First, check if you can ask to speak to a lawyer at no extra cost to you before you leave. Certain countries are legally required to provide you with a lawyer at no extra cost upon request. Check if that applies to the country you’re entering. I only recently learned about this. I had problems entering Canada. My Dad said, later on, I should have asked to speak to a lawyer. Glad I know that for future reference!

My second tip is to find out their discrimination laws. If you can find a reason why they can’t discriminate against you, use it!

Other Stories:

After 9/11, border patrol and airport security in the US got even scarier. I vowed to myself that I would visit there as little as possible. This wasn’t something that would calm down after a few years either. There were a lot of personal stories going around of US border patrol and airport security being more abusive overall. Things only got slightly better because of people complaining about their experiences.

I have heard of UK citizens being stopped at the border if they are naturalized citizens and questioned about the legitimacy of their citizenship. That’s one reason why I am leery about entering the UK again. Additionally, I have heard stories of Canadians who are Muslim being stopped at the US border because of Trump’s Islamaphobic travel bans!

Take Care of Yourself Afterwards:

I’m serious. In my post, Flying Internationally and Locally During COVID-19, I describe how I was feeling after going through Border Control. My Mum and I had to make our flight to Calgary right after that! Adrenaline was pumping SO hard then! I thought I was either going to throw up or pass out! I had to use the flight to Calgary to recover from that ordeal. The airplane views were beautiful, so I watched out the window.

If I hadn’t had to catch a plane, I would have taken care of myself. First, I would have gone into the bathroom to come down from the massive panic attack I was having. Then, I would have drunk a lot of water and maybe had some food once I felt better.

My point is that your body is going to respond to the stress of going through border patrol. It’s important to do whatever you need to do to manage it.

Laugh About It:

At some point, I can’t take what happens too seriously. I also remember that these border officers are people too and sometimes, you can see their human side. Then, it’s almost comical when something is way too easy. Listen to this last comedy routine to find out why!

What do you think of my tips and stories? Do you agree? Disagree? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!

Marda Loop Justice Film Festival

In mid-November, I got a library card at the Calgary Public Library! One way I feel like I’m really settling in somewhere is when I’m at the point I can get a library card! Because of COVID, I can’t go to any in-person events they have, or volunteer. However, they do have some online events I can participate in. The first event I participated in was the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival. They showed a movie every day, and at the end of the movie, they interviewed one of the people behind the creation of the movie. Here are the movies they showed for the week, as well as my personal commentary on it.

Warning: Contains spoilers!

Content Warning: War, enslavement, animal harm, rape, displaced people, AIDS.

Safe Haven:

This movie struck a lot of personal chords with me, especially because I’m new to Canada. They interviewed Vietnam and Iraq War veterans who sought refugee status in Canada to escape the draft (for Vietnam) or resist the horrors of war. The Vietnam War veterans had better luck with their refugee status than the Iraq War veterans.

During the Harper Administration, some Iraq War veterans were deported and had to spend months in prison under inhumane conditions. The movie talks honestly about the struggles Iraq War veterans faced with their immigration and the ensuing social activism to protect them. There are some things that I don’t feel I am in a position to comment on at this time.

I want to give a shout-out to the fact that social activists mentioned a lot of these veterans are LGBTQIA+. Additionally, the movie showed what the Vietnam veterans have been doing to contribute to Canadian society. A majority of them ran for office, and one of them is a judge who advocates for Indigenous communities. Of course, one of the veterans couldn’t be interviewed because he had severe PTSD, but you felt sympathetic about it.

The movie ended by saying that tens of thousands of US citizens moved to Canada in 2017 after Trump got elected. I know I moved later, but it still hit me hard that so many US citizens feel the same way I do. I think this movie is honest in talking about the past. Plus, it makes you think about what Canada can do to help US citizens who have recently emigrated and don’t feel they can repatriate.

I think the parts that resonated with me the most were how the veterans talked about adjusting to life in Canada. My own adjustment period has been up and down emotionally, particularly because I’m detoxing from a toxic country. Like those vets, I feel less American as time goes on. It gave me hope though that I will adjust. I’m determined to have a life like those Vietnam vets! I will become a productive citizen and give back to a country that I love that welcomed me when I needed it!

Servitude:

Servitude, or ServidΓ£o, is about human trafficking in Brazil. It was a thoughtful and thorough examination of Brazil’s history. Apparently, it was legal to keep those of African descent enslaved in Brazil decades after other countries had made it illegal. After enslaving people became illegal, corporations in Brazil found a way to keep millions of citizens working below poverty wages. Not only does this keep people in poverty, but those people are under orders to do tasks that destroy the rainforest, which creates its own social issues. Human trafficking clearly needs to be part of the discussions on how to stop deforesting the Amazonian rainforest. Now, I realize that stopping deforestation is much easier said than done.

Fortunately, there were organizations that resisted human trafficking and got millions of people out of enslaved labour. Unfortunately, when the far-right government was elected a few years ago, people were being trafficked again.

There was an interview with the director, and they asked him what he thought of the history of enslaved people in the USA compared to Brazil. I think he answered it as best he could, but he definitely got a couple of facts wrong. I also think it was an unfair question because I could tell from his answer that Brazilians know just as much about the US as Americans do about Brazil. I think more than anything, this movie showed the importance of understanding a country’s history before judging them for issues like destroying the rainforest. After all, several wise people have said those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.

Sockeye Salmon, Red Fish:

This movie showed sockeye salmon are being overfished and illegally poached. It explained how large corporations that fish the salmon and poachers affect the ecosystem of the Kamchatka peninsula and the livelihoods of local fishermen. The group that filmed the movie do a lot of education and outreach to the citizens of the Kamchatka peninsula, particularly the children. I wasn’t too familiar with the issue of disrupting salmon migrations and how it affects local ecosystems. The person they interviewed at the end was a biologist in British Columbia who studies the effects of disrupting salmon migrations and climate change. She was brutally honest about the fact that farmed fish is not a good solution to the problem of overfishing and declining salmon populations.

From Durban to Tomorrow:

The International AIDS Conference started in Durban, South Africa in 2000. Mass advocacy for universal access to AIDS treatment started then and continues to this day. The movie interviewed five people who are on the front line of advocating for universal access to healthcare in South Africa, Guinea, Spain, India and Hungary. The activists spoke honestly of the social stigma of AIDS and what social structures are affecting access to healthcare. I felt the saddest thing was in South Africa, women are highly likely to become infected with HIV by the time they are 16 because they are more likely to be raped by that age.

Additionally, US drug companies are withholding their newest treatments and finding ways to defund healthcare systems in other countries. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely surprised by that because I know what is happening with England’s healthcare system. The movie basically sent the message that citizens need to start advocating to keep their country’s healthcare systems providing equal access to quality healthcare.

Alice Street:

This movie was another one that I got a lot of feels about because my university was in Oakland. The movie talks about how the racial and ethnic diversity in Oakland has given the city its unique identity. The community worked with artists who wished to celebrate that identity on a massive mural. After the mural was painted, some Karen decided to protest it by having a temper tantrum at city officials and media. Additionally, gentrification started happening because of tech workers moving into Oakland. The mural was one of the driving forces behind the movement against gentrification.

When I was at university, the activism against gentrification was in full swing. I have seen the mural with my own eyes, and it’s one of those things that I like to stop and admire and consider the messages behind it. I had to leave my campus quite suddenly because my classes went online last March thanks to the pandemic. I do miss Oakland, and I am keeping up to date on what’s going on there with the anti-gentrification movement.

Never Going Back:

Never Going Back or Para No Volver is about this Honduran family with two girls who seek asylum in Mexico. It was an honest portrayal of culture shock and missing your home. I admit though, I had to stop watching it at one point. The family tries to enter the USA and they know they risk being separated. Anyone who has read my past posts knows how I feel about those deplorable Trump Administration policies that separate families, so I won’t repeat it.

Indebted to All Women:

Indebted to All Women or En Deuda con Todas is about the social effects of El Salvador’s laws restricting access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. Many women are interviewed in this movie who have done time for having babies who were stillborn. They were prosecuted for killing their babies when in reality, their bodies were just doing their job. These women almost died themselves giving birth but the law completely ignored that. Additionally, the lack of access to sexual and reproductive healthcare has disproportionately affected low-income girls and women. More girls get pregnant because they were raped and the rate at which they are raped is disgustingly high! This movie is another example of expanding equal access to women’s reproductive healthcare that must include ending rape culture and toxic masculinity. From Durban to Tomorrow had the same theme.

Overall, I think the festival did an excellent job of showing documentaries that covered a range of social issues. These movies made you think about how they were relevant to other countries, not just the ones portrayed. Since these documentaries are portraying stories of human suffering, I think they were tactful and respectful in their interviews, visuals and information. I have seen documentaries and TV shows that weren’t so respectful and I don’t think that’s an effective way to help your audience learn. Disturbing things can turn your audience off and documentaries can walk a fine line with portraying their subjects. I find documentaries that decide what are the points of the movie, portray their points clearly, succinctly and respectfully, and then move onto the next point are more effective in helping me learn about what’s going on. I have seen gory and disrespectful portrayals in documentaries and shows that just keep making the same point over and over. That makes me think, “Was that necessary?” Ultimately, I would find another way to learn about the subject.

Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised that the film festival had a clip of Land Acknowledgment before every movie. I have noticed Land Acknowledgment is more of a thing here in Canada. I didn’t even know what Land Acknowledgment was until 2018 when I transferred to university. My university did Land Acknowledgment during their ceremonies. Apart from that, I never noticed it at all during my time in California. I think the prevalence of Land Acknowledgement in an area or region is a sign of the prominence of social activism. I’m not saying things are perfect, but I am saying there is more of a respect for social activism when you see little things, such as practices like Land Acknowledgment.

Overall, I think the festival had a great selection of movies that covered a wide range of issues. I also noticed this festival is only a few years old. I found movies they have shown in previous years. If I can’t find them online, I will make a point of watching them once I can watch DVDs again.

If you are interested in seeing what movies were shown in the previous years, please click the following links:

MLJFF 2019

MLJFF 2018

MLJFF 2017