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Don’t Call Me a ‘Beaner’

I never thought it would happen to me. I often thought that the verbal abuse that I’ve seen lately against our Latinx community only happens on TV. But in my layover at Miami airport before departing to Mexico City, an immigration officer threatened me.

My dad had recently recovered from a sudden gall-bladder surgery. To celebrate, I was bringing him a box of his favorite chocolates (Godiva) and had them on my hand. As I was about to board, the American Airlines attendee told me I was carrying “too many bags,” which was an exaggeration. I had my carry-on, a personal bag, and the chocolates inside a small bag. Their instructions were not clear, so I decided to place my Dad’s gift inside my backpack. I crossed my fingers that they didn’t get damaged.

I was finally boarding. I was walking fast so that the people behind me were able to board too. I suddenly heard someone say, “I am talking to you in Spanish and you don’t even dare pay attention.” It was a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer.

“Who? Me?” I replied.

“Ask her what the heck is she doing here,” he ordered another officer.

“I am a visa work permit holder,” I complied. The officer went ballistic. I couldn’t hear what he was yelling at that moment as I was showing the other officer my visa and passport. This second officer then asked me whether I was carrying money to Mexico. I said “No.” Appalled, he asked why. I told him that there’s no point in carrying dollars if I could withdraw money from the ATM without any foreign transaction fees. The officer let me go.

As I headed to the plane again, the first officer aggressively screamed at me, “Let me educate you…”

I couldn’t hear what was next. He seemed clearly frustrated by the fact that he couldn’t arrest me, as I had done nothing wrong. When his frustration mounted, and I was about to step into the plane, he yelled, “You are a…”

I thought he had said, “You are a banker.” But that didn’t make sense.

After doing some online research and talking to friends, everyone agreed that he had probably called me a “beaner.”

I probably should have looked his badge more carefully, which would have enabled me to issue an effective complaint. He seemed so irrate that I did not want to get close to him. I thought he would punch me any time. It seemed that my Latina confident demeanor had threatened his ego. As I was sitting on the plane, I thought that it was very odd to see immigration officers while I was departing the US.

After performing an online search on CBP practices, I found out interesting results. According to America’s Voice, CBP officers seized nearly $100,000 from two US citizens out of suspicion. I did not find any information on whether they gave back their money. Were they looking to seize my money and never give it back?

Graphic courtesy of Erika Hernandez

I also found a staggering list of abuses committed to immigrant children and others, documented by that same organization. Among some of them, CBP officers have also searched the phones and personal electronics of US and non-US citizens while at airports. Just in 2018, a total of 33,295 searches had been performed. A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in November convinced the US District Court in Massachusetts that it violated the 4th Amendment. Her ruling limited their actions by stating that CBP and ICE officers can only search a traveler’s device if they can demonstrate “individualized suspicion of contraband.”

Going back, I wish I was able to video record the demeanor of the officer but that could have worsened his attitude and treatment by CBP. Though I cannot ascertain whether he called me a “beaner,” I still remember his derogatory tone and screams. 

Authorities like CBP should not conduct searches based on racial profiling and yet they seem to do so. After the episode, I thought “Should I dress better? Do I need to get highlights? Should I wear heels more frequently?” 

A few days later, I thought “Why do I need to change my Latina aspect to please someone that seems to have a lot of hatred stored inside and other people alike?” 

I concluded that I accepted myself for who I am: determined petite Latina with the whole world ahead of her. 

“Chin up!” I told myself. “You made it to Georgetown University and are now an international consultant in an industry that’s very hard to join. This is just a petty nuance.”

To be honest, what I really worried was seeing how many Mexicans that were boarding that flight did not seem to understand English. 

“How would a paisano understand an insult in English?” I asked myself. 

Maybe, the day we elect a Latinx President, the verbal abuse, unjustified searches, and racial profiling will stop. Meanwhile, “Chin Up! Pa’lante!”


*For more information on your rights on searches at the airport, go to ACLU’s online resource Know Your Rights: Enforcement at the Airport.

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Erika Hernandez

Erika Hernandez is a frequent columnist of immigration, Latino and political issues. She’s a travel junkie and culture lover. Erika has had brief conversations with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential nominee Marianne Williamson, and worked directly with Mexico’s former Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Jorge Castañeda. Erika’s mission is to support those in disadvantage and serve as a source of positive change.

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