[-empyre-] On Passport Privilege, forward from Naeem Mohaiemen

Agnese Camellini agnese.camellini at studio.unibo.it
Wed Jan 23 04:52:40 EST 2008

You can find some good ideas about this kind of problems in this book

In Italy there is a single little book called "The Language of the 
Other". It's about nationality. But you are right, it's a long long 
> From: "Naeem Mohaiemen" <naeem.mohaiemen at gmail.com>
> Date: January 15, 2008 5:29:22 AM PST
> To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> Subject: On Passport Privilege
> I've talked elsewhere about "passport privilege" which can supersede 
> class privilege in certain contexts. During SuperIntense/Flying 
> Circus, we had a large group of Euro/American artists descending on 
> Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City.  After showing work, there was fair 
> amount of self-crit and talking about how all these artists from 
> northern centers would be coming in, showing work, and then 
> immediately leaving for the next "glamorous" location. The local 
> artists would get what they could from the experience, but in the end 
> it is the visitors who really took up most of the energy. Class, 
> location etc came up and this is when I said that it's a passport, 
> especially a dual nationality for many of us, that gives unique access.
> By accident of birth I have a British and Bangladeshi passport. My 
> family didn't even know I was eligible for the UK passport until 1987 
> when we were going to London to visit family. The puzzled embassy 
> official in Dhaka said "why doesn't your son have a British passport." 
> My father thought we were going to get stopped and started blustering 
> (he's a military officer, retired now, and they can be quite gruff).  
> "But he's not asking for a passport, why are you people making such a 
> fuss?"  "Sir," said the official, trying to calm him down, "I'm saying 
> your son should get it, it will help."
> I think of these accidents often (my father was in medical school in 
> Edinburgh when I was born, hence the location). My brother came 6 
> years later, was born in Bangladesh. I see the struggles he went 
> through with his green passport (he only recently managed to get a 
> Canadian passport) and what came with it. It makes me acutely aware of 
> what I took for granted. My brother is an accountant-- I wonder if the 
> choice of such a practical field was defined by (partially) the need 
> to be in one of the "high value" fields that makes Canadian 
> citizenship processing go faster.
> When you switch planes in Dubai, for the New York-Dhaka route, a 90% 
> middle class flight occupancy suddenly switches to 90% working class 
> as the gigantic South Asian labor class (the ones building the Arab 
> construction miracle that oil money is buying) boards the plane. As 
> very few are literate in English, they will often look for someone on 
> the plane to fill up immigration forms. On one such flight, I was 
> bonding with a group of workers by filling the forms. There had been 
> some construction death on site, so they also wanted to talk about 
> that. Someone thought I was a journalist, so I was the receiver.  So 
> we are talking, talking and we walk out into the airport of some 
> country where there is a 10 hour layover transit.  As we talk we walk 
> towards the transit counter and I walk through and then there's a huge 
> flap behind me. The Arab immigration officer won't let any of the 
> green passports through. I stand there staring as I wondering if I 
> should go back and be trapped with everyone else, some grand act of 
> solidarity. The officer won't let me back either, I have to do the 
> full tour of transit area and shops and maybe even go out of the 
> airport.  When I come back a few hours later, I can sense the distance 
> that had settled between me and my compatriots.
> It's a micro micro moment, but I think of that moment often because it 
> made physical things that were always assumed. I travel a lot for work 
> and at every airport, even when I do get hassle, I am still reminded 
> that it could be much much worse.  The passport trumps all else, it is 
> the document that people will give anything for. Those not born with 
> the right color passport, that is.
> Don't want to monologue, so I'll stop here and hope others on this 
> list will chime in with their experiences and thoughts on this....

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