I am suspect. As a 23-year-old, single male with brown skin and a Muslim name, I could be the man they are looking for. The moment I step off the plane at Kennedy Airport, I see they're looking harder than ever. A dozen federal officers crowd the narrow jetway. Not wanting to attract attention, I avoid their eyes.
Awaiting my turn at Immigration, I mentally inventory elements of my story that could be misinterpreted: my father is Pakistani, my passport is full of multiple visas to Pakistan, I've made occasional visits to Indonesia would they believe I went just to the Hindu island of Bali? No, that poses its own problems. Even the book I carry Bernard-Henri Levy's Who Killed Daniel Pearl?--begins to worry me. I reassure myself that at least I hold a British passport, but then I recall that both Richard Reid, the would-be shoe bomber, and Omar Sheikh, Pearl's killer, had the same credential. It's unnerving to think that basic facts about my life facts that belong to me could, in others' hands, have the power to land me in trouble.
The immigration official checks my papers quickly and appears satisfied. He tells me to smile for the spherical, silver camera that floats above his head, then leads my right index finger and then my left to the electronic pad that registers my prints. Though I understand the need for this and appreciate that it is done swiftly, I prickle slightly, feeling like a booked criminal in a country with which I have had a long and pleasant association.
When at Customs my bag is thoroughly searched, I again worry about having the wrong profile. Scanning the countries I have visited on my trip, the officer casually asks if I plan to return to Pakistan after my one-year work visa expires. I say yes but quickly add, "to India, Officer." He seems uninterested, but it's important to me to make the clarification, not so much to appear less threatening but to reclaim my own version of myself.