Stunde Null, Part 3
As I would better learn the next morning, the detention center was a nice, non-descript government building in the middle of, get this, upper-middle-class Phoenix suburbia. They take, though, such care in camouflaging that I doubt many neighbors know right next door illegal aliens are being held captive.
They searched me again, and again for weapons. They took away my book. Cops where white, some Hispanic, one of them had some arm-covering tattoos, San Francisco style. A bus was being loaded with a throng of short, tiny, Latin Americans of obvious illegality and indigenous roots, people whom you can tell just by looking that they have never eaten meat on a regular basis, faces and bodies eaten away by poverty and disease. They weren’t treated badly, what I saw was the same detached professionalism afforded to me.
I was taken to a white detention cell with a steel bathroom, and a concrete bench that didn’t feet me horizontally. It had AC, a camera, and strong lights that weren’t turned off until late at night. I stood there by myself, looking around, excited more than scared. After trying unsuccessfully to fit in the concrete bench I reluctantly tried the dirty-ish floor. At around 2am (I asked the orderly the time), some food was brought in that I ate with unexpected relish: 3 Las Lomas burritos. My last meal had been a breakfast menudo back in Mexico with mom, it all seemed so far away. So, free food, bathrooom, and an AC-ed room with ceiling and floor, even this must have seemed first world for many of the people that had loaded the bus.
For a long time I paced round, thinking about what I would do and how I would handle my affairs. I started writing this chronicle in my head right there. Sleeping was particularly hard, partly because I was so restless and partly because those heavy lights wouldn’t turn off. There were no windows to the outside world, just a slit in the door through which I saw the office. There was no clock and not knowing the time was unsettling, specially in the morning when I thought they had forgotten they were supposed to take me back at 8am.
2 more Las Lomas burritos for breakfast and a Little Hug, not nearly as appreciated as last night’s dinner but welcome still. I wake up feeling unrested and with a mood markedly sourer than yesternight but I start thinking and planning ahead and soon enough I’m positive again. A blonde, white officer drives me, handcuffed, back to the airport in a Windstar just like the one my mom has back in Mexico. I’m handed over to an oldish customs officer and the handcuffs are taken. Disappointingly, the customs office has totally different staffing than yesterday. They have my luggage and personal belongings ready, everything’s all right, and I carry it in a cart. Save from the two officers hovering behind me, I looked just like an average passenger.
I never saw a ticket, I wasn’t charged for the flight back in the same airline I had come, not even for my extra luggage for which I had paid $25 on the way to SF (I had more than my weight in books!). It all added to the stupidity of it all and made me feel like a leech — I’ve never believed more in private prisons paid by prisoners (a la Snow Crash). But even more so, the stupidity and self-destructiveness of it all floored me, all the expense of having officers interrogate me, drive me to and from, escort and guard me, of spending a night, of flying me and my luggage back — all to get rid of a productive, educated citizen in the prime of his youth?
Oldish officer escorted me to the plane’s entrance. He wished me luck.
I remember Rainer, a beloved German teacher of mine, talk about Stunde Null, German for zero hour, specifically the 1945 World War II capitulation of Nazi Germany, as an important myth of modern Germany. It was the End, devastation near complete, but it was also the Beginning, time and opportunity for rebuilding anew, better this time. So much so that Thomas L. Friedman recently remarked that “if all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.”
A whole part of me has died with my deportation from America. Mauro, my friend there helping me sell my stuff and order my affairs, is really an executor. It is the End, but it is also the Beginning, time and opportunity for rebuilding anew, someplace else, better this time.