On Random Acts Of Xenophobia

Posted in Uncategorized on June 19, 2016 by Dora

On random xenophobia.

This is hard to write and this post is hidden from a lot of people I consider my friends. In the same time, I feel like it is important for what I am about to articulate to be articulated, brought into light, by which I hope its power (from functioning in the recesses of the subconscious) can be diminished — not merely for my own sake but for the sake of everyone who occupies closely or remotely similar interstices of being as me.

I was at a friend’s house recently — I love her dearly and I think she is great. We had an unusually candid conversation — of a kind we had never really had. We talked about “otherness” in this society and different valences of otherness and how those who signify otherness in one way or another are often assigned a lesser value than what is considered “normal.” And in that rare moment of sincerity, when it felt like we were allowing each other into emotional/thought landscapes in each other that had been kept inaccessible in the past she said: “You know what I thought of you the first time I met you? I though… ‘Well, she made it into the U.S. At least her life will be better.'”

I regarded what she told me with relief and apprehension. Relief — because I felt like something, the presence of which I had vaguely suspected had finally been allowed into the surface where it finally could be challenged. It was no longer a lurking shadow of whose presence I wasn’t entirely sure. And apprehension because… I couldn’t tell her: “I appreciate that this is not the defining feature of how you relate to me now… But you are my friend and I love you and I just don’t know how to tell you without hurting you that what you just expressed is xenophobia.” And it is. It is because the core of that statement is the belief that where I come from (and not only I — a lot of other people; and then other people from other geographies) is inherently bad or worse than what it is here. And once you believe that, it is hard to keep that belief from spilling into how you value the lives of those people who are in certain ways “other” from you.

Why am I writing this here on Facebook? 1) Because I feel like once what my friend said was out in the open, in the space of that room, it is my responsibility to make something out of it. I think that something important was said about “being” in this country in the 21st century. 2) Because this attitude is autopilot and if you detect it in yourself, I ask you to bring it to the light and examine it and push that thought to the end — with all of its implications for what it means for how the lives of “others” are valued.

This will be part of a longer blog post where this will be connected to the wider discourse on privilege (because this is, ultimately, about a type of privilege and what it means to have it and what it means to not have it). But it was important to articulate this bit here and now.


Why I am not Charlie

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9, 2015 by Dora

A thoughtful, eloquent response to reactions to the Charlie Hebdo shootings across media.

a paper bird

imagesThere is no “but” about what happened at Charlie Hebdo yesterday. Some people published some cartoons, and some other people killed them for it.  Words and pictures can be beautiful or vile, pleasing or enraging, inspiring or offensive; but they exist on a different plane from physical violence, whether you want to call that plane spirit or imagination or culture, and to meet them with violence is an offense against the spirit and imagination and culture that distinguish humans. Nothing mitigates this monstrosity. There will be time to analyze why the killers did it, time to parse their backgrounds, their ideologies, their beliefs, time for sociologists and psychologists to add to understanding. There will be explanations, and the explanations will be important, but explanations aren’t the same as excuses. Words don’t kill, they must not be met by killing, and they will not make the killers’ culpability go away.

To abhor what was done to the victims, though, is not…

View original post 2,316 more words

The Counter

Posted in Uncategorized on September 11, 2011 by Dora

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

“The New Colossus,” engraved on a bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty.

   *          *         *

We parked on the sidewalk right across the street from the Embassy. There were other cars parked in similar fashion so my father thought he could just go along.

We got out of the car and saw a uniformed man standing on the corner of the sidewalk and observing the traffic. My father figured he was a security guard for the Embassy so he approached him and asked: “Excuse me, are you from the security for the Embassy?”

The man turned around, surprised that he had not seen my father approach and after a few seconds a wave of cool washed out the initial surprise: “Why are you asking?”

“Oh, I was just wondering if we are going to have problems because of the way we’ve parked.”

“You probably are.”

My father turned around to me and said: “Ok, well you go and I’ll stay here and move the car if someone comes over.”

On I walked.

I crossed the street and I was on the tile covered sidewalk of the Embassy. I looked up and saw in big, copper-color letters, shining brightly with the light of the midday sun: “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”

“Well, that looks familiar,” I thought to myself.

On I walked. A few feet before the door there was another uniformed man: army beige-colored T-shirt with the letters LGF on it,  army beige pants, boots, black sunglasses, and an ear device like the one worn by the “agents” in “The Matrix.” He could have been an “agent.”

“What are you here for?”

“I have an interview,” I said flashing a print out of the email that confirmed my appointment at 10:00 a.m. He looked at it and directed me towards the door where a few more people were already waiting to be let inside.

Another agent, a female, in the same uniform was standing in front of the door, looking ahead, her face frozen. Every 10-15 minutes she called out a number and opened the door for that many people to walk in. And then the door closed.

Finally my turn came and I walked in. Inside was the security post – the metal detector’n’all. I walked through and was directed to walk out of another door and follow the path to the next building. And so I did.

The next building was where the interviews took place. It was a big, single room hall with about seven or eight counters like those you see at your local bank – glass top that separates you from the person on the other side and a little “sink” through which you pass your papers to him/her.

At the first counter, you submit your papers to a staff worker who looks them over and ensures they are in order. If so, you sit at one of the benches and wait for your name to be called. And so I did. In a few minutes a person from counter two called my name and asked me to run my fingers on both hands through a finger print scanning machine. Once that was done she advised me to walk further down the hall and wait again for my name to be called.

It had been eight years since I went through this process and I had conveniently forgotten how it went. Silly me – I thought that there was a room or a private space in which the interviews were conducted. But although that was the EMBASSY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, I was still in Bulgaria and I quickly toned down my “American expectations” when I saw that the interviews were conducted at just another counter two feet away from a crowd of about 50-60 people each of whom was anxiously waiting to have his or her name called. What two feet away means is that you can hear every single word of the interview of every single person called up to the interview counter.

Well… it wasn’t completely stripped of all privacy. There were brownish cubicle separators to the left and the right of the space right in front of the counter. But if you know anything about cubicles, you would also know that they do little in the way of how sound travels so the conversations between the interviewer and the visa seekers was open for the rest of us to listen in on.

So one by one names were called and people approached the interview counter the way you would approach your maker on judgment day. There were many of us and although there were three or four interview counters, there was an interviewer at only one of them and so we waited.

“Ivan Dimitrov,” the interviewer called out.

A stout, bald, muscular man approached the interview counter and placed himself between the cubicle walls.

“So, what’s the reason for your visit?”

“Oh, I am just visiting my girl friend who will be graduating from college next year.”

“Is she your girl friend or your girlfriend?”

“She is my girl friend.”

“OK, what is your job here?”

“I have a seasonal job as a life guard in Spain.”

“What do you mean when you say seasonal? How many months in the year?”

“Six months in the year.”

“OK, and what exactly do you do?

“Well, as I said, I am a life guard.”

“Do you own any property here?”


“Do you have any bank accounts?


“How do you intend to pay for your trip.”

“Well, I have been planning it for a while now so I have some savings, which I think will be enough for the time period I plan to spend.”

There were a few moments of silence in which you could only hear the frenetic typing of the interviewer, logging the interview into the system.

“I am sorry. But you do not satisfy the criteria for being granted a U.S. visa. Here is a list of reasons why that may be. Thank you and have a nice day.”

He slid a sheet of paper into the “sink” to the interviewee and reached nonchalantly into the pile of documents belonging to the rest of us who were all crowded around the single open counter, listening, watching as the man picked up his “list of reasons” and turned around facing all of us – the expectant ones – on his way towards the door.

“Iliana Kartalova,” called out the interviewer.

A woman in her fifties with short dark hair stepped up towards the counter.

“What is the reason for your visit.”

“Well, a friend of mine who lives there is turning 40 this year and we thought that this would be a good occasion for me to finally go and visit.”

“Aha. And what is your job here?”

“I am retired.”

“How do you intend to pay for the trip?”

“She is paying for it.”

Frenetic typing.

“Do you own any property or bank accounts here?”


More frenetic typing.

“I am sorry but you do not satisfy the criteria for being granted a U.S. visa. Here is a list of reasons for why this may be. Have nice day.”

The tension in the room was rising. People shifted in their bench seats, fingers twiddled, and you could almost hear the collective “Gulp” every time someone was denied a visa.

I was confident that my case was cut and dried and I had nothing to worry about but as I watched the charade around me and the flagrant display of power, I thought to myself: “You must be fucking kidding me.” And yet, the serene smiles of Barack Obama and Joe Biden beaming from the enlarged portrait photos that adorned the far end wall assured me that I was indeed where I was: the interview counter at The United States Embassy in the Republic of Bulgaria.