My Exasperating TSA (Terribly Scary Agency) Experience

The last time I came back from India, I had a funny experience with the TSA. When you land in the United States, they make you stand in a line, and a dude looks at your passport and customs form and asks “Where are you going?”, “Are you up to no good?”, etc. I usually get through these security procedures hassle-free, because I make an innocent-looking face, not reflective at all of the annoyance inside me saying, “I don’t wanna answer your questions, idiot!” Hmmm…maybe I’ve underestimated myself as an actress.

I got through that part scot-free, but I was worried about having filled out the custom forms incorrectly—the dude just squiggled something on it without saying anything. I was traveling alone internationally for the first time, and God knows what weird-ass stuff adults write on these forms. I always have to study them carefully before filling them out to avoid making mistakes. I’m pretty sure I spent 10 minutes on the part where it said “name,” like “Am I writing my name correctly?”, “Is this how it was spelled on my passport?” and “Does my name sound suspicious at all?” I am an overthinker, and clearly not fully an adult yet. I treat these forms like a calculus exam.

I took my bag (which had a “fragile” sticker on it, but was the only bag that tumbled off the carousel) and proceeded to make myself look stupid as I attempted to pick it up. (I’m just 5’2”, and I have the upper-body strength of a peanut.) I was heading towards customs, and I started imagining weird situations about how I could be singled out for a random check because I’m traveling alone and I’m Indian. I was thinking, “Do I look white enough to be spared any racial profiling?” I have a lighter complexion among Indians, so I was hoping they wouldn’t care that I’m brown. Like every skin commercial in India ever (senseless beauty standards exist everywhere), I was asking myself “Am I fair-skinned enough?” And then, guess what? I got singled out for a random bag check!

So I was led by this kinda good-looking white dude. Stupid me would’ve flirted with him if he wasn’t a TSA guy about to go through my stuff. I was sweating buckets. Thankfully, no one smelled me (I’m sure I didn’t smell that bad, though). He first asked, “Where is your money?” to make sure I wasn’t carrying hideous amounts of cash. I wanted to say, “Whoa, I’m not just gonna show you my money. Mind your own business!” But of course I showed it to him. I can’t stand up to mean people in general—do you really think I’d stand up to a TSA officer? Then he rummaged through my backpack, and checked my suitcase.

He asked, “Did you pack this bag yourself?” I was tempted to candidly say, “My mom stuffed everything in because I’m incompetent at packing.” But I said I packed the bag, and he opened it. And voilà! What do you see when you open Tanya’s bag? Colorful bras and underwear! Piles of them! I have the funkiest underwear—polka dots, stripes—you name it, I have it. I bet I have the most colorful laundry. I have some regular underwear also, but of course those were at the bottom of the bag, and my funky ones were on the top. I bet that guy was judging me. I bet he laughed about me later, like “that Indian girl was dressed in the most basic way, but her underwear was funkay af.” So the dude proceeded to rummage through my underwear while making small talk. Perfect!

When he was done, he made more small talk, and said, “What are you majoring in?” On the inside, I was like, “I don’t know. I’m clueless and indecisive and I procrastinate, and my life is like my hair on a humid day.” But I lied and said, “Oh, I’m thinking of psych.” That’s usually my backup answer for the airport for these kind of situations, so that I don’t look completely clueless. He proceeded to talk some more about how his brother also studied psych. And I was standing there awkwardly, thinking, “I don’t really give a shit about your brother. He could have majored in scrambled eggs for all I care. I’m sleep deprived, I’m hungry, I wanna leave. Thank you very much.” Oh well, he let me go soon after.

I wonder if I was singled out due to my race. A brownish-looking person traveling alone— very suspicious, indeed. God knows what kind of dangerous things I’ll do in the U.S.—pushing on pull doors, eating cereal with water, staying up till three a.m. watching K-pop videos like a little rebel. Honestly, these immigrants and foreigners are always up to no good! I think next time I’ll color my skin blue just to throw them off so that they wouldn’t know my race. Oh wait, then they’d actually think I’m an alien, and the whole end-of-“E.T.” thing would happen. Never mind, I’ll just stay brown then.

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