In certain situations, I get intense immigrant anxiety. For example, at national borders. I’ve been a U.S. citizen for three decades, but crossing the U.S. border is still a harrowing experience, and I can always hear choppers overhead and feel the heat of a spotlight on the back of my sweaty neck. It doesn’t matter that the border we’re talking about is the one that gets me into the U.S. from Canada, and that the only thing I’m likely to be smuggling into the country is a trunkload of Luon and maybe some cold ha gow.
Being at a border makes me remember how my family fought to get into this country. I’m scared that if I leave, they won’t let me back in.
Now I’m married to a white dude, and that helps. When they want my passport at the border, I have Tom sitting next to me, looking as Midwestern as it is possible to look without being a platter of fried walleye and squeaky cheese. Having a white person around makes me feel better at times like that. Also, when I’m camping. Also, when I’m at rodeos. Also, when I’m at a Cracker Barrel. I imagine that feeling of security, of belonging, is how Tom feels when he’s with me at a Panda Express.
For years I’ve felt immigrant anxiety that I’ve never been called up for jury duty. I have friends who have been called up five, six times. But never me. I laughed it off but secretly assumed that it had something to do with my immigrant status. So when I got called up a month ago, I had the opposite reaction of whatever you likely felt when you got your letter. I. Was. PSYCHED. Jury duty! YEe-HAW!!! I was bona fide.
I’m a lawyer, but I’ve never been inside that jury box, and I want in. Yesterday, on my first day of service, I chose my outfit with care. A prim cardigan over my least wrinkly striped tank. After clawing my way through security, I pulled my hair off my face and chose a seat in the front row of the jury assembly room. I put down my bag and sat up straight. Show time.
I needn’t have bothered. It turns out jurors are picked for a panel at random by a computer. What a waste. And in any event, my cardigan was no match for the Courthouse Effect. I don’t care how normal you look or how nice your suit is. As soon as you get within 100 feet of a state courthouse, you will start to look crazy.
Now it’s my second day of waiting for my name to be called. They’ve already called five 30-name panels without saying my name, but I’m still hopeful that I’ll get my chance to serve. The irony is that I appear to be the only person in this entire room who is eager to be a juror. Everyone else looks like Sgt. Brody in Homeland—as if they expect to die here, laying against a wall, after long hours of torture. One guy, James H., was called for almost every panel. The last time he was called, the whole room laughed. But not James H. “It’s not funny!” he shouted, to no one in particular.
No shit it isn’t funny. Sitting in this room for two days, I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to be part of a jury. And I’m starting to get the sinking feeling that I’ll be sent home without setting foot in a courtroom. Pick me! Pick me! I have so much to give! I want to sit in voir dire and have someone ask me, in a grave voice, if I have any strong opinions about pleated pants. I want to debate legal terms with laymen around a big table. I want to be jury foreman. I want to read aloud the jury verdict. I want to fulfill my civic duty.
I want to be American.