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As someone with a “not 1st class” passport, I have stories to tell, and as a recent green card holder, I have more stories to tell hah.

But I agree with you, nothing is more exciting than a land border crossing..

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I wonder how much more exciting it would be to experience the crossing of land cared for by different peoples but without a hard border. I'm wondering if I've ever experienced that anywhere, if any of us have really, and what we lose by being denied it.

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Jan 27·edited Feb 1Liked by Antonia Malchik

I really liked this line (about your spouse's friends): "The land had no judgment of them, but the political regime most certainly did."

When I was little, borders were magical to me. I remember having elaborate fantasies about everything suddenly being fundamentally, metaphysically different on the other side, like crossing into Narnia. I would even project this onto state and town lines. I was especially taken with the story of the opera house in Derby Line, Vermont, where according to legend a fugitive spotted by the authorities managed to escape by appearing in a play where half the stage was in Canada, so they couldn't apprehend him as long as he didn't cross the center line. (Apparently, this remains one of the few border crossings that still makes an effort to resist militarization):

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/12/26/inside-the-library-where-you-can-read-in-two-countries-at-once

As I grew older, I became more aware of the sinister dimensions you describe so vividly above. Even as a white naturalized U.S. citizen without a criminal record, there is something unnerving about the sheer weight of national security implied in that fleeting encounter, like tiptoeing under a hovering boulder. Niagara Falls (75 miles from where I live in Canada) is such a circus that walking over the bridge is more like being let into a bar. But the hammer is still there somewhere, and given the right triggers it falls on the wrong people.

I wonder about the difference between borders and boundaries. Boundaries strike me as being part of the natural world, like a cell membrane or between the earth and atmosphere, and also part of what makes up healthy relationships. Borders may be necessary and useful as well, but they are manmade and artificial, social constructions as you say.

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That line — I was thinking of Lauret Savoy’s book “Trace” and how she talked about seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time and really absorbing the reality that nature isn’t racist.

Ooh, Narnia! You could really write a whole book on borders and these in-between spaces where we cross over to other worlds. Your story reminds me of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things We Carried” and his writing about canoeing up to the Canadian border to get out of being drafted and sent off to war. I should reread that. I hadn’t heard of this library, amazing!

“ Even as a white naturalized U.S. citizen without a criminal record, there is something unnerving about the sheer weight of national security implied in that fleeting encounter, like tiptoeing under a hovering boulder.” EXACTLY. And as a naturalized citizen, too, if you lose your papers that can be worrying. (That happened to my dad. Messy divorce, my mom wasn’t too happy and, uh, disposed of his naturalization papers.)

One of the Harsha Walia talks I watched was with another woman who said she’d been thinking a lot about “queering” borders. They then talked about this exactly thing for quite a while, the difference between boundaries—like territory managed by Indigenous peoples—and hard borders. The other presenter was First Nations, Anishinaabe maybe? And they talked about how lack of militarized borders doesn’t mean you don’t know where your and others’ boundaries are.

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Feb 1·edited Feb 1Liked by Antonia Malchik

Definitely plenty to say about land from intersectional and queer perspectives! I'm in a graduate program that emphasizes critical and cultural psychology, and there's theoretical work in some of those circles on "borders," "liminality" and related experiences (not so much queer theory but potentially related). Some of it is pretty high-concept and focused on symbolic meaning-making not policy, but there is also empirical research. E.g.:

https://journals.sagepub.com/toc/tapa/31/5

Gaza comes to mind as an extreme case where the borders are not designed merely to keep people out, but also keep people *in* - to essentially keep them trapped and powerless, in a kind of bubble. (I suppose reservation territory functions the same way). That puts a whole other spin on things, too.

Not to trivialize any of this, but my favorite satire of the "border" mindset is Super Troopers 2 where a legalistic adjustment of the Vermont/Canadian border sets off a dispute between the Canadian and U.S. border patrol. Maybe if you need a break from all the darkness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEed-o8fVpM

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Those papers look fascinating. I might have to spend some time with them. And yes, that makes a lot of sense about Gaza. And you're right -- especially when reservations were first created, it was actually illegal for Native people to leave them without permission. I think the rules were even stricter in Canada than in the U.S. Horrific practices. And as another commenter pointed out here, a lot of the anti-abortion laws being passed in different states prohibit leaving the state for medical care involving pregnancy. How is that enforced? Do you start patrolling the state border and checking for women and insisting they take a pregnancy test? I'm sure many of the legislatures would like to force that on people.

I don't think Super Troopers trivializes it. Science fiction, whether lighthearted or not, is a great way to bring these kinds of ideas to masses of people who might never think about them. (Also, I always need a break from the darkness. I've never seen that movie. It looks hilarious!)

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Jan 26Liked by Antonia Malchik

Beautiful post. Made me think of The Dispossessed, of course. Also made me think about an episode of This American Life about walls, https://www.thisamericanlife.org/extras/walls. And how the wall between north and south Ireland is partly responsible for the peace between those places, iirc. Or at least that’s how the locals feel about it. If you tear it down, the troubles will come back.

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I have GOT to reread The Dispossessed. It keeps coming up!

The Ireland one is interesting because it's like, that physical border is what is helping keep violence from erupting again, over a social-religious border. And then there's Hadrian's Wall, which is always interesting to me more as a mark of the furthest the Romans could manage to control. Beyond that wall, they never were able to achieve what they wanted.

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Jan 27Liked by Antonia Malchik

Ah yes, the inspiration for George R. R.’s wall!

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Good times!

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Jan 26Liked by Antonia Malchik

Mesmerizing piece for all us afflicted with wanderlust. When you visit ...our neighbors (human and wildlife) to the south have much to share with their family’s to the north...but a large wall is there . Militarizing as we speak.

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Thank you, Harry. I love thinking of you with the birds down there.

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I can attest to the emotional aspect of borders. Every time I have come back into Portugal and passed through border control, I get overcome with the same flood of emotion and tears as the first time. It's almost embarrassing, weeping while standing in line with friends as we return from a holiday in the UK, for example. I get anxious that the person checking my passport and residence permit over will find my sobbing suspicious. I have no control over the intense mixture of feelings of fear and relief and safety, because Portugal is my home now, my safe place, and each time I approach her gates with my passport clutched in my hand I am reminded of the first time I reached her safe shore and the horrors of the country I escaped and the relief I felt on arrival and being let through the border. I have nightmares about being deported back to the U.S.

I have read about how European country's open borders have been slowly closing to one another and it grieves me to see that happen. We should all have the freedom to leave and to stay. Borders are an evil form of imprisonment.

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"Portugal is my home now, my safe place" -- I think this is what has prompted so many personal responses to this piece (I don't think I've ever received so many personal stories to an essay on here). Borders and their enforcement bring into question our sense of home and safety, and how they can be taken away. It's really awful.

I guess Brexit was the first domino. I hate what's happening in Ukraine.

I was thinking of you while writing this. 🧡

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The way things are headed in the world, I have a dread of losing my safe place, my home, to the forces of war. War over stupid borders and the resources that lie on the other side of imaginary lines. Portugal is far from Russia, Israel, the U.S., and China, etc., but no where feels truly unreachable by the forces of domination and destruction. Maybe not with bombs and troops, but in other ways, no one will remain unscathed.

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I hate that you're living with that fear. I understand it, and have the same worries. (A friend told me a while back that most of her Jewish friends -- who I think maybe tend to be better off -- are moving to Europe, which she said all of their grandparents, including hers would have been horrified by.)

Remove the forces of war and the greed that often drives it and it's unimaginable what a rich, fulfilling world we could have!

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I can usually keep the fear in the background and at least, given the options we had, I take comfort knowing Portugal is one of the best and safest places we could have ended up. I worry about my oldest disabled kid who is trapped in the U.S. in one of the dangerous states though.

We've met Jewish people who have moved here, including an Israeli Jew who fled from the dangerous fascist regime there a few years ago, as well as an American-born Jew who formerly served in the IDF.

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That sounds like a really good group of people to have met. And Portugal is just … I love it. It’s one of my favorite places.

I’m sorry about your kid, though, that’s really hard and worrying.

One of my cousins got her Israeli citizenship in order to finally get out of Russia but she isn’t going anywhere near Israel.

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No particular comment just yet as I am now a once a week consumer of Substack. Your writing is always thoughtful. this was no exception

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Thank you, Mark!

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Jan 24Liked by Antonia Malchik

The “psychological architecture” of crossing borders. Will be thinking about this for a while. I don’t have much experience, but it does remind me of how my blood pressure goes up when I go through TSA at the airport. And as always, love your words, your stories, and your audio readings. And love that you have a group of friends that go cross country skiing together. #goals

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Yes! And TSA people are usually friendlier to me than the border patrol agents, or at least if they're not they're more threatening than grumpy. But I've never been pulled from the line. My spouse has. The agents who do the pulling are less friendly.

I hope you find some of those friends! I'm such a loner I didn't move back to my hometown expecting to find friends, but several of them are people I was friends or friendly with in high school, and I've been surprised and delighted to find among them true, close friends--of whom I have very few and value highly--with whom I look forward to growing old with. That's something else!

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Jan 24Liked by Antonia Malchik

Yes, they always have to pull us to double check the wheelchair and even to the adorable 8 year old they are not very friendly!

Old friends are such a gift. I have a few that are precious and take the place of sisters in my life - though they are not as outdoorsy as me 😂 - and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

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Mine are in-between, some more outdoorsy, some less. Mostly more! But they won’t do trail crew with me. 😅

That’s another WHOLE world of experience, is dealing with these things with any kind of disability. Honestly, that particular aspect infuriates me.

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Jan 24Liked by Antonia Malchik

Thank you, Nia! Borders are so much more than physical barriers, as you’ve so eloquently described. They’re metaphors as well for so much of what’s wrong in our world.

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So true, and a huge metaphor.

(I was thinking about you over the weekend, or rather a colleague of yours. And wondering what the weather is like in Kentucky because my college roommate, who lives in Covington, might be coming to visit.)

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Jan 24Liked by Antonia Malchik

Thank you, Nia! ❤️ All over ehe place right now. We had 5° a couple of mornings ago with heavy snow and now heavy rain, and it’s going up to 60 tomorrow. We haven’t had a “normal” winter in quite a while.

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Your pieces always give me so much to think about, and it always feels too hard to distill it in a comment. But thank you for your beautiful, provoking writing.

I’m working on a piece on how the border defining Christianity feels like other peoples stories (and fears) written into my life, rendering my own story incomprehensible. I’ve undergone a pretty disruptive faith shift, and in conversations with loved ones I’m always dancing around the question, are you still a Christian? Which side of the border are you on? And wherever that border is considered sacrosanct, I’m unknowable, because my story is submerged beneath a story with more social power (i feel this really acutely because it’s at play in almost every irl relationship). So I’m trying to throw open a border, turn a line on a map into a habitable region, then invite people in so I (and we) can actually be known.

I find so much resonance with your work. And while it may seem like I’m writing metaphorically about a theme you are addressing literally, I think our two projects are actually much more the same. Because, as you say, all borders are metaphorical. They are all stories written over land and bodies, to equip powerful people with a sense of invulnerability, while rendering the stories inherent in land and bodies incomprehensible.

And our visions merge on the commons (vocabulary you’ve supplied me with, obviously:). Because when I despaired of church as a social project, I despaired of all social possibility. All I could see was capitalist communities, and to be spiritual just meant to have a fantasy future, which only makes a community more dangerous and harmful. My despair was my body rightly telling me that there’s no “better” way to do capitalist communities. I will never feel at home in the borders we’ve drawn. I don’t want another church (I know I’ve said this before:); I want a return of the commons.

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I think they're very much the same projects! So much of what you say resonates with me, and what people like D.L. Mayfield write. I think it's one of the reasons I listen to the Conspirituality podcast so much. I did not grow up in a strict church (Lutherans and Episcopalians are anything but), but did grow up in a very authoritarian household, and I think there is a lot mapped onto the mind-body experiences that ends up being similar if not the same.

I had a passage in here, which I deleted because this was getting so long and too many stories starts to feel like an onslaught of reading, about the deep right-wing conservatism where I live and how many of my local political leaders are desperate to draw a border within my body, as a female who raises children, and as a female who chose to surgically remove the ability to bear them while still in childbearing years (almost died in pregnancy, long story).

It's within everything, I think, because the borders might be psychological but they come from the same place as the physical ones, which is a fierce desire to enforce hard rules of hierarchies and relationships. And at the same time there is also fear of loss of relationship when one steps outside of the border of something like a faith community. I had a babysitter for a couple of years when my kids were babies who was Jehovah's Witness and told me of her time leaving her faith for a while, and how painful it was to have her family relationships severed. It struck me as so hard and so wrong, to base faith partly on excluding those you love who don't participate in it.

This line is SO powerful and I hope you write more about it: "They are all stories written over land and bodies, to equip powerful people with a sense of invulnerability, while rendering the stories inherent in land and bodies incomprehensible."

One of the podcasts I listen to is hosted by someone raised very strict Mormon in Idaho. I think he's had a lot of these struggles, and I follow his work because where he's landed is a constant groping toward feeling of community and mutual aid and solidarity that actually *works.* It's very interesting. Not easy, and nobody has ready, quick answers, but it's heartening that it's out there.

To slightly echo Lindsey here: 🧡🧡🧡

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Jan 24Liked by Antonia Malchik

❤️‍🩹❤️‍🩹❤️‍🩹

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Jan 24Liked by Antonia Malchik

I grew up in Washington (1970s), with family in Bellingham and one cousin across the border in Canada. Crossing back and forth was so commonplace that we saw nearly as many Canadian license plates on the roads as Washington plates. The biggest issue in crossing the border was likely wait time. When I traveled to Europe with my children and husband in the 00's, it never occurred to me to worry about entry or exit. I assumed my freedoms and took them for granted and never questioned what borders were or were for. They felt both fixed and fluid, simultaneously. A few years ago, my daughter met and married a man from a Scandinavian country. For nearly 2 years, she has been living here while he lives there, waiting for a decision on her visa application, their life together on hold, and I know in new ways that borders are not fluid and none of us are free in the ways I once thought we were. After watching what happened with borders during the first year of Covid, I know how easily everything we know could change. I try not to spend too much time in the what-ifs of my fears. But they are there.

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"I know in new ways that borders are not fluid and none of us are free in the ways I once thought we were." I suppose we all learn this at different times and for different reasons. Thank you for sharing this story; it really resonates with me. And echoes so many people's experiences with borders over the decades, however they're created and enforced.

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Well writ, beautiful and thoughtful. Thank you!

Don’t let the bastards get you down. Write that fiction, if your heart starts wandering towards that fence.

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Thank you!!!

It does, often, but I stopped thinking of "get back to writing fiction" as an annual goal purely because I never managed to make the time for it. Frustrating but I know it'll happen when it happens! At least the whole experience didn't drive me away from writing completely. I knew too many people that happened to. :(

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Apr 8Liked by Antonia Malchik

Well thank gods for that!!! Your writing has been a very important thing for how this Colorado-living Internet stranger thinks and lives.

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That means a lot to me, thank you! (Waves south to Colorado, where I haven't been for far too long.)

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Jan 24Liked by Antonia Malchik

Living south of Tucson, AZ, I am stopped frequently by border patrol 'checkpoints' that stop every vehicle, even though you have no plans to cross a border. I first experienced close-to-border checkpoints in Northern Ireland, in the '90s, and never imagined I'd be encountering it in my own country.

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So much of what I hear about the border patrol laws and lawlessness and enforcement throughout the southwest is just so infuriating. It's crazy.

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Thank you for this, there’s a lot to think about here. I traveled internationally quite a bit in my 20s. The only place I got stopped by customs and almost got sent back was Canada. That was before 2001, at a time when I could drive across the border from Seattle, without even really stopping. But I had flown from San Francisco to Toronto, forgotten my passport, with a box of T-shirts for a meeting we were having, and that landed me in customs scared to death. I don’t really know what that feels like when it could upend your life or end your life.

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That's an incredible story, Karen. Experiencing it even once, even in the least threatening circumstances, is enough to drive home the power of it, isn't it?

The birds we love know no borders ...

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Jan 24Liked by Antonia Malchik

Wow, Nia this is so beautiful and I fucking love your coffee sign! And as others have said--the MFA program! Just no. How dare they squash someone's fire? You can write whatever the hell you want and it will be fantastic. We're all here to prove it. :)

When I was a child I remember traveling to Canada and was fascinated by the concept of borders and being in a different country. You can imagine my utter confusion that it wasn't something 'real.' Then when my partner and I moved to Alaska, we had to cross the border twice--the first over the WA border they had to unpack our whole car (?), while the second rural checkpoint at Alaska the US agents asked us if we had 1500$ in cash. We were grad students--needless to say, we did not. I was then held again on a flight from the UK to Oregon through Canada by US agents who were suspicious when I had a passport stamp from Jordan, after my archaeology dig. All of it sent cold shivers down my spine--the overt power over, by white men, was really chilling. Especially when I was returning to my own country, supposedly, in both instances. My son gets annoyed at me because I get really triggered by TSA now after items being compensated and the theater of it all--I try to stay cool but it's just so incredibly frightening, when people hold and seem to ENJOY wielding power over others in real time--in stakes that aren't even as high as what you and so many others in the comments below have shared. It's frightening, truly. I feel it in airports keenly each time I'm there--all of these arbitrary points in space that can so swiftly change the course of life. It's maddening, frightening, and insanity.

And in truth, I have way too many nightmares about being on planes and finding my passport or my family's missing. I need to get my son's renewed and want them in order in case things get weird in the US, and my dreams of fleeing to Scotland could maybe come to fruition. Ooof. It's a lot. But I'm grateful for you writing about this. 💜

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Jan 25Liked by Antonia Malchik

I'll get working on that commune in Scotland!

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Jan 25Liked by Antonia Malchik

💜 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

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Haha, I thought you'd like that sign!

And yeah, MFA programs can sometimes be supportive, but I've heard stories like mine more often than not. Worse are the writers I knew in the program who were actually wonderful writers but assumed they weren't "writers" and never pursued it after we graduated. Makes me sad.

These are such chilling stories, and I feel what you're feeling viscerally (also remembering countries where we were advised to get our visa stamp on a separate piece of paper because otherwise you'd be on a U.S. list forever; I'd forgotten about that), especially the "when people hold and seem to ENJOY wielding power over others in real time." It is, indeed, maddening, frightening, and insanity. I hate that it exists.

We used to go to Canada a lot when I was a kid, to go camping, and what I remembered was the remarkable cleanliness of the lawns because of no dog poop! I don't know why that sticks in my head.

I keep my kids' passports up to date, too, and get super anxious the years their British ones need renewing because that's on my spouse, who's not quite as organized as I am. They're lucky to have that citizenship and it's always in the back of my mind. Not that Europe or Britain feel like very safe places right now. Nowhere really does. But still. Scotland looks nice and I like it there!

I get those nightmares, too. Luggage and passports. It's a recurring one and no fun at all. Be kind to yourself. 💖

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I didn't cross a border until I was Twenty-two, and since then I've always felt this intense anxiety when crossing borders. Maybe it has to do with all the cops I dealt with as a teenager. I always think something is going to go wrong.

When I was 35 I took a trip from Syracuse to Montreal, except I got stopped at the Canadian border. When the border patrol asked me if they were going to find anything "dangerous" in my trunk, I said there were some books in there. Were those dangerous. They searched my car and sent me into the waiting room, where a family sat with their child. After a while a border patrol agent took me into an interrogation room. When he asked me if I'd ever had legal trouble I told him about my two DUIs, both of them fifteen years-old. Turns out I'm not allowed in Canada because of those DUIs. "I know you're not a danger to the country, but it's just policy." I never made it to Montreal.

This makes me think of enclosure, and how concepts of enclosure led to the national park system in the U.S., which in turn led to land being stolen from Native Americans. Boundaries, like you said, are necessary and healthy. Borders? Not so much.

Thanks so much for this thoughtful piece. Your writing is, as always, beautiful.

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Jan 25Liked by Antonia Malchik

My neighbor had the same issue with a DUI from a long time ago. He hasn't had a drink in over 20 years. His father was Canadian. It took him a while and a lot of paperwork, but he got a copy of his father's birth certificate and ultimately Canadian citizenship. Now he can go kayak fishing for salmon on the ocean side of Vancouver Island.

It's all so arbitrary.

Not sure I ever mentioned that to get my green card back in around '88, I had to have an AIDS test.

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that is so wild! I know I *can* get into Canada- I would just have to spend thousands of dollars and hire an immigration lawyer, which as of yet hasn't been feasible.

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It's just insane that you even have to think about that! All of it's just nuts and completely riddled with injustices of all kinds.

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Wow.

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I am really glad you brought it back to parks and Native American people. "Border & Rule" gets into that, how the borders are enforced internally as well, and it's all radicalized no matter where the physical lines are.

What an *awful* story. A friend of mine lies on her visa applications to places like Russia--when you could still go there--for a similar reason. To be barred from vast places of the planet for a teenage mistake. Your intense anxiety isn't unwarranted. I'm so sorry. 🧡

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Aaaand... this just in.

Breaking: Travel bans proposed in Tennessee & Oklahoma

States would send aunts & grandmas to prison as "traffickers" for helping teens

https://jessica.substack.com/p/breaking-travel-bans-proposed-in

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I can't "like" that but ...

We knew it was coming, and more. Still devastating.

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