Mem Fox is an Australian Children’s author who is known for her books that promote inclusion and acceptance of everyone no matter where they may come from.
With titles such as I’m Australian Too and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes which celebrate all of humanity, pointing out that no matter where we may come from and no matter what our heritage may be all (we know not all children are born this way but in this context the message works well) children are born with “ten little fingers/ and ten little toes.”
A regular visitor to the united States, Mem was on her way to a conference in Milwaukee where she was due to speak on the theme of her latest novel “I’m Australian Too.” which has among its lines: “We open doors to strangers./ Yes, everyone’s a friend.” when she was pulled aside by immigration officials.
Called out of the immigration line Mem admits that as she was engrossed in a book (“The Red and the Black”) that she was reading she did not at first hear her name and immediately apologised to the officer who allegedly responded with “What do you want me to do, stand here while you finish it?”
And that she says “was just the beginning of it,”
Taken in to a holding room with around twenty other travellers Mem claims that the method of interviewing undertake by the immigration officers was aggressive and invasive.
Saying that it was not because she was an author, but simply “because I was just anybody.” Mem was horrified by the stance taken by the airport staff “.. the manner in which we were interrogated — in public view about really private information — was terrible. It was the insolence that was beyond mind-boggling.”
She found the whole experience terrifying “I was so frightened,” she says. “The heel of my right hand was on my heart to try to stop it from beating so hard.”
For Mem the questioning focused on her reasons for entering the US, intimating that she was there to work but with the current immigration policies of the US her experience resonated perhaps more than it would have normally knowing that others were facing similar questioning simply because of their faith, or place of birth.
After returning home Mem filed a complaint with the US Embassy in Canberra and received what she termed a ‘charming’ apology in reply. “I took it as an apology from all of America,” she says.
Having remained quiet about her experience for several weeks the author felt it was important to share her experience as the huge difference between the message of tolerance that her books teach and her experience in the US was “too stark to ignore.”
When asked if this experience had changed the author’s opinion of the US she said “As a whole, everyone is charming, friendly, welcoming, gorgeous, but the U.S. is changing its mind about what the U.S. is. That is what is coming through. That is the tragedy.” and as this was her 117th visit to the country all of which were made under similar circumstances, that is a sad development.