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9/11: A Year After / WHO WE ARE NOW

Karla Olivos

'I know [the Americans] are trying to protect their country. But it's people like me ... who are paying.'

September 11, 2002

Karla Olivos, a 22-year-old international business major, is one of thousands of Mexicans who cross the border legally each day to work or study in the United States. She drives from her father's home in Tijuana to San Diego State University, a commute that used to require half an hour. On Sept. 11, it took all morning. The border was closed briefly, then reopened with severely tightened U.S. inspections that remain in force. It was the start of an ordeal that has caused Olivos to spend more hours at the wheel than in class and has fragmented her bilingual, bicultural world.

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"At the border that morning, they were asking everyone to get out of their cars. They were checking the trunks. They were opening the hoods. They were even putting in dogs to inspect the cars. I was like, 'Wait a second, I have to get to class!' They asked me everything, like what is the name of the president of my school. I was shocked. I thought, 'What does this have to do with me?'

After that day, I would drive to the border before 6, but sometimes that wasn't early enough to get to a 10 a.m. class. Some days I would start out at 3 or 4. It got insane. People had to start lining up at 1 and 2 a.m. or lose their jobs in California. I would sit at the wheel and do homework. I'd read my book and highlight. Then every couple of minutes I'd move forward a meter or two.

I really, really got to hate it, crossing the border.

Once I asked one of the border officers, 'How long is this going to take? You know, I don't know if you realize that, if there's any terrorists, he or she or they are not going to cross in a car, not where a lot of people are watching.'

He told me, 'Well, you know, we're doing our job and I don't like it either, but that's the way it's going to be until who knows when.'

I know they are trying to protect their country. But it's people like me, students and people who have to work, who are paying. In Tijuana, people don't say, 'We're with the U.S. because of what happened.' They're just frustrated with the wait.

I'm astonished at how my Mexican American friends see things. Before

Sept. 11, if you asked them, 'What are you?' they would say 'Mexican,' even though they were born in America. Now they say, 'Gosh, they hit us, and we are America. We love America.' They even wave American flags.

The other day, I was telling my friend, 'Americans are so racist, because if people come to visit from Libya, Iran or Iraq, they have to be fingerprinted. Imagine, how would you feel?' She's Mexican American, and she said, 'Well, they have to pay for supporting terrorists.' And I said, 'How do you know who they're supporting?'

I don't feel hate for America. But sometimes I just don't get it. The close relationship between these two cities can't be cut off just like that.

When I graduate, I hope to get a practical training permit to work in San Diego. But right now, the economy is so bad, and since Sept. 11 employers are reluctant to hire international people. I am really worried. All my Mexican friends who graduated in my program a year ago found work right away. Of my six Mexican friends who graduated last May, none has a job."

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As told to Richard Boudreaux

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