Well-known Australian children’s book author Mem Fox said she may never return to the United States after a “traumatic” interrogation by immigration officials earlier this month. Now, she’s speaking out as a form of protest.
“I thought I was an activist before, but this has turned me into a revolutionary,” said the 70-year-old author in an interview with The Guardian yesterday. “I will not be quiet. No more passive behaviour. Hear me roar.”
According to Fox, she was on her way to promote her new book (ironically about promoting inclusivity) when she was pulled aside with approximately 20 other people and questioned at Los Angeles Airport because there was confusion about her visa status.
“They made me feel like such a crushed, mashed, hopeless old lady and I am a feisty, strong, articulated English speaker,” she said. “I kept thinking that if this were happening to me, a person who is white, articulate, educated and fluent in English, what on earth is happening to people who don’t have my power?”
She described being questioned by a much younger male official who was rude to her from the beginning. Fox told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the immigration officials seemed to have been given “turbocharged power” by President Trump’s travel ban to “humiliate and insult” everyone they had detained.
“I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain, with so many insults and with so much gratuitous impoliteness,” Fox told ABC.
“In that moment I loathed America. I loathed the entire country,” she said to The Guardian. When she returned to her hotel room she was “bawling” and “shaking like a leaf.”
But what was just as traumatic for Fox was witnessing the way the other travelers in the room were treated.
“There was an Iranian woman in a wheelchair, she was about 80, wearing a little mauve cardigan, and they were yelling at her – ‘Arabic? Arabic?’ ” said Fox. “They screamed at her ‘ARABIC?’ at the top of their voices, and finally she intuited what they wanted and I heard her say ‘Farsi’. And I thought heaven help her, she’s Iranian, what’s going to happen?”
In keeping with her promise to protest, Fox filed a complaint with the American embassy.
“I was very impressed, they were very comforting,” she explained, “and I’ve had so many messages of support from Americans and American authors.”
Much of this support manifested in the Twittersphere.
“A few days ago it was a British schoolteacher. Now a famous Australian children’s book author. This is NOT OK.” tweeted Elliott Lusztig.
“Maybe Mem Fox was detained in the US for her subversive works,” tweeted @fiztig.
As Fox and others protest the treatment of immigrants after the travel ban, the author’s message to children is a timely one.
“We open doors to strangers,” reads her new book I’m Australian Too. “Yes, everyone’s a friend.”