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You Are Welcome

The reasons for becoming a smuggler are not mysterious, and most of the people who get into the business have economic motivations. As the gaps and absences in her rusty trailer become more apparent and T. J. threatens to quit school to find a job, it is Ray who appears at Lila’s door to tell her she is ready to bring some more of “those Chinese.” On this second run, and even if she is a smuggler-in-training, Ray has fully internalized the role of coyote and shows total disregard for the human cargo. She just needs enough money for the balloon payment on her double-wide, and then, she claims, she is out. “I’m no criminal,” she hastens to add. She is immediately corrected by Lila, who claims that “it’s not a crime,” for it is an internal affair carried out in the midst of a discontinuous line. In spite of Lila’s initial reservations to work with whites, the two women traverse the frozen river once again and split the roles during the operation. Two Chinese men get in the trunk as the Quebecois coyote gives their shoes to Ray. “This should keep them from running,” he states. As Ray’s reluctant instructor, Lila explains that the migrants might try to run away from the snakeheads, who pay for their trip in exchange for a period of indentured servitude: “They gotta work off what they owe.” “Sometimes they work for years to pay it off.” It is a forty-thousand- or fifty-thousand-dollar debt depending on where they are coming from. Lila’s facts about contemporary immigration echo the waves of indentured servants that populated the country throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.6 The difference is that during the period of colonization America was perceived as the land of opportunity. That vision is manifestly over, as Ray incredulously comments: “To get here? No fuckin’ way!” When the migrants are expeditiously delivered to the Pioneer Motel, Ray throws their shoes at them. The two men respond with what sounds like a curse, and Ray retorts with a terse “You’re welcome.” The phrase carries a double message, for it is the ironic response to an absent act of gratitude, but also, and equally fitting in the scene, a more than appropriate exclamation in the face of the visitor. For Jacques Derrida, “To dare say welcome is perhaps to insinuate that one is at home here, that one knows what it means to be at home, and that at home one receives, or offers hospitality, thus appropriating for oneself a place to welcome the other, or worse, welcoming the other in order to appropriate for oneself a place and then speak the language of hospitality” ([1997] 1999, 15-16). This redrawing of the lines of domesticity underlies Ray’s pronouncement, for it expresses the fact that notwithstanding their territorial differences and the color line between them, Lila and Ray are “at home,” and their “being-at-home-ness” determines their welcoming and their bestowal of hospitality. Even if they are located in a capsule in motion such as the car, they maintain their mastery over space. Their parking outside the Pioneer Motel may be symbolic of their marginal situation within that history of pioneering, yet it also implies that they can repossess that marginal position to alienate the Other, the immigrant and alien, and immobilize him/her in another site of exclusion. The indirect reference to colonization, moreover, points at a subtle mechanism that articulates contemporary contacts between immigrants and citizens. Etienne Balibar ([2004] 2005, 39) has argued that the colonial heritage has structured the way immigrants are being introduced into contemporary metropolises. Immigration management has become a form of “imported colonialism” (Hoffman 2009, 248), a boomerang effect, to return to Foucault ([1997] 2003), that reproduces previous encounters and modes of dealing with contingents that are deemed deficient and in need of development and civilization. In throwing a “welcome” at the immigrants, Ray is not surrendering spatial and linguistic mastery as much as reasserting it. She is establishing the terms of engagement between citizens and noncitizens; she is also laying down the basis of their precarious incorporation into the nation-state. In short, Ray shows the inhospitable face of hospitality at a time when she is losing her home and she moves closer to a threatening homelessness.

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