An immigration officer had reassured me on the phone that all I would need was a driver's license and proof of residency. A passport would not be required. Leaving the border of the United States into Canada earned me a cursory glance and wave.
On the return trip, I was a bit more apprehensive. I had driven to Montreal for several days of meetings. What I was concerned about was getting back into the United States at the border crossing from Canada into upstate New York. It didn't help that it was almost 2 a.m. in the morning as I reached the checkpoint. The Canadians waved me on. There was only one check station open on the U.S. side.
The immigration officer looked my truck over - as much as he could see from inside his booth. He smiled. I handed over my driver's license.
"Are you a U.S. resident?" he asked.
I answered in the affirmative.
Since I wasn't a U.S. citizen he asked for my resident alien card commonly known as a green card. (Even if it isn't green. Mine's white).
He asked what country I was a citizen of and I said none as of 1990. I told him I was born in Singapore, though I had spent much of my childhood in America. But after my series of news commentaries questioning a compulsory military draft in an island nation of 3 million people, my citizenship was yanked and I returned to South Carolina where I had spent much of my teenage years.
"The jerks. Well, we're glad to have you," the officer responded.
He wished me a safe journey and waved me on.
Apprehension gave way to elation. The officer's complimentary remarks were unexpected. And have encouraged me as I fulfill the various requirements for U.S. citizenship.
This all took place several years ago before Sept. 11 rocked the country. I'm sure the situation would be far less relaxed nowadays.
A few years ago at a Salvation Army annual dinner in Oneida, N.Y. to recognize those who had made a significant contribution to the community. It didn't take long for the topic at our table to drift to Sept. 11.
"Why do people hate Americans so?" asked Miriam Cierek, a real estate agent being honored that night for her civic contributions.
I didn't have an answer, but I did mull that question for several months after.
Then I posed the question to a Japanese journalist I had once worked with in Singapore. We had kept in touch by e-mail over the years.
"It is hate driven by envy," said Matsu.
He went on to explain that many people want to immigrate to the United States. Those who can't are envious - of the freedoms and material possessions. And this resentment breeds terrorism.
"Residents of some less affluent nations are tired of being told what to do and what not to do. It's like the overbearing older sister either bossing or tattling on the little brother," he said. "When the little brother has had enough, he just lashes out at the sister in frustration."
In an e-mail my wife received recently on a list for parents of internationally-adopted children, America was described as a "salad bowl."
A melting pot - what America has often been regarded as - implies assimilation as practiced by the Borg in Star Trek. But a salad bowl implies that immigrants each have something to contribute to the mix. And those that can contribute to nation building should be welcomed.
While the United States should not be expected to give anyone a free ride on welfare, or easy entry to anyone wishing to do harm to the country or its citizens, there should be no compromise of civil rights in the name of homeland security.
There are many benefits to America being the great salad bowl or a mosaic of various ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. While the Borg may have insisted on assimilation or a melting pot in order to build a strong nation, America would do well to draw on the best that its mosaic of residents can offer.