No Stamp for Readmittance

by Max Vasapoli

in National Conference

Post image for No Stamp for Readmittance

(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Survive| Thrive} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.)

I was adopted from an orphanage in Bogota, Colombia in 1987.

Traveling to the border was cathartic in the way people describe visiting a childhood home. Too young to clearly remember the details, but drawn there because of its personal importance.

I was thrilled TCG offered a chance during the conference to cross into Mexico, see a show, and have a meal. I was relieved because I was planning a solo day trip to Tijuana. Travelling from Philadelphia, I figured it to be a lost opportunity to not cross the border. After hearing the same response to this plan from multiple sources, I decided against it. I wasn’t going to be foolish, but I borderwanted to be adventurous. Often, the two are closely connected.

Crossing into Mexico was smoother than anticipated. A soldier with an AK47 slung across his body questioned the driver about our destination. He’d seen other vans filled with people wearing conference placards around their necks that day, no doubt. He eyed our group, opened the rear door, and scanned under our feet. He waved us through though our driver blanked on which theater we were attending.

“Man, that was nothing like Border Wars,” I thought.

When we exited the van in Tijuana, street vendors swarmed us peddling souvenirs and the chance to be photographed with a donkey painted to look like a zebra. As a knee jerk reaction, I removed my placard and relocated my personal belonging to my front pockets. Outside the venue, I was awestruck by a brief glimpse of Mexican artwork on display.

mexican artCarefully planned, uniquely executed, and strikingly engaging. The performance, if you can imagine it, was similar to a stage version of Whose Line is it Anyway? in Spanish with a gladiator theme and stage combat. Moving too rapidly to translate, the universal language of improvisation spoke volumes. Dinner was delicious Italian complimented by 1920s décor ornamenting the walls.

Heading to the Mexican side of the border, our driver explained us reentering on foot. He holds a prescreened approval that allows swift passage between the countries. Our presence in the van impeded the border crossing and it would be more time efficient to split up.

I’ve heard stories of hours spent waiting on line to cross back into the states in the cattle lines, metal partitions separating passport holders, prescreened card holders, and those picture 4without papers. We arrived during a lull, but it was easy to imagine how claustrophobic the cattle lines become during a midday rush. Duty free candy stores and shops littered the border, maybe as a distraction or a last resort to lift pesos from those with no need for them once across the border.

We passed through government buildings, back onto the street, and into a small square welcoming us to California. The last checkpoint was similar to customs in an airport. The uncomfortable atmosphere in the room permeated enterers, as our jovial group was muzzled by the energies we intruded on. If you’ve ever entered a court house, you know the feeling.

Numbering in the hundreds, Mexican men, women, and children lined the walls for yards and yards. They were individually interviewed and searched, but their line was motionless.

way backIn front of us, officers arrested a man attempting to illegally cross the border. Behind me, tourists and travelers full of $2 Mexican cerveza lined up to flash a passport at border patrol. Anticipatory nervousness filled me even as a passport holder. It deflated when an officer anticlimactically glanced and abstained from stamping my passport. We left the building and Mexican citizens remained frozen in line.

When the adrenaline subsided, I remembered the line of people stopped at the border I wanted a stamp for crossing. I’m not Mexican, but I am Colombiano. A part of me, my heart, and my interest will always live on the other side of the border just above the Equator. These borders don’t divide our human experience, but unify our need for understanding their relevancy to the individuals crossing them every day.


Vasapoli_Max_HeadshotMax Vasapoli is a seasoned educator and communications consultant in the Philadelphia live arts industry. Since receiving his BFA in Musical Theater from The University of the Arts, Max has worked with theatres like the Arden Theatre Company, Stoneham Theatre, Off Broad Street Theatre, and Theatre Exile. Vasapoli performs and teaches with Opera Philadelphia where he was seen in the Opera On The Mall broadcasts of Carmen and Nabucco, the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night, and on news segments like CBS Philly’s Love the Arts in Philadelphia6ABC Loves The Arts, and WHYY’s Friday Arts. Recently, Max worked alongside Cirque du Soleil’s international tour of Totem in Camden, NJ. Recent and upcoming  guest lecturing credits include The University of the Arts, Temple University, Villanova University, ArtsTechNJ, and Theatre Communications Group.