Coming and Going
By Nnedi Okorafor
I’ve been kicking this story around for over six years.
The first time I ever went to New York City was in 2009 for the Octavia Butler Symposium at Medgar Evers College. I arrived through LaGuardia International Airport. And I left through it, as well.
Two things: 1. What struck me most and immediately about New York was its glorious diversity. You could walk down the street and hear languages, witness customs, find restaurants, see people from all over the world in very close proximity. I prefer quiet less urban places, away from human beings, but this aspect of New York delighted me. 2. I detested LaGuardia Airport. There was barely anywhere to sit, it was ancient in a dirty way, and the construction made getting around confusing and difficult. Over the years, I’ve learned that this construction is never-ending.
Nevertheless, what made the strongest impression on me was the next-level TSA experience I had while leaving through LaGuardia that first time to fly back to Chicago. These days I have locks (less affectionately called “dreadlocks”) that are over four and a half feet long. Back then, they were probably closer to two and a half. I went through the body scanner and was quickly asked to step aside. “Would you like a private room?” the female TSA officer asked. Having no idea why, I said, “Yes.” My large hair bun was first “wanded”. Then I was told to undo my bun, and then the officer proceeded to squeeze each of my thick locks from tip to root. Lastly, she massaged my scalp. It was infuriating, creepy and degrading. And it was not the last time this would happen to me when leaving LaGuardia (and at other airports, both in and outside of the United States).
I walked away from that first experience at LaGuardia furious, but also thinking about many things. About aliens. About people of African descent with our alarm-raising thick African hair. About African immigrants who’d have been kept for more in-depth questioning if they’d had my same amount and type of hair.
Hours later, I thought a lot about misdirection and how so much of airport security is just theater to make us feel safer, because when I got home and unpacked, I realized that I’d accidently left my palm-sized pink canister of pepper spray in my carry-on. So while the LaGuardia TSA officer was busy rifling through my hair, the other officers had missed a rather important item. Interesting.
I am the child of recent immigrants, thus my worldview has been shaped by ideas of people who move around, have multiple homes, cultures, have learned to adapt yet retain their identity, and barrel-forth regardless. The Earth is big to me and humanity is diverse. Therefore, when President Trump signed the executive order to implement the infamous travel ban back in January 2017, the America and the general world climate of my story became that much clearer. I especially remember when long-distance runner Mo Farah declared, “Trump has made me an alien” because the ban targeted his country of Somalia. All of this was powerful fodder for what eventually became the LaGuardia series.
I believe in the existence of aliens. I fantasize about how their eventual arrival will force an amazing paradigm and identity shift in humanity and for the entire Earth. I’m an irrational optimist, so I look forward to all this with excitement, anticipation and curiosity. The future portrayed in this series has its problems, but it’s not a dystopia.
LaGuardia is an exploration. It’s pushback, it’s playful shenanigans, it’s looking forward, it’s terrestrially alien and it’s trickster tendencies all rolled up into one narrative. It’s metaphor and it’s literal. I hope you enjoy it.
Nnedimma Nkemdili Okorafor
October 24, 2018
Ps. I have since gotten Pre-Check and no longer have to endure these invasive inspections. And no, I never again made the epic mistake of leaving pepper spray in my luggage while flying, haha.
Check out the LaGuardia synopsis below.
Set in an alternative world where aliens have come to Earth and integrated with society, LaGuardia revolves around a pregnant Nigerian-American doctor, Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka who has just returned to NYC under mysterious conditions. After smuggling an illegal alien plant named ''Letme Live'' through LaGuardia International and Interstellar Airport's customs and security, she arrives at her grandmothers tenement, the New Hope Apartments in the South Bronx.
There, she and Letme become part of a growing population of mostly African and shape-shifting alien immigrants, battling against interrogation, discrimination and travel bans, as they try to make it in a new land. But, as the birth of her child nears, future begins to change. What dark secret is she hiding?
Written by Nnedi Okorafor, Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award winner (Who Fears Death, Binti, Akata series) and illustrated by Tana Ford (Silk, Duck!), the team behind Black Panther: Long Live the King #6.
The title is the latest release from Karen Berger’s Berger Books imprint, and launches Dec. 5.
Source: Paste Magazine