It takes stepping into a terminal, just breathing the air, for me to know if a destination city will write itself on my heart. I’m always right. Flying more often for work to places I’d not yet been has shown the deciding variable: if nearby water, then yes. Davenport, Iowa via Moline, Illinois, yes; Albuquerque, no. What is the factor, then, that determines what it feels like to fly home? Love, probably, for most. I have wondered what it feels like to fly into DFW when the Dallas area is not your home. The airport is itself city-sized, bigger than the island of Manhattan.
Yasmin Delarosa wondered this too, on Sunday afternoon, because her aunt was coming to Dallas for the first time ever. She was supposed to have arrived in an hour ago from Mexico City and Delarosa had no way to reach her. So, she waited with her family outside inside international arrivals where hundreds (that’s the most specific count anyone has as of this writing) had shown up for a second day of protests against President Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven primarily Muslim countries from entering the United States: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Delarosa, from Arlington, is very much against the order too; if she hadn’t already been at the airport to pick up her aunt, she may have come for the protest.
“Whenever I knew she was coming, I kind of panicked a little bit. I’m concerned, because of what’s going on in this country, the tension,” Delarosa told me. “Just a while ago a white guy came through here, yelling ‘ this is White America!’ I was like, whoa.”
She gestured to the double doors to many, many people who were yelling louder than that guy, yelling together.
“So many people in there, are so united, so nice, so sweet. This country is built off of immigrants, and it’s going to stay that way.”
Like Delarosa, I was already at the airport on Sunday. I flew in from Baton Rouge and rode the Skylink to Terminal D, the most useful and beautiful borough of the city that is DFW Airport.
It links nations and receives travelers who’ve come the furthest to get here. It is the first and mostly only thing I think of, besides the people working in cultural centers that serve our poorest neighborhoods (and some of our artists), when I hear city officials promising Dallas is poised to become a “World Class” city.
Fifty people from the countries on Trump’s order had been held and questioned the day before, more detainees than any other U.S. airport combined. The elderly among them slept on cots. One 70-year-old Iranian widow had been there for 24 hours by the time I walked up around 9 a.m. to a crowd singing “This Land Is Your Land.” I recognized a girl I’d seen in photos the day before, holding a sign asking the Department of Homeland Security to free her grandmother. The crowd would chant with her and her family: first, simply, “Free our grandma!” then, more carefully, “Free their grandma!” There were flowers taped to the cardboard; they appeared to have come from a bouquet the child meant to hand to the woman. On Sunday afternoon, Mayor Mike Rawlings and County Judge Clay Jenkins posted a photo of themselves handing flowers to those being detained.
The children of protestors joined the affected kids in their marathon airport stay. I moved my little tower of carry-ons out of their way as they pushed to the front of the aisle. Those who’d halted their usual Sunday morning to be here included many young families. A girl no older than seven, wearing a headscarf, sat on her dad’s shoulders. The group cracked into laughter when he began the chant “Hands too small, can’t build a wall!” One boy of about 10 clutched a hot-pink posterboard with clumsily Sharpied bubble letters that read, “Let Them Go!” A baby cried when the crowd grew in size and volume. A pregnant woman nearby looked back at me with tears in her eyes.
Also pregnant, a friend texted me that she’d arrived, then told me she’d be a minute. I saw her walk up with her toddler on her back, her belly bigger than I’d realized. “She’s cuddling me, because she knows,” my friend said, referring to her daughter, whose face was indeed nestled close. “I’m due in two days.”
Of all the signs, the one this friend, sandwiched between one child and another one forthcoming, had written on cardboard got me the most. “FUTURE GENERATIONS WILL HOLD US ACCOUNTABLE,” it said. The little girl on her back held a small American flag.
So this is our city, now. Short on information about the detainees, I pulled up the latest Star-Telegram report on my phone. A woman close to my age in a headscarf huddled over the facts, or lack of them, with me. We read the story aloud, trading paragraphs, on my horribly cracked phone screen. And we waited.
At about 2 p.m., news came from customs that the detainees had been released and were meeting with their families at an offsite location. Rawlings appeared with the nine remaining during a brief press conference. And there remains concerns for travelers with green cards abroad in the listed countries still hoping to make it back to the U.S. Everyone kept saying protesters gathered so early this morning; I kept getting the sense, though, looking into the faces around me, that our chanting came very late.
Mallory Holmes, a community organizer from Indiana, says it’s not too late. She was still chanting in Terminal D at 4 p.m., when the refrain got more and more direct: “Brown lives matter!” rang out as kids markered signs on the ground and more people streamed in.
“This should have happened a long time ago. It would be better if it had happened ten years ago. But we’ve got to keep this up,” she said. “Or it’s just going to get worse.”
Sarah Isa stood outside holding a single white rose. As a Muslim, and a 15-year-old who’s tried to ignore classmates who called her a terrorist and worried aloud that she “would bomb the school bus,” Sarah felt somewhat comforted by the turnout and the words she heard at the protest. She goes to Red Oak High School. She has friends who support Trump, but she tries to “respect that,” she said.
“Here, people are against us and you feel like you’re not welcome here at all. So when you see people supporting you, like this, it feels so good. Because we don’t get that much support.”
“The hate, we just start getting used to it. It’s not right,” her sister, Tasneem, interjected. “You can’t hate us, you don’t know us. We don’t blame all Christians when one does something bad.”
The America Tasneem describes is not the one Adeel Ali wants his son to know. So he brought the little boy, Ibrahim, who’s nine, from their home in Frisco to the protest at DFW. Ibrahim sat atop his dad’s shoulders, smiling out over a crush of people. He’s never seen anything like this before; it’s his first protest.
“I wanted him to look at what America looks like, what democracy looks like,” Adeel Ali said. “We followed the election together. There’s been a lot of questions from him, a lot of fear. I try to tell him about hope. I tell him this is a great country, that we have chosen to live in.”
“Ibrahim wrote a note that he wants to read. ‘Ibrahim, read your note!’” he called up to the boy.
Underneath him a small group of us close by listened to his small voice as it grew louder over the noise.
“We’re all people. We need equal rights, for we were all made equal.”