Opinion: Administrative Bureaucracies Make for a Not So Warm Welcome

On the anniversary of her first year in town, a new resident reflects on what's complicated her time here

Opinion: Administrative Bureaucracies Make for a Not So Warm Welcome

Last year, I moved to Austin from the East Coast. Eager to assimilate, I switched my car registration and insurance to my new state. I also made a "new resident" appointment at the DMV and was required to surrender my old license. Additionally, as an adopted Korean American, I had to present my naturalization papers, birth certificate, and social security card. In other words, since I was not born in this country, I needed to prove my citizenship to be able to legally drive in the state of Texas. The DMV officer questioned the validity of my birth certificate and, without my permission, added my middle name to the license. My middle name is Korean. Perhaps this would dispel the confusion for him and others moving forward.

While I awaited the hard copy of my new license to arrive in the mail, I was given a signed piece of paper as my interim Texas license. The paper license has my photo, name, address, and signature on it, yet somehow destabilizes my identity into further obfuscation.

As an Asian woman in a post-­graduate degree program from New York City, I am undoubtedly paranoid about my interpersonal interactions and am constantly policing my manners and articulate qualities. However, I also know that being adopted (by white parents) and growing up in the tri-state area provided me with the advantage of knowing how I should be treated as a human being. More often than not since I've been living here, I find that my intelligence and privilege work to my disadvantage. Personally, the paper license only highlights these issues; however, as I start to socialize and travel again post-(part one of the) pandemic, it is now beginning to affect the world at large.a

Most mundanely, I was almost denied entry to a bar – with arcade games. You have to be 18 to enter. Surely, as someone in their mid-30s I am at least of age to walk into the building. Nonetheless, the female bouncer required a debit or credit card to prove my identity.

More seriously, my passport was sent in for renewal, making the paper license the only form of government-issued photo identification that verifies me and my ability to drive. Aside from the other documents previously mentioned that were required to obtain the paper license, this printed-out piece of paper is what identifies me on a day-to-day basis.

Months passed from my original DMV appointment and I never received my license. Since I could not reach someone over the phone, I emailed their scheduling service. They replied that my license was sent out two weeks after my first appointment and that I should schedule another visit because I needed a replacement license. While there is not enough space to discuss my experience with the local post office, it is enough to say that I used a friend's mailing address this time around.

I travel often and subscribe to TSA PreCheck and Clear. However, at the airport my paper license is not a valid form of identification. Needless to say, I cannot use these services that I paid for; and since the paper license is equivalent to a student ID, several TSA agents needed to help me through security. One agent escorted me, while a female agent scanned my items and body, and then three other agents checked my luggage, shoes, laptop, phone, and jacket by hand. Not to mention the other people I spoke to prior to being taken to the other side.

Now, on paper license No. 2 and recovering from the racial and intrusive handling of bureaucratic agencies, I still feel fortunate because I continue to survive, drive, travel, and socialize despite the best attempts to discourage me. Although I was able to jump through the hoops presented, being able to disprove assumptions is an unnecessary power to wield.

As I ease into a city with residents that love yard signs, I wonder how Austin can be more inclusive for individuals without these options or a support system.

Sara Collins is a Ph.D. student in the African and African Diaspora Studies Department at UT-Austin. Her research focuses on African American art and photography and she has a forthcoming essay to be published this summer by Burnaway. Most recently, Sara adopted a puppy and named her Presto. The name is inspired by the infamous magician, Fay Presto.

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