Your Place in The World
by Shirley Hilton

You are six months old, snuggled into a bag designed to hold you to my chest, calmly sucking your thumb. We are hopping through airports from the Distrito Federal to my parents’ home in the Midwest. A two-day journey. One leg into our many jumps, a man in uniform stops us as we prepare to board. I show him our boarding passes but he wants more.

Until there was you, no one questioned what they perceived to be American: my hair, my eyes, my mannerisms, my perfect English. I moved easily across borders. But now I am leaving the country alone with an infant. And I am a reasonable person. It’s okay, I tell myself. Necessary even. I smile, surprise him with my perfect Spanish. I am prepared.

The pockets and compartments of our carry-on are mostly stuffed with things a baby might need for a long trip. With one hand I support your head and neck, bending to retrieve the documents I think he wants.

From one side pocket I pull our U.S. passports, and your birth certificate issued at the U.S. Embassy – American Citizen Born Abroad printed across the top. He fingers the official raised seal, eyes the dollar bills I have stuffed into my passport for when we reach Chicago.

But your documents carry only your father’s last name, not mine; the practice of recognizing that children also belong to their mother is not yet commonplace in an arrogant America that thinks it gets to make the rules for all the world. The woman at the embassy made it clear. One last name only.

When I am told we will not be allowed to board, I try to reason. Even though I have lived in Mexico long enough to understand that reason is not what this man seeks. He wants to show his power, and possibly a payoff. A mordida. A bribe.

From the other side of the bag, I pull your Mexican passport—the local currency stuffed within it—and your Mexican birth certificate, which bears both your father’s last name and mine. He eyes the documents, then me, but still, he shakes his head. “No,” he says.

And here we are. In neither home. Not ours. Not my parents. I am alone, with a baby, stuck in this in-between place. Yes, I could give him money, but instead I politely ask to borrow his pen. I scrawl his name and the number from his badge across my boarding pass, exhaling slowly and looking him in the eye.

“Está bien,” I say. “My husband, too, works for the federal government. He will, no doubt, understand the reason for our detainment. Your duty. Right?” 

I hand him his pen. You calmly suck your thumb. When he sighs, I know that we have won.

We are the last to board the plane, the other travelers long settled in their seats, eager to depart. They greet us with applause and cheers. Startled, you begin to wail. The first time, though certainly not the last, you will cry out declaring your place in the world.


Shirley Hilton lives and writes in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Rattle, Delmarva Review, Edison Literary Review, Evening Street Review, and Nixes Mate Review. She has lived on both sides of the Mexican/U.S. border and frequently writes about what it’s like to have a foot in two cultures. She can be found at