I've spent more time in the U.S. in the past year than I've done in the past ten years combined. Things have changed. Nowhere is this change more prevalent than when going through immigration.
When Bush was president, walking from the airplane into immigration had a high security prison/dead man walking feel to it. Each visit, I walked down stark hospital white halls where I was greeted by Bush's smirking portrait hung above the immigration entrance.
"Welcome to America, Heh, heh, heh...Just kidding." he seemed to say.
The immigration officers sniffed at my living abroad without being in the military or the ministry. Why would you live abroad when America is the best country on earth? Surely the only reason to travel is to see how lucky you are to be born American compared to those poor unlucky bastards everywhere else.
Immigration officer, "You live in Japan?" Me, " Yes." "Why?" "I like job security and health care." The immigration officer's face relaxed, "I hear that." STAMP "Next!"
Since Obama became president, the snickering presidential portrait has disappeared and plasma flat screens showing people of color and women in burkas, eyes twinkling as they wave us in, "Come on in, the country's fine!" they seem to say.
This past visit, the immigration officer glances at my passport and speaks to me in a thick Mexican accent. "Welcome Home!" And for the first time in a long time, I felt at home.