Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
For more Asian American
stories in Wisconsin, click:
Racial profiling shoplifting suspect
By Paul H. Kusuda

      Arizona’s recent approach to dealing with undocumented aliens (illegal immigrants) brought to mind
something that happened to me about seven or eight years ago in Monona, Wisconsin, a city contiguous to
Madison. The Monona Police Department had recently applied for and received a federal grant for a program
titled “Business Watch” that was geared to alert store employees to become more aware of shoplifters or
suspicious characters who might be “casing” a place of business. I used to do most of our grocery shopping in a
Monona supermarket that since changed ownership.
      It was a warm summer day when I went to buy canned goods, so I didn’t need a jacket with pockets in
which to put my shopping list and grocery wallet. My usual practice is to put my list, wallet and store coupons in
the left side of my shirt. Being right-handed, that made everything easily accessible.
      I wheeled my grocery cart from aisle to aisle as I shopped. Canned baked beans were on my list, so I went to
the appropriate area and studied labels on the cans. My wife prefers canned goods with minimal salt and fat.
Brand labels require scrutiny since companies are not consistent in listing contents. Fat contents vary quite a bit
from brand to brand.  So too with sodium. That means I have to pick up can after can to make comparisons. I also
refer to coupons to see whether I have the proper ones to redeem after I choose the brand with the least fat or
      My actions must have been observed by someone looking at the ever-present eye-in-the-sky camera. As I
was peering at a can label, the store manager — female — asked what I was doing. I explained my reason for
picking up and returning canned goods to shelves. Then I became aware of two large-sized males who came up
behind me as I faced and talked with the manager. Here I was a slightly-built, five-foot tall, 80-year old Asian who
apparently posed a threat to the manager. She had the two clerks back her up in case I raised a ruckus.
Later, I could say, “What a laugh!” At the time, it wasn’t hilarious. I didn’t feel threatened because I wasn’t
belligerent. However, I felt a bit of sympathy for the two young men to have had to accompany the manager for a
potential confrontation.
      The occasion was obviously related to racial profiling because a White person would have attracted little
attention of the eye-in-the-sky observer. I was not embarrassed. I did not think it was an ignominious situation —
1. “marked with or characterized by disgrace or shame, dishonorable; 2. deserving of shame or infamy,
despicable; 3. humiliating, degrading.”—Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Instead, I thought the manager to be an
ignoramus, one worthy of being ignored. Incidentally, the next time I shopped there, she apologized. I suppose
she was relieved that I had taken no legal action.
      If I were in Arizona, I might be racially profiled and asked for some form of identification showing that I’m a U.
S. citizen. I’ve been seen as a Hispanic recently by a Latino store clerk, so looks are deceiving even to another
non-White. I’ve been seen as a Native American also. In fact, a representative of the Oneida Tribe in Wisconsin
told me I looked enough like his supervisor to be mistaken for his brother. That was about 30 years ago when I
was still a state employee. Before that, I was thought to be a Winnebago (now Ho-Chunk) Indian by a Native
American I met at a conference. Years before that, when I lived in Chicago in the late 1940s, a subway train
passenger asked if I were a Navaho Indian. He was surprised when I told him my parents came from Japan.
The point is that racial profiling is not only wrong; it’s full of false positives. In Arizona and other places, persons
racially profiled as undocumented aliens — or illegal immigrants — could well be U.S. citizens, legal permanent
residents, or non-Hispanic.
      The racial-discrimination aspects of hounding persons who look Latino cannot be hidden behind assertions
of security and reduction of illegal drug traffic. Efforts should be made to develop a national program to deal with
justice for undocumented aliens who are law- abiding and who want to remain in the U.S. Naturalization
processes should be made a possibility for those who desire to become U.S. citizens. They comprise a valuable
part of our society and our over-all economic structure. Members of Congress should be made aware that many
voters want to see justice accorded to undocumented who truly want to be citizens of the United States.
Paul Kusuda