An Open Letter to the Guy on the Other Side of The Great Divide


You and I have spent a whole lot of our time these past 18 month just barely coexisting. We probably still root for the same football team; maybe we even go to the same church. It's unlikely that we listen to the same music, although even Thomas Rhett sings about "...the look in your eyes and the Marvin Gaye..." But we've always been Americans, you and I, and in the old days, we used to be able to (almost happily) agree to disagree. Now, we just disagree. And disparage.

I thought about you (collectively) the other day while I was having a conversation with a kid who works at an establishment that I frequent. I actually can't be any more specific than that, seeing as how the current prevailing political climate has created an army of Junior Joe McCarthys who see Commies and terrorists and Mexicans... EVERYWHERE! They probably wouldn't be able to rat her out to any federal authority, but they could troll her, acting on the faux moral authority that comes from having been born on this side of the line.

We'll refer to her herein as Ana. That's the same name as my wife, who, despite having been born an American, has had to endure her share of crap in her lifetime for no reason other than the glorious darkness of her eyes and hair. The Ana with whom I was speaking that day is about 19, full of life and enthusiasm and possibility. I was waiting for a friend to arrive, so we engaged in small talk.

How are things going?, I asked. It's OK. How's work? That's OK, too. And how's school? That's when the tears made their appearance. They rolled down her cheeks uncontrollably, unashamedly, almost as a welcome release.

I'm not at my best when confronted with tears. My immediate fallback position is clumsy humor as in, "Yeah, I remember when I had to take economics." But this wasn't academic in nature. It was deeper and it was personal.

See, Ana's a DACA kid and just a few days earlier, the Arizona State Supreme Court had coldly driven a stake into the heart of her academic future when they decided that kids like her—set apart through no fault of their own—would no longer be able to pay in-state tuition to attend Arizona's community colleges or universities.

Twice in our conversation, she used the word "emboldened" when referring to the hate groups that have come out of the shadows and/or from beneath their rocks since the election of the Enabler in Chief. This is a term that is rarely used in speech by anybody of any age, let alone a teenager. It tells me that she pays far more attention to the news—watching it on TV or reading it in the paper or online—than the average kid her age. She probably tirelessly scans for hope but receives only heartbreak.

The numbers roll out of her as easily as the tears. If they have to pay out-of-state tuition, DACA kids who had been paying $2,580 per year to attend a community college will see that number more than triple to $8,900. Tuition for one of the universities will go from $10,000 to anywhere from $15,000 up to $27,600. Those are staggering numbers. (University officials are weighing whether they can charge DACA students only 150 percent of in-state tuition instead of full out-of0-state tuition.)

Ana has always been a good student, hard-working and diligent. Her plan was to get through college in four years. But now, she thinks that she'll have to attend the first semester of each school year and then work from December until the following August to save up enough money to pay for the next semester. You might ask what's wrong with that. If you do, I'm afraid that the Great Divide is even wider than I had feared.

Joseph Stalin once said that the death of one man is a tragedy; the death of a million men is just a statistic. It is so easy to think in terms of a huge wave of people and then to be numbed by numbers.

Just talk to the kid or any other kid in her predicament. Just listen to the anguish and the hope. For just a second, try to put yourself in her shoes. As an infant, she didn't choose to come here. But now, at 19, if given the choice, she would damn sure choose to stay here. I'm telling you, this kid's as American as you or I.

You want to punish her parents for having brought her here illegally? I probably wouldn't, but I certainly understand that urge. We're a nation of laws; actions should have consequences. You want America to control its borders? I agree. This isn't Star Date 2402.6, where we're all just citizens of Earth. Countries have to control their borders or, eventually, they cease to be countries. I'm like you; I engage in Us vs. Them thinking. Sun Devils, conservative radio talk-show hosts, people who put catsup on hot dogs. But just talk to this kid and you'll see that she's one of Us, not Them.

Our society benefits from kids like Ana going to school, getting her degree and then getting out there to make the country and the world a better place. You and I both need to have her back.