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Ducey

Dear Governor Ducey,

Happy holidays! I suspect you and your family have erected not only the Christmas tree in your home. Perhaps you’re one of those families that has two trees—maybe one more whimsical with gingerbread men and nutcrackers and cuckoo clocks, the other, more formal and sedate—big, round globes perfectly spaced from other perfectly round globes. Maybe some red bows? You seem like a red bow kind of family.

I saw, in a photograph, a red bow around the neck a woman waiting at the border. Maybe it was more of a bandana than a bow since she seemed to be using it to cover her mouth and nose. Perhaps she was trying to block the tear gas that a border patrol agent sprayed at her and her kids. It’s opposite the kind of welcome-to-our-home look your Christmas trees project but at least she knows where she stands now that she’s walked 2,000 miles to find asylum.

I should be getting ready for the holidays, but I’m pretty tired. It’s been the craziest semester yet, which my colleagues and I keep saying we have to quit saying since we say it every semester but this time, I swear it’s true. I had so much travel in September and early October, which was good, because if I’d booked them in October or November, I would have had to miss about 46 meetings.

Wait a minute. I could have missed 46 meetings? No, I couldn’t because I said I’d be there. Of those 46 meetings 17 were for the new certificate program. It’s a true interdisciplinary certificate which makes me happy but also means I have to meet with people from other disciplines which is fun but also means I have to walk back and forth across campus and am making work for myself which is what I think it means to be a professor but I think it also might mean that I need two semesters in one.

This whole semester, people have been migrating from Ecuador, Honduras and Guatemala. They are looking to find a place where they can be safe from being forced to join gangs, to find respite from domestic violence, to be protected from persecution by corrupt governments. It’s a long walk from Guatemala to the U.S. It’s a thousand times longer than 46 meetings. Longer than the miles I walked from building to building. Longer than it seems summer was ago.

The woman with the red bandana must have been disappointed to find hundreds of border patrol guards waiting for her at the gates. She wanted to legally apply for asylum. She knew it was a long shot but her son had been told to join the gang or else. Her daughter had been told to be the girlfriend of the gang’s boss or else. The or else meant at least one of them probably would be killed. She herself might have found a way to stay but what’s the point in staying home if your kids never return?

I want to warn her, if you do make it into the States, you’ll be made busy driving kids to chess, taekwondo, piano, dance and basketball. And managing the social lives of children, too! I had no idea how much time that would take. Probably not quite as much time as it does for the woman to get her 13-year-old daughter back to sleep after she wakes up in the night remembering the gang leader’s breath on her throat as he stroked her cheek and said, or else. But still, some of these friend clashes can get intense. It’s a fine line, balancing your kid’s happiness with their need to create their own communities. Maybe the woman with the bandana’s kids could teach mine something about how to say no. How to say, I’m not just a pawn in your drama. How she might sleep at night, worrying only about snarky texts instead of guns pointed at her head.

You and I must remind the woman, dear Ducey, that it’s not all perfect here. We have our own gangs and our own guns and this real problem right now with empathy. I know some people doing some real good like offering to sponsor a family in their home. Dear Governor, as governor, a Christian who likes Christmas, if I recall, isn’t that what Christmas is about? Opening your home to others? Perhaps Arizona could be the Christmas state and could invite those people who walked so long to come on in.

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Nicole Walker is a professor at Northern Arizona University, and is the author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt and a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg. She edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts. The thoughts expressed here are hers alone and not necessarily those of her employer. For more letters, visit www.nikwalk.blogspot.com

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