I am 55. I don’t have a college degree, but I have always wanted to earn one. In years past, some sort of wall always seemed to prevent me from going to school. Life just got in the way.
After Trump won the election, I decided the time was now or it might be never. After weeks of soul searching and online research, I determined the best approach for me would be community college. My friends, most of whom have degrees, cheered when I announced my decision.
“You will do great in community college!” they exclaimed. That is, until I said I would be attending community college in Yuma, Arizona.
“Arizona?” asked my liberal friend Margie. “In this political climate?”
I begged my best friend Barry to ride with me to Yuma. I would do all the driving on the way there, since he would have to drive himself back.
When was the last time you went on a road trip?” I reasoned, and I wore on him until he agreed to go.
It was 30 degrees in Raleigh, N.C., the morning I packed my belongings into Barry’s car. We took a quick walk around the block and past the rose garden near his home so I could say a very private good-bye to a city that I had grown to love.
After 13 years on the East Coast, I pointed Barry’s car toward the West. I was ready for a new adventure.
“Good Luck on your trip!” Margie said as we dropped her at the Greyhound station in Asheville.
The plan went like this: On the way out of North Carolina, Margie would hitch a ride with us to Asheville. We’d spend a couple of nights with friends in the area to celebrate Margie’s 50th.
“Maybe you’ll get a job building the Wall,” she said, getting in a final jab.
Margie feared “Trump’s Wall” would be all I would have to look forward to in Yuma. Honestly, all my friends did.
Truthfully, I was more worried about my own walls. Could I tear down my own personal “college barrier”?
As Barry and I drove out of Asheville and into Tennessee, I said “Adios!” to the rolling pines of North Carolina.
I sang “Vaya con Dios!” to the prairie lands of Oklahoma and Texas.
When we hit the “mother-of-all-holes” I belted “Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay!” into the echoing canyons of the South Rim.
With each passing mile marker, Barry reminded me we could turn back.
“It will be hard to get a job,” he pointed out. “You don’t speak Spanish.”
“Maybe I will learn Spanish,” I countered. Barry bristled.
By the time we exited I-8 and rolled past the sign for Yuma’s Historic Downtown, Barry and I had become momentary polar opposites. Road trips can do that to you.
I couldn’t help but ignore the set of obstacles looming before me; Barry couldn’t help but pay attention to his own ethnocentricity.
Under, over or through the wall
Barry drove back to Raleigh a week later. It being February, I had been unable to enroll for spring semester. It looked like I would have to wait to start college. I was so bummed.
“When do your classes start?” became one of only two questions friends and family had for me.
The second question was worse: “How’s the job search going?”
It seemed I was hitting walls on all the important fronts.
Between school delays and trying to find a job that didn’t require me to be bilingual, I felt the momentum of my new life grinding to a halt.
Finally, I was inside a classroom on campus waiting for class to start. It was the first day of Fall semester. Inside the room was dim and cool, in contrast to the bright, blazing desert.
To say I sat in that English composition class confidently, the way I left Raleigh, would be an outright lie. I wasn’t exactly nervous though. Mostly, I felt relieved just to be on campus and to see professors and students face to face. It made my college experience real.
As we sat waiting, I actively practiced not comparing myself to the other students. It wasn’t working. I was the only student in the class in my demographic. I noticed that I was probably the only person who couldn’t speak Spanish. I could feel myself putting up walls.
Okay, so I was a little nervous.
La vida es bella
By the end of that first class period, though, I was feeling much better. I felt confident I could learn how to write – not just essays, but lots of stuff. I relaxed, thinking, “I can do this!”
“Like all objects that people make, walls have never been any one thing,” says Thomas Oles in his recent book Walls: Enclosure and Ethics in the Modern Landscape.
It may seem odd that I traveled so far to start college and fulfill a personal dream, but I wanted a different perspective on life. In the expansiveness of the Sonoran Desert I found that.
Learning how to write alongside next-generation students who also had dreams and being immersed in the Spanish language was the largest part of why I chose Yuma. Looking back, fue tonta estar nerviosa that first day of Fall.