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A Tale Of Two Walls

Ira Schwartz
President Ronald Reagan called for the dismantling of the Berlin Wall before the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987.

Recently, as my eight year old son was walking through the family room, I heard him chanting something unusual: “Build a Wall! Build a Wall!” When I asked him where he’d heard that, he said someone was chanting it on the playground at school. It sounded catchy, and I could see how maybe it reminded him of building Lego creations or moats around sand castles.

He said he didn’t know what the chant meant. So I told him it was about a campaign promise – and now plan – to keep immigrants out of this country by building a physical wall. And I asked him if he thought the parents of one of his best friends – both immigrants and now naturalized U.S. citizens - should have been kept out. He said no.

We listed all the people we knew from his school who were immigrants or children of immigrants, including from Canada, on our state’s northern border. We talked about whether skin color or religion should determine whether or not someone was welcome in our country.

I said the plan to build a wall was for our border with Mexico. It could have prevented his uncles Sebastian and Hilario from entering the U.S. If that happened, he wouldn’t have six cousins who tease him in Spanish. We talked about how immigrants like his great grandparents helped build this country and how the Statue of Liberty, which he’s visited, welcomed them into New York harbor.

Alexander Hamilton, the subject of our favorite soundtrack, came through that same harbor as an immigrant, fought for our freedom during the Revolutionary War, and helped write our constitution. We recited one of our favorite lines from the musical, which Hamilton sings with French General Lafayette at Yorktown: “Immigrants, we get the job done!”
Then I pulled up a YouTube video about a different wall. Built during the so-called Cold War to keep people from leaving communist East Germany, the Berlin wall had divided Germany in half for decades.

Together, my son and I watched as then U.S. President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate on 12 June 1987, calling for then General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to “tear down this wall!”

Two years later the wall came down.

And my son and I agreed that we prefer a world without walls.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
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