Standing Tall at the Edge of America
Although raised by her single mom and grandparents, Aria never felt like she had it that tough. Her mom raised her to be a strong, independent and driven woman, balanced by her grandmother's efforts to teach her more conservative values of going to church, having manners and being a lady. Her grandmother and mother's efforts to teach her those values were largely effortless, though, which made both of them ideal role models in Aria's mind. While her father was out of the picture, she looked to her grandfather, a kind and resolute gentleman, as her primary father figure.
The one minor point of tension in her family, however, has been politics. Both very religious, Aria's conservative-minded grandparents hold a differing world-view than her mother, whom Aria described as staunchly feminist and progressive. While the three never fought over their political beliefs, Aria felt the tug of the different outlooks growing up.
Aria believes that the idea of building a wall is inbred in xenophobia, but does not necessarily think that everyone who supports building it are racists. Her grandfather, she believes, is one of those people.
When asked how she came to her own opinion on the wall, Aria said that she did not take the issue seriously until Donald Trump became elected. Recently, cement and construction companies on both sides of the border have already indicated interest in obtaining the government contracts for the project, making the issue all too real in her hometown of El Paso. While she's critical of a wall, Aria is not opposed to other solutions to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States.
It was interesting that Aria offered some possible alternative solutions to the issue of illegal immigration, contrary to some conservatives' belief that those against the wall are only in favor of "open borders" or "amnesty." Aria understands her fellow Americans' concerns about immigration, but simply believes that those concerns are more rooted in fear or xenophobia as opposed to a genuine concern about security.
While grounded in her progressive mindset, Aria's respect for people with other views comes in part from also being brought up by her conservative grandparents. That's partly why she understands why some Americans are afraid of foreigners, particularly of Muslims.
Despite the fear, the xenophobia, the hateful rhetoric and this current administration, Aria says she is still proud to be an American. She sees the upside to the American experience, even though we have a lot of baggage that we have to carry with us.
Aria studies chemistry at the University of Texas El Paso. From the school's football stadium, you can see the tall, black border fence that separates the United States and Mexico, El Paso from Juarez — a constant reminder of the larger immigration issues that are playing out across the country. Aria hopes to use her degree in chemistry to become a science teacher, so she can help provide her future students the mentorship and opportunities that she had growing up. It's something that she believes is integral to her definition of the American Dream.