By Ed Kientz
While traveling back from Colorado to Arizona, we stopped for an espresso at a diner in Cortez, Colo. Back in 2003, we had stopped at this converted Airstream trailer that served as a drive up coffee and sandwich shop and we were hoping it was still open and operating. To our surprise, it was, and we met Bill, who bought the business three years ago. He is a retired college professor from Chicago who moved to Cortez to be closer to his son. We had a great conversation about Chicago, higher education, teaching and how he ended up owning this funky business in the southwest corner of Colorado.
I thanked him for keeping the business open and he mentioned that he was the only drive-through coffee house in town. He then told me about Ruby Begay Hall who was working inside and he told me, “Please be nice to her because yesterday was a bit of a tough day for her.” I learned that Ruby grew up in Arizona and was part of the Begay family; a well-known Native American family. I remembered that I bought some wonderful jewelry for my wife that was made by members of the Begay family. Ruby spent 30 years doing rodeo in Arizona and she was one of the first women team ropers. She told me she competed in Wickenburg many years ago.
Ruby married and moved to Cortez and she first began teaching school on the reservation. Then, the school district asked her to help troubled kids (alcohol and drug abuse) who did not want to go to school and had dropped out (the youngest was just 9). Next she was asked to teach young girls who were already mothers in an effort to help them get their GED. Ruby is quite an amazing lady. She retired and works part time at this coffee house.
The previous day, a man came into the diner to order coffee. He had on a red baseball cap that said “Make America Great Again.” When he saw Ruby behind the counter, he said some nasty things about what he thought was her heritage and told her to “go back to where she came from.” Ruby was stunned and she could not bring herself to say anything. The man then picked up a plastic waste can – small in size, round, with a top piece that could flip back and forth – and threw it at Ruby and hit her on the head. He then left the coffee shop and drove away. Ruby showed me the cut on her forehead where the trash can hit her.
All I could think about was how sad it is to think we are so polarized in our beliefs that we have become bitter and hurtful. We have lost our ability to accept others and their beliefs. We don’t even care to listen and learn…we only want to let others know that we are right and thus they are wrong. We have become so blind in our thinking that we no longer can even do critical thinking. We have succumbed to “group think” and any other group must be evil and trampled upon.
I thought how ironic it was for a man with a hat that says “Make America Great Again” to yell at a Native American retired woman and tell her to, “go back to where she came from.” I tried to imagine what Ruby must have thought when she heard those words. But to then pick up a trash can and throw it at her was both cruel and criminal. This is not how we make America great again. Instead, this is how we destroy ourselves from within.
May we as people of this great nation be less angry and bitter. May we become more tolerant of one another and not be so fearful and consumed by hate. May we go back to using our ears to listen and to use our critical thinking skills first and not be so reactionary every time someone says something that causes us to take up an offense. May we remember that we are individuals first…which is far more important than the pack with which we run…where we do what is decent, right, and honest…remembering that we all are part of this amazing American Experience (this American Experiment), where each of us has God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.