The first email arrived at 8:10 a.m. Sunday.
“I just read your article,” it began.
“Oh boy,” Kevin said out loud. “Here we go. ”
A story the two of us had written had just been published in the Sunday Washington Post. It was about a woman who supports President Trump’s deportation raids and her next-door neighbors, who are undocumented Mexican immigrants.
We know stories about immigration (like guns) can quickly turn our inbox into a river of filth. We have been called everything you can imagine, and even had people threaten our children because of a story we once wrote from Mexico about why people risk their lives to cross illegally into the United States.
So when our phones started buzzing with emails and Twitter alerts, we braced. But that first reader’s email turned out to be a thoughtful note from a man who described himself as an African American engineer raised in Arkansas. He said he disagreed with the Trump supporter, Tamara Estes, but his tone was respectful and he said he was very interested in her view point: “I would love to learn more.”
The engineer’s email began a remarkable flow unlike anything we had seen in years — a river of reason. Lengthy emails kept coming as people, in different ways, said the more they learned about those who held opposing views the more optimistic they were that common ground could be found.
“We ought to understand the plight of people” on both sides of the immigration debate, wrote a man named Ron. He said the neighbors were “so close, yet so separated,” but that policies are needed to help both.
Bruno, a “moderate Republican,” thanked us for a “more or less fair presentation of two sides of the story.” He said he was deeply touched by Estes’s story but also “proud of the hardworking” family next door.
A reader named Dolo referred to a detail in the story: Estes feels she can’t afford health insurance, and when she broke her arm last year she simply wrapped it in a $15 drugstore brace and took ibuprofen for a month.
“I am a naturalized US citizen, a San Francisco liberal that loathes Trump, but reading about this Texas woman that could not afford a doctor for her broken arm was an eye opener,” Dolo wrote. “What kind of country is this?!”
People who identified themselves as liberals said they were surprised by their empathy toward the Trump supporter. “I’d expected to feel compassion for the immigrants, but not for the woman who voted for Trump,” one wrote. A couple of self-described conservatives said they had not understood before that millions of undocumented immigrants pay taxes.
In these divided times, it was a happy surprise to see such an appetite to understand those who hold opposing views.