Last Tuesday, a deeply unfortunate event cast a shadow over the Nebraska state boys’ soccer championship – one that might serve as a reminder to us all. Following Lincoln East High School’s win over Omaha South High School, a cascade of homemade “green cards” were thrown onto the soccer field. About 60 percent of the students at Omaha South are Latino. A number of Lincoln East students were suspended the next day.
As noted in Sunday’s Lincoln Journal Star cartoon, these actions should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following the immigration debate in Nebraska over the past few years. Nebraska youth of all backgrounds are hearing loud and clear what they should think about themselves and what they should think about others.
In the same week that we heard plans to announce an Arizona-style bill in Nebraska and reporters were asking whether such a bill would bring negative consequences to our state, I think we have our answer. A long and ugly public debate is already taking its toll, making its mark on youth, where it is difficult to erase. When will we decide instead to put our energy into practical and humane policy solutions?
Considering the terrible tone that we have set on immigration issues, it is extremely heartening to see student leaders at Lincoln East and Omaha South taking positive steps to turn this incident into a learning opportunity for all. For instance, delegations of students from the high schools met on Friday and discussed the incident and are planning to exchange visits between the schools. The students plan to create a leadership council to help students at both schools understand their diverse student bodies and their cultural differences. The students also suggested a fan exchange program so each school can become familiar with the other, their students, their communities and cultures.
Our state leaders could learn valuable lessons from these Nebraska youth who reject appeals to racism and division, and instead, seek to build respect and understanding in order to create a strong future for all Nebraskans.