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Feeling unwelcome 

It was our first night in Bentonville. My family and I had finally moved here after a weeklong drive from Virginia. Here we were. Bentonville, Arkansas.

Feeling unwelcome

It was our first night in Bentonville. My family and I had finally moved here after a weeklong drive from Virginia. Here we were. Bentonville, Arkansas.

I'm no stranger to living in the South. If a state has ever seceded, I have probably lived there. From Alabama to Virginia to Georgia to Louisiana to Arkansas, I have strong roots across the Deep South. I feel most at home in places where I fall asleep to the thick buzz of cicadas and Southern hospitality is more than an idiom. Being from the South is important to me; it's where I'll always feel most connected.

I'm also no stranger, of course, to the Confederate flag. But there was something different about the one I saw that night in Bentonville. It was larger than you'd expect and a surprising take on the original with "The South Will Rise Again" emblazoned upon it.

And that's when, somewhat to my surprise, I realized that I felt unsafe. I may be a Southerner, but I am brown, too. As a Latino, I've always straddled a confusing divide between being a proud Southerner and my experiences with racism.

Despite the fact that people of color from the South, including Arkansans just like you and me, can feel unwelcome and threatened in their own state by the Confederate flag, their communities have yet to recognize this and continue to accept displaying it.

After the controversy in South Carolina last year about the Confederate flag flying over the Capitol, Southerners have finally started to engage in conversations about whether having this flag, with its historical associations to slavery, is appropriate. Yet in Arkansas the flag has remained popular. Last summer during the controversy, KTHV, Channel 11, reported that one Little Rock flag store, Arkansas Flag and Banner, sold so much Confederate flag merchandise that they ran out.

I understand the reasoning of those who support the Confederate flag. They say that focusing on just a flag is missing the larger issue, that the flag did not lead to the deaths of anyone. And many worry about erasing history from textbooks and the public consciousness.

The trouble is that no matter what you personally believe, for people of color it represents fear and hatred and bigotry. We are not advocating for whitewashing history; we want to feel safe in our communities. Flying the Confederate flag alongside the Arkansas and American flag is counterintuitive. If we really want to show our Arkansas and American pride, we have to think about whether our pride for Arkansas can coexist with a pride for the failed Confederacy that was built on racial oppression.

The real Arkansas, the one I know, is dynamic and multicultural and recognizes the past while looking to the future. This is an Arkansas it's easy to feel proud of.

Sadly, people will not see this Arkansas in other parts of the country if they only see us as Southerners entrenched in a debate over an outdated flag. When students at my university in New York City learn I call Arkansas home, I hear these responses:

"Arkansas? I'm so sorry."

"Ew, I don't even know where Arkansas is."

"Why? It's awful down there."

Sure, there's an annoying element of East Coast elitism here, but as a proud Southerner it also pains me that Arkansas is consistently seen as so culturally backwards. These disparaging comments about my state bother me, but at the same time so does the troubling presence of Confederate flags back home. I end up feeling stuck. New York City doesn't offer me the childhood comforts that Arkansas does, but I also love New York City because it makes me feel accepted. The truth is that I still don't believe Arkansas completely cares for my body as a brown man.

Yet Arkansas could.

We, Arkansans of color, are here. We are part of this community and this history, too. We can acknowledge the past without supporting racism. We can recognize how Arkansas was once a slave state, and celebrate the positive parts of its history and identity, without having to display the Confederate flag. We can honor Southern heritage without keeping a tie to slavery. We can move forward and create a new Arkansas that embraces people of color and accepts this multicultural reality.

I do not want to be ashamed to be from Arkansas any longer. I do not want to feel unsafe walking in my own neighborhood. Would you?

Andrew Suarez

Bentonville

Universal health care

While most middle-class Americans are glad that poor and working class Americans now have access to health insurance, we don't like the fact that we have to pay the price in order to maintain high profit margins for private insurance providers.

For example, I now must pay $263 out-of-pocket for a prescription medication for which I once paid a $10 co-pay. Granted the cost of the medicine goes down once I meet my deductible for the year, but it's nowhere near $10. Also, my deductible is $2,000, and I've yet to meet it since Obamacare went into effect. So, I must settle for a less effective over-the-counter medication.

I realize that Obama's health care law didn't require insurance companies to jack up prices. This was a response by private providers to compensate for smaller payments received through federal funds for medical services for those qualifying for the exchange.

So again, why does the middle class have to pay for this? Why can't we have a health care system that puts people's health above profits? We need universal health care in this country.

Richard Hutson

Cabot

From the web:

Rep. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville has established himself as a one-man death panel.

William Dale Varner, 86, died in a veterans' home while his nurse took a lunch break. His family is seeking $250,000 from the state Claims Commission.

While there is no evidence that Collins actually knew Varner, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette quoted Collins as saying Varner had lived a "pretty full life" and that Collins "wondered whether perfect care at the time would have extended the man's life 'another hour, day, week.' "

The Republican Death Panel has spoken: It was time for Varner to die. The Republican Death Panel has spoken: There is no need for "perfect care" in nursing homes. Go head, take a lunch break. That old guy was going to die anyway, eventually.

Varner's obituary noted that he served as a Navy gunnery officer on a destroyer in the Atlantic during World War II. It also says he served in the Korean War as a naval officer on a destroyer that took part in many battles in Wonsan Harbor, and his ship was part of the longest ship-to-shore bombardment in naval history.

Collins is a 1985 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the Navy until the mid '90s. He was some kind of desk jockey "analyst." There is no mention in any of his biographies that he served in naval combat during the Gulf War, which occurred while he was in the Navy. Gulf War combat service is the kind of thing a puffed-up Republican would splash all over his biography. It is conspicuously absent from Collins' resume.

The Republican Death Panel has spoken: A veteran who served his country in battle has died of negligent health care and his family is owed nothing. Move along. Nothing to see here.

(Runner-up for Worst Person in the World is Sen. Missy Irvin, who "described the claims made by the attorneys of Varner's family as 'questionable.' " On what grounds are they "questionable"? The Honorable Missy does not say.)

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