NEAR NOGALES, Ariz. — The remnants of a red balloon in southern Arizona sparked a Christmas connection that lifted the spirits of two families, one on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Randy Heiss found the deflated balloon while hiking with his dog Dec. 16 in Patagonia, Arizona, about 20 miles north of the border. At first, he thought it was trash, but then noticed a note attached to the balloon with ribbon.
“I unfolded the note and I could see that it was in Spanish and written by a little girl,” he said.
It was a Christmas wish list, signed “Dayami.” The little writer was asking for things like paints, magic markers, a coloring book, some toys and clothes.
The balloon at Heiss’ feet, he realized, was intended to carry the note to the North Pole.
“It was a kid’s Christmas wish. You can’t turn away from that,” he said. “Some little kid put that list out there in good faith, hoping someone would fulfill it and so I just knew I had to do everything I could to fulfill that list.”
Heiss brought the note to his wife, who helped translate it. They began posting on social media in hopes of finding the author, without luck.
Then Heiss got an idea: based on the wind, he figured the balloon probably floated from Nogales, Mexico. He reached out to a Spanish-language radio station in Nogales, XENY AM, which agreed to run a story about the Christmas list in its evening newscast and on Facebook.
The station tracked down Dayami’s family within an hour, Heiss said.
The radio station arranged a meeting between the two families last week. The Heisses bought all the gifts they could find for the 8-year-old girl and her younger sister.
“Their little eyes were just wide with wonder looking at the gifts. ‘How did this happen? It actually worked!’” he told KTVK.
It was a “healing experience” for Heiss and his wife, whose only son died nine years ago.
In an era when the border is a nearly constant source of controversy, Heiss said the experience highlights the humanity that he thinks is too often overlooked in the news coverage.
“It was beautiful to watch the border wall melt away for a day as if it wasn’t even there,” he said.
“There was no wall tall enough, no concertina wire, nothing was going to stop that little girl’s faith and her wishes from coming true.”