They say there’s no time like the present, and — whether a good thing or not — it’s true. It’s a unique and strange time to be alive, and though I suspect the present has always felt this way to an extent, there’s a reason “surreal” was the word of the year in 2016.
We sit behind our computers and watch the events of the day unfold, increasingly numb to an array of injustices. We wonder what we can do or say to help without making things worse. Or we decide there are too many problems to take upon ourselves, and stay out of it.
Alienation. Desensitization. Fear, blame, guilt. It’s hard for these feelings not to bubble up in 21st century America, where we’re bombarded with information constantly.
To get through the day, the best tactic is to forget, if only for a minute, how difficult life can be and enjoy what we have. It’s a temporary fix, or more accurately, a band-aid.
It’s impossible to care about all of the world’s issues at once — climate change, animal cruelty, poverty, and all the “isms” in the book — but with information technology being what it is, not caring at all is no longer an option.
Instead of putting our guards up, we need to listen. We have to nurture empathy in ourselves and find ways to make a difference, however small.
The question is, how? While we can’t vacate the present moment, there is perhaps no better place to find the strength to handle today’s issues than our individual and collective histories.
Following my roots has never been a difficult task for me. My family history is part of my identity as a proud Latina-American. Though born in Texas, I was raised in Venezuela for the first six years of my life. I still recall moving back to the States in the first grade not knowing a scrap of English.
I’ve come a long way, but my past stays with me. I still have family in Venezuela, and my heart aches for them every day. As you are probably aware, Venezuela has been plagued by a humanitarian and economic crisis for some time now.
The country’s socialist regime under President Maduro is facing violent opposition for allowing the economy to tank along with social programs, leaving many without basic resources like toilet paper and food. Resulting protests have led to deaths in the hundreds, and the future does not look bright despite upcoming elections.
It’s easy to dismiss this faraway trauma for most Americans, but not for me. Because I’m especially close to the situation — if not physically, emotionally — it’s not something I can tune out or would even want to.
I still dream of the birdsong of wild Venezuelan parrots, materializing on balconies in the morning for a snack. Though I’m certainly biased in believing it’s the most wonderful place on earth, my bias has made me more empathetic and willing to take steps to ensure a safer, peaceful country — in Venezuela and here in the US.
Our history shapes the way in which we view the world, you see. In part due to my roots, I feel a moral responsibility to protect the vulnerable near and far. I think it’s made me more willing to give, and more grateful for my incredible privileges.
I view the world through a lens that my ancestors have crafted over the years, and though I love America and and am proud to live here, I choose not to cast my past aside.
Most of us have struggle somewhere in our history that can be used as a guiding force with which to understand the world today.
A majority of Americans are descended from immigrants — whether their families came here fleeing religious persecution, genocide, famine, or simply to pursue better economic opportunity, these ancestors often made great sacrifices for the chance at opportunity, sometimes at a great cost.
Many European-Americans faced discrimination before assimilating, just as modern immigrants do today.
Then there are those Americans with native roots, many of whom have been marginalized throughout the years with their land and traditions challenged at sites like Standing Rock.
In addition we have African-Americans descended from slaves, a twisted history that reverberates in our society to this day in the form of profiling, redlining, and the prison industrial complex.
Marginalized Americans feel their roots in earnest, and they need allies of all stripes to relate to their pain.
All this is to say, no matter your background, your roots are only so far from one hardship or another. But alas, here we are. Our ancestors made it through so that we could enjoy life’s pleasures both simple and sophisticated.
Progress is not always linear; if we want it we have to fight for it. For me, this means working to advance causes where I can. Donating food, water, and goods to organizations in Venezuela, and perhaps most importantly, refusing to stay silent in the face of adversity right here in America.
When I see an administration that seeks to remove protections for people and the planet, I won’t abide. Whether looking backwards, forwards, or thousands of miles away, it’s people and the planet that matter most.
There’s much to be done, but finding the urgency within is the best way to get started.