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Why We Must Show Empathy Toward the Other

“Why We Must Show Empathy Toward ‘the Other’”

By Astrid Serrano

It’s easy for those of us who live in comfort to judge the choices of those who don’t. For instance, this fall, when I’ll be back in the classroom as a student at Saint Martin’s University, there will be a family somewhere in the world who is desperately fleeing their home because of conflict, violence or disaster. For many of these refugees and migrants, leaving home isn’t much of a choice when the only other option is death. 

As Americans, we must be more empathetic, understanding, and supportive of those families who come into the United States seeking the relative safety of our borders. I have visited the Tijuana border several times. What struck me the most is seeing small children at work, selling candy and trinkets from street-side stalls, juggling for entertainment, or cleaning windshields they could barely reach. Their families look for economic opportunity and stability. I personally know of people who have had to leave their children in order to come to America in search of economic opportunities. My own mother made the heart-wrenching choice to leave her eleven-month-old baby to seek better economic opportunities for the family, and only just last December reunited with my half-brother after 27 years. The issue of migration has deeply impacted my family. 

That’s why I recently jumped at the opportunity to travel to our nation’s capital to meet with the legislative staff for Sens. Murray and Cantwell and Rep. Kilmer to advocate for U.S. foreign aid, which helps support people in their home countries, so they don’t have to desperately seek safety elsewhere. I was in Washington as part of a bi-annual student leadership summit held by Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian arm of the U.S. Catholic Church. The three-day event convened more than 160 college students and staff from across the country to bring the voices of young people like me—a CRS student ambassador—into the legislative conversation. 

This year’s CRS summit focused on the root causes of increased global migration, teaching us that there isn't one single cause, but a vast range of circumstances that lead a person to leave a homeland, such as violence and poverty. We all need to understand that these circumstances are very real and impact millions of lives every single day. 

It is easy for me to get lost in all the statistics of funding and how much assistance these humanitarian crises require. It is easy for me to feel overwhelmed when I watch the news and see stories of families struggling to find food, shelter, or safety. It is also easy for me to feel helpless and sink into a hopeless place as I realize that I am a single person in a world with so much need. But there is a small light at the end of this tunnel; and that light is you, the American voter. The U.S. has a $4 trillion budget that is proposed, discussed, and voted on by Congress each year. Of that trillion dollars, less than 1 percent is allocated to foreign aid. This funding is vital to so many countries where these emergencies occur. But in order to ensure it continues, we need to make certain that our congressional representatives understand its urgency and impact. For these last two years, the administration has proposed slashing U.S. foreign aid at a time when there are an unprecedented number of people worldwide who need it.  

The U.S. was founded by refugees and migrants. But I would argue that refugees are fleeing with more urgency today than those who first stepped onto American soil a few centuries ago. I challenge any and all of my fellow citizens who pride themselves on being American to step away from their fear of the “other” and realize that we were once in that same scenario. Unless one is indigenous to this land or brought here as slaves, we are all immigrants. 

I invite you to join me in raising your voice to support foreign aid, such as education and health programming-- that will save millions of people from having to make that perilous journey away from their own homes. Understanding the “other” begins with understanding ourselves and the position of power and privilege we hold as Americans.