This morning I saved a small turtle from crossing the road during rush hour. I don’t know what kind of turtle he is or much about their role in the environment, I don’t know if he is nice as turtles go (perhaps he’s a snapper?), I don’t know why he was crossing the road (ha!) or where he was going. I say “he,” but I don’t even know that much. All I know for sure is that this little turtle would probably have gotten smooshed where and when he was crossing without any intervention. I looked up to see a neighbor clapping in her minivan, despite my slowing her down a bit.
I don’t know that neighbor very well either, I am unsure of her political views or much else about her beyond which house is hers, but all of that is probably irrelevant: the fact is that, while the majority of people likely wouldn’t have stopped for or even noticed the turtle, they are sympathetic to the little guy’s plight. They cringe when they accidentally roll over one, and I get a lot of Likes when I note that I made a save. When we encounter them while snorkeling, we’re ecstatic!
Several years back, there was a famous picture of a Syrian refugee on all of the news:
Like the turtle, Aylan Kurdi’s family (yes, this boy has a name) attempted to make a crossing, but in this case it was the Mediterranean. Unlike the turtle, though, most of Aylan’s family didn’t make it — not Aylan, his mother, or a sibling; only his father survived. No passersby swooped in to save them. Also unlike the turtle, we know why they were trying to cross: Syria was and is essentially a hellhole.
Even if you survive the war in Syria, it’s no kind of life or an environment in which to raise children. The UN estimated in 2016 that 400-thousand people had been killed so far in the Syrian Civil War. Others estimate a fair bit higher, and of course there have been more casualties since. And can you imagine how children who grow up there turn out? In addition to the incredible amounts of PTSD, some of them will be human rights activists while others will be too emotionally damaged to contribute much of anything to society, mere shells of human beings.
Lots of us — at least here in America, but no doubt lots of other places, too — cried our eyes out over that picture. The media kept showing it, we kept crying, and we asked why the world wasn’t doing more, how we could do more. One question I didn’t hear from a single person? What the immigration laws are in Turkey, where his body washed up, or in Greece, where his family was trying to reach. Not one of us Americans seemed to care about that. There’s a dead child face-down in the sand, for heavens sake — where is the humanity?! I’m sure there were some naysayers, but they certainly didn’t dominate. Hard to believe, but that was just four years ago, in 2015.
Of Óscar and Valeria…
In the news this week, Salvadoran would-be immigrants Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria washed up on the shores of the Rio Grande in Texas, US of A:
And again, in happier times:
It would be impossible to avoid the parallels: migrants, a parent and a toddler, attempting to swim to freedom without any help or legal net. A surviving parent who will have to live with her decision forever. As with Aylan, Valeria was adored by her family. Per Óscar’s heartbroken mother, “He loved his daughter so much. He loved her and that’s why he took her.”
There are a few differences, of course. Instead of sand, father and daughter were surrounded by garbage. These two were found together, Valeria’s arm wrapped around her daddy’s neck even to the end. These two are brown, which shouldn’t matter but somehow always does. Valeria is a girl, and a year younger even than Aylan. These two are from El Salvador, a tiny country whose civil war ended in the 1980s but still struggles with a very divided society, street gangs that murder and loot at will, and extreme poverty (in 2013, annual income averaged $6,672). And instead of Turkey, they finally found their way to America. Most importantly, we no longer give a damn here.
There’s a bone-chilling complete and utter lack of compassion, as if these two people who by all accounts loved each other so much, were nothing more than the garbage they floated in.
Now, I know we are more politically divided in America than we’ve ever been in my 57 times around the sun. Brown immigrants in particular have been demonized by the president and his minions. Although Central American and Mexican immigrants actually commit less crimes here than their American-born counterparts, Fox News and others would have you believe that they’re savages come to either murder us or at least steal our jobs.
Given all of that, it’s not surprising that some of these divisions and opinions would make their way into the online commentary. Conservatives and even plenty of moderates ask why they didn’t attempt to enter the country legally, seemingly unaware that a) they did, b) we aren’t offering asylum to very many brown people these days, and c) not all laws are good or fair, and in any case there is a higher law than those made in DC. That how we’re treating migrants is being seen by much of the world as crimes against humanity.
Being the bleeding heart that I am who walks around saving even the smallest turtle, I suppose it’s not surprising that all of this bothers me. But that isn’t what bothers me most. Here are a few of the comments — see if you see what I see:
There are thousands of comments just like these. Did you see what I saw? There’s a bone-chilling complete and utter lack of compassion, as if these two people who by all accounts loved each other so much, were nothing more than the garbage they floated in and barely worth mentioning. It’s not even, “Oh my god, that poor baby — why didn’t they follow the law?” or, “What an awful tragedy — why don’t their governments do better?” There’s no flesh and blood left, it’s all about politics and blame. As one writer states it very succinctly: “Why should people show compassion for people entering the country illegally.” Not even a question mark, not even worth pondering.
There are those who would call America’s divide “just politics.” That we “merely” disagree about who’s president. Others understand that it’s much deeper — fundamental differences in the way we view the world. I would argue that it’s deeper still, some failure in our DNA. It’s about us, all about us, and our inability to care about anyone different than ourselves. It’s about calling ourselves a Christian nation yet lacking any understanding of his teachings. It’s about failing to extend the most basic human rights to others, to those neighbors we’re supposed to love. It’s about living and breathing without hearts.