Week 10: The Problem is Not "Over There"
Fear-based generalizations about different groups of people can promote racism."
The words gaze up at me, guileless and sincere, from a personal email on my phone screen.
Instantly, they register as true.
And, my respected friend and colleague, a woman for whom I nurture a gigantic friend-crush for her open-hearted, freedom-loving spirit, felt that I needed to hear them -- in response to the anticipatory post I wrote weeks ago, about preparing to enter Mexico on a bicycle.
Her words are prescient at a time when the fear for my safety -- parroted by so many, and ultimately, embarrassingly, internalized -- has completely dissolved, roundly replaced by the lived experience of warmth and welcome we've encountered at every turn here in Mexico.
And interestingly, as though to underscore her point:
No matter where we've been cycling in the past two months, the danger has always been "over there."
In California, it was "Mexico."
In Baja California, it was "the Mainland."
In Guadalajara, it was "the Southern states."
Indeed, among every well-meaning concerned person we've encountered, no one has said "well, it's really dangerous HERE -- but over there, you'll be fine."
Which is rather telling, isn't it?
Now, we're coming off a full week in Oaxaca -- during which time my sister flew out to adventure and peruse hand-woven carpets and spend most of a day with us in the backseat of a taxi, whose driver invited all three of us to stay at his casa when we come back to Oaxaca...
... And I'm just waiting for the next well-meaning person to tell me to "be careful" in Chiapas -- the last of the Mexican states on our route, and objectively one of the poorest.
Beyond that, of course, lies Guatemala -- which has been the subject of the MOST impassioned debate among those who fear for my safety.
I can't tell you how much time and energy has gone into the question of whether or not it's safe to cross this border on a bicycle.
Then recently, amidst all this speculation...
.. Whilst I am casually discussing the concept of my safety with my parents at a cozy beach villa north of Puerto Vallarta...
... Comes news of Volcán del Fuego erupting, continuously, outside the Guatemalan capital.
Suddenly, a flood of heartbreaking images:
Real men and women, crying into their cell phones, wandering ash-covered streets, unable to locate husbands and mothers and nephews and grandchildren.
More than 100 people dead, 200 still missing, and 2 million displaced from their homes.
The same people who have been the generalized subject of so much conceptual, fear-based debate.
And now -- unthinkably -- it's not just natural disasters separating people from their families.
Now, the disaster is intentional, political, and horrifying.
What's happening right now at the U.S.-Mexico border is not an "immigration issue."
Separating thousands of young children from their asylum-seeking parents and herding them into an old Walmart center to be warehoused indefinitely is a human rights issue.
And, as I was humbly made to confront after being called out on my own generalization...
The problem is not "over there."
The problem -- AND the solution -- is within each of us.
Humans can't help but generalize in order to make sense of a chaotic world -- it's a natural, unavoidable function of our lizard brains.
But the moment we let FEAR enter the equation...
... The moment that a "zero tolerance policy" regarding the human rights of other people slips by unchallenged as an "immigration issue..."
... Is the moment when generalization becomes wildly dangerous.
This week, I dare you to seek out and listen to the story of someone who is different from you -- in their own words -- and NOT see something you can understand and relate to in them.
And in the spirit of my brave friend, who lovingly called me out on MY generalization -- may we all find such courage to speak what is true; even (especially) when it's uncomfortable.
This story originally appeared on www.jessicamastors.com.