Today marks the third Wednesday into the program thus far. With some restructuring happening many of us have time to reflect. Personally I have been reflecting on my experience last Friday which included visiting with the people staying at a camp in Castelsardo. Outside of exchanging stories, eating dinner together, and dancing our program members had time to talk one on one with the residents. This leads me to a specific conversation that I have been mulling over in my head.
“The Americans, what do they think?” This was a question posed by a French speaking man awaiting documentation after he spoke about the circumstances that brought him to the camp.
So, what do we think Americans? What do we think about what is occurring?
If you are anything like I was you probably think something should be done to resolve the devastation that migrants and refugees face as they flee incomprehensible conflict. Something should be done to create better options than being crammed into boats to face a dangerous journey towards Northern countries, right?
How tragic this is. Another devastation abroad.
After you thought that, what happened? Your mind wandered. This is normal because after all that’s what our minds do, they wander. Thought to thought, to story, to idea, to memory, to thought. All of those thoughts are intangible, they roam in and out of our consciousness- our radar. The thing is, do we think about the status of our thoughts often? Their intangible nature?
For a moment we should consider the common empiricist narrative we are all familiar with: “seeing is believing”. For a brief clarification I will remind you that empiricism is a form of many different historical “ways of knowing”, ways of deciphering truth. There are many ways of knowing, some other ways include dogmatism (aka truth derived from claims by an authority- very medieval) and logical positivism (truth derives from conclusions of multiple neutral observers that used the scientific method).
So if our dominant form of deciphering truth, hypothetically, was empiricism then how could we as Americans ever fully believe the gravity of what is occurring? The only information we receive, if we are consistently keeping up with the news, is secondary and indirect through different forms of media. At that point, if we believe media is an accurate portrayal of current occurrences and we consider the narrative to be truth then isn’t that a form of dogmatism with media acting as an authority?
From all of these jumbled thoughts you could probably conclude either way that our relationship, on a level of comprehension, to what occurs internationally is pretty detached. So how could we possibly have any sense of urgency or tension that motivates us to demand change for humanity’s status quo at large?
Coming from a study abroad student who also never experienced the devastation and trauma that migrants and refugees are navigating through first hand, I can tell you that hearing about experiences and circumstances of people while making eye contact with them was enough for me to strive to be conscious of my own detachment. To be attentive to it. These people are not characters and their lives are not stories. They are not mere figures, or martyrs, or objects of sympathy. They are people sharing the same moment in time as all of us. All this regardless of how detached we are from them.
So my response to the question poser was “nous voulons aider, mais nous sommes séparés du conflit” (we want to help but we are separated from the conflict).
The afterwards of this blog post is an additional consideration. With detachment and a lack of immediacy and in the United States we are prey to anti-immigration rhetoric, as many of us realize already. Our failure to address anti-immigration rhetoric around us that we may not agree with, however, has immediate consequences.
I have one more final thought. A couple of days ago, while listening to the lawyer at camp Vel Mari (where many are in the process of seeking asylum), I found out that in Italy there isn’t a major international news source. They only watch national news here.
Their public opinion also has an immediate impact.