I spent the entire weekend moving. I am pretty sure that I stand with the majority in my antipathy for packing boxes and loading trucks with furniture. However, despite my loathing for this American ritual of upward mobility, my experience was alleviated by the help I received from three Latino movers. For the first time, I decided to hire help instead of moving everything on my own. The exuberance of my youth has long been tamed by the modesty gained through aging. My prudence was rewarded with the affirmation that a shared experience—combined with labor and laughter—can bridge the barriers of class, race and language.
The three movers arrived on time and ready to get the job done; only Edwardo spoke English and I depended on him to be my translator for the rest of the day. He was from Honduras and his other two friends were both from El Salvador. After a few formalities and an exchange of handshakes, they promptly went to work. I was immediately awed at the work ethic of the three men as I witnessed what seemed like superhuman feats of strength and endurance. We lived on the fourth floor in an apartment complex that has no elevators; what would have driven many into sheer exhaustion was handled with swift efficiency by the three laborers from Central America.
I learned through conversations and observation that even if our stories are divergent, our hopes and struggles are interconnected. I’ve always known this to be true; as a first generation immigrant, I know full well that most people are doing their level best to attain the American dream and make something of themselves. Even as we struggle with our egos and some of us battle our demons, I honestly believe that most people are good by default but err in the way they handle adversity. Perhaps this is why I bonded with the three movers so much over the span of the evening, their tenacity and work ethic reminded me of my father and how he exhausted himself providing for his children.
While we were in transit to our new apartment, I decided to pull over to the nearest 7-11 and get los tres trabajadores some refreshments and take a much needed break. I pulled out my smartphone to check social media and see what was going on in the world of media and politics. When I logged into my Twitter account, I realized that one of the articles I wrote about Gaza last week had become fodder for vitriol. My aim behind the write up was to speak against the vilification of both Palestinians and Jews with the hope of creating a space for dialogue between opposing factions free of insults. What I witnessed instead were people mostly withdrawing to their tribal postures and defending one group while disparaging the other.
Technology has a way of obscuring humanity and replacing people with abstractions who need to be conquered. The same way some demonize Palestinians or demean Jews is how immigrants and outgroups get maligned. It’s easy to bash people when you view them as intimate objects instead of seeing them as humans who hurt and hope just like us. I’m not writing this article through a political lens nor is my intention to blame only one side of the social divide. All of us do this even if some are less culpable than others—we have a way of lumping in people and treating them like aliens.
Even those of us who know how it feels to be marginalized find it easy to belittle others. There have been countless times in my past where I have castigated people who did not resemble me or mocked others who did not echo my way of thinking. If I have moderated my outlook and tempered my tribal conniptions, it’s because two years of hardship showed me the foolishness of trying to monopolize suffering and revealed in my heart the folly of diminishing the agonies others endure. Above all, I learned that people who are hurt try to hurt others; if our aim is to make a difference, we must do so with forbearance and compassion instead of meeting fires with blowtorches. Yet even now, after earning wisdom through many woes, I still find it hard not to return antagonism with animosity.
As if to underscore the tribal inclination of humanity, an incident took place later on that evening that served as a teaching moment for all of us. When my wife and I offered to treat our three helpers to a local Peruvian restaurant, all of them said that they have to go home to their families. We decided to get the food to go and then got in my car to return them to where they left their trucks at the apartment we just moved from. As I was putting my seat belt on, Edwardo noticed the cross in our rear-view mirror and asked us if we were Christians. We acknowledged yes, to which he responded, “good, good; we don’t like Muslims”.
I was initially taken aback by what he said, but instead of responding back with anger and reverting to vindictiveness as I have one too many times in the past, I calmly explained to Edwardo that even though I am of a particular faith, I don’t make it a habit to judge others who believe differently. I noted that my faith was about love for all and that all of us walk our own paths irrespective of our belief or lack of it. At this exact moment, we pulled up to a to the Dulles Toll Road. As fate would have it, the lady taking the toll money in the booth was wearing a hijab. My wife greeted her in Arabic and asked her if she was fasting for Ramadan. After giving me back change, she responded yes and with the friendliest of greetings told us to drive safely.
Edwardo, to his credit, said that he was wrong for the statement he made and noted how friendly the toll collector was. With broken English, he said he did not mean to be disrespectful and I told him that I too have made similar types of statements about others in my past. He was young but had the humility to admit he was wrong. I grew to admire Edwardo for his ability to take ownership of his lapse in judgment. It is easy to blast others for the grudges they harbor in their hearts, the harder task is to admit our own failings. This level of self-awareness is what's missing in the free fire zone of acrimony that is social media; everyone wants to be vanquishers yet few are willing to admit that they are human. Click To Tweet
The reason why most of humanity is languishing while a few are living a life of opulence is because we have been conditioned over generations to fight one another instead of realizing that our fates are tied together. Divide and conquer is a playbook that has been deployed brilliantly over centuries; the status quo has perfected the art of pitting us against each other. Demonizing has a way of blurring the full panorama of injustice, instead of understanding that all of us are suffering from the hoarding of this planet’s resources by a tiny fraction of humanity, the mass majority are programmed to just focus on pixels and lay waste to fellow victims in the process. If we keep going down this path of tribal vengeance and separable grievances, we will be made equal before scarcity and tribulations. May more of us rethink our perspectives instead of holding fast to our preconceived notions.
I think back to the speech that Robert F. Kennedy gave in front of the Cleveland City Club in 1968. Given only a day after Martin Luther King was assassinated, RFK reminded a grieving nation during a time of upheaval that injustices can only mend through act of forgiveness. He noted on that somber day the following words:
When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.
Kennedy is a testament of the ability each one of us have to atone for past transgressions. His eloquent words should be contemplated deeply in our own time of political unrest and social upheaval. Regardless how much establishment voices try to Balkanize us, we are not meant to be splintered and ghettoized by labels and ideologies. Like five fingers, we are feeble on our own but we can move mountains when we unite to work for our common interests. Fighting for equality through tribal lenses is counterproductive, it is time to stand for inclusive justice.
As for the rest of the trip to our old abode, a decision to pay back imprudence with magnanimity paved the way for amicable partings. As we were pulling up to Edwardo’s’ truck, he told me that he is working to support his family and to make sure that his nieces attend college. I had a flashback of my father who passed away fifteen years ago. We don’t need to turn to politicians to make America great again; immigrants who worked doggedly and were determined to make sure the next generation had a life of less struggle and more opportunities were the ones built this nation from our nation’s inception. Every one of us are byproducts of migrants; the human narrative is one of exodus in the quest to find new homes and realize a hope for a better tomorrow. We have our flaws and our failings, but if we talk to each other instead demonizing one another, we will realize that we are all in this together. #AMovingStory
“Revenge only engenders violence, not clarity and true peace. I think liberation must come from within.” ~ Sandra Cisneros
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Check out this Ghion Cast below where I discussed the need to reflect within in order to heal, all changes we seek externally are empty if we don’t first seek the change internally.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.