Why We Should Care

Last night the President announced that America would intervene in Syria to keep Pres. Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons against his own people — again.

The general consensus among Americans seems to be that they’re tired of bombing stuff. Of course, plenty of innocents are being killed, leaving behind piles of miniature bodies. But many Americans are asking, “Why Syria? Why now? Didn’t the 100,000-plus innocent lives destroyed by bullets and mortar shells warrant intervention? Shouldn’t we have intervened in Darfur, the DRC or North Korea?”

Valid qualms.

There’s another argument, however — one I’ve heard among fellow Latinos — that wonders why we should care about the crisis in Syria at all.

It’s hard to explain why we should care about gassed babies in Syria, because the reason seems so obvious and so visceral. But I guess it’s not so instinctual after all. The reaction’s based on a particular philosophy.

It’s the same philosophy that forces Puerto Ricans to care about immigration reform and the murder rate in Honduras. As a Puerto Rican, and before I married an undocumented Mexican immigrant, it was normal for me to be criticized by Mexican Americans wondering why a Chicago-born Puerto Rican should concern himself with the plight of Latin American immigrants. My attackers would insist that I didn’t care about immigrant rights as much as I claimed to, since I couldn’t possibly understand what it was like to be undocumented, or even an immigrant.

I doubt people unfamiliar with empathy are ever able to achieve it.

As the son of a Honduran immigrant writing about Puerto Rican politics, I’m regularly brushed off as an outsider. A quasi-Boricua who’s never been to the island can never truly care about Puerto Rico or understand its politics, or so goes the charge.

On the other hand, I wonder if these critics believe every adult islander is qualified to teach a course on Puerto Rican affairs and politics, or unpack the status question and offer a smart perspective.

Why should North American Latinos care what happens to the South Americans, and vice versa? Why should Latin America bother with Africa? Why should Mexicans in East Los know about Palestine? Why should the Cubans of South Florida be worried about human rights in China? Why should the treatment of Saudi women be on a Nuyorican’s radar?

If I were lazier, I’d close this piece with a quote from Dr. King — the one about how “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If I were more naive, I’d delude myself into thinking I ended on a strong note. The average reader would readily nod in agreement with something so pithy. Everyone would walk away believing they’d touched the core of morality and shown themselves to be exceptional people.

Yet, no matter how many times the advice of King, Ghandi, Russell, Twain and Jesus is etched in our brains, we still haven’t quite grasped the fundamental imperative of our species: to care about and for one another.

We should care about our fellow human beings simply because they’re human beings like we are. We should care about them because the planet we inhabit is too small and getting smaller. We should care because we have no other company in the universe, at least at the moment. We should care because no one chose to be here and now, nor chose the conditions. Being born in Chicago is luck. Having a father who’s Puerto Rican and a mother who was born in Honduras is luck too. Being born poor is terrible luck. A little girl being born in Juárez and brought to the United States to live as a DREAMer — luck. Being born a Jew or an Arab — luck. Those dead Syrian kids, living in East Damascus and having sarin gas used against them by their own government — all luck.

We must care about what’s happening in Syria, and every country, city and neighborhood around the world. Because 1,000 dead Syrian children weigh as much as 1,000 dead American children. Because immigrants living without rights in the United States are people living without rights in the United States. Because a coup in some banana republic dismembers the power of the people. Because the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza means the smothering of a nation. Because an island that cannot control its own destiny is the ugly stamp of colonialism.

And so, Pres. Obama made the case for why the United States should intervene in Syria.

While we may not agree on the course of action our government chooses to take in the coming weeks and months, we should all definitely care.


[Photo: FreedomHouse via Flickr]

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