Uploaded by Gerardo Rodriguez

HIST130 Paper Empathy

March 1, 2020
Empathy: Perceiving Positionality
As weeks have passed, the pages on the books we’ve read have been flipped and untold
migrant narratives have been released. The ability of having access to such narratives allows for
empathy to flourish as we, the audience, grapple to interpret and understand the struggles and
trauma that migrants endure constantly. Nonetheless, while it is important that empathy is felt
while digesting the many stories brought forth by Hellman, Martinez, and Vogt, empathy
mistakenly groups the narratives of the many into one. Empathy lacks the ability to address the
distinguishing factors between migrants and how these factors authorize power dynamics to
thrive. As the narratives of migrants ignite empathy, they also propel forth the ability for one to
recognize their positionality within a migration system that exploits the bodies of migrants.
Every word that fills up the pages represent the oppression and suffering of migrants;
however it also uncovers the social positionalities that differentiate migrants from one another
and more specifically that of men and women. The patriarchal power of an oppressive system
continues to flourish the silencing of women throughout their own journeys which becomes clear
throughout Hellman, Martinez, and Vogt. The depiction of patriarchal struggles are premiered
through Hellman’s, The World of Mexican Migrants: The Rock and the Hard Place, when the
experiences of both Marta and Dolores, show the noteworthy social alteration which has led to
an escalating longing to migrate. Hellman expresses, “Indeed, José and Marta had lived together
at his parents, but only for a week before José left his bride behind to set out for New York”
(Hellman 2008, 46). José as the male was meant to “set out” to New York in order for both him
and Marta to have the appropriate funds to build their own home, however Marta was left
behind. Marta was meant to stay with José’s in-laws following the orders placed on her on behalf
of her mother-in-law. Both of these situations further the ideology of not only the male being the
“breadwinner”, but additionally the gender roles that women have succumbed to since the
beginning of time. As Hellman asked, “why would any of us make the decisions and choose the
courses of action that millions of migrants have taken?” (Hellman 2008, 211), empathy allowed
me to feel for Marta, but to a further extent it allowed me to recognize the positionality of both
Hellman and my own. Hellman, as a white woman raised in America, I assume has never
experienced the patriarchal intensities and stitched gendered roles Marta has experienced in her
life. Hellman has the privilege of experiencing this through her own distinct lens which has
allowed her to write about Marta and understand her situation, but never directly being placed in
Martas shoes. I become aware of my positionality by the fact that I do not have to engage in such
gendered roles because I have the entitlement of being a man as well as the ability to write about
such topics as I am doing now. We are so separated from their realities that essentially their
stories are the closest connections we have to -- of course acquiring empathy but, -understanding our position in a world which has constructed a system that disenfranchises the
many and benefits the few.
The power structures that keep a migration system permits the funneling of migrants into
a perpetual cycle that places such migrants into a Reserve Army of Labor. Through Hellman,
Martinez, and Vogt we are introduced into a framework of corruption that thrives off of the
collaboration between organized crime, public officials, and exploited migrants. We are
introduced to the notion of organized crime as the readings I mentioned previously all work in
conjunction to mention the role of Los Zetas. Within Vogt’s, Lives in Transit: Violence and
Intimacy on the Migrant Journey, she transparently addresses the type and amount of power that
Los Zetas had not acquired but taken. Vogt mentions, “Los Zetas began raiding trains in attacks
coordinated with train conductors and often local authorities. No longer did migrants just need to
pay off corrupt authorities” (Vogt 2018, 88) and brings to light the collaborative corruption that
prospers along the trail’s migrants embark upon. Exploitative and economic barriers are
constructed and built upon the backs of the migrants that travel the dangerous routes that cost
them their life. Very early on in The Beast, Martinez mentions how brothers Auner, Pitbull, and
El Chele must hide within trenches as they await the following train in order to evade the grasp
of Los Zetas (Martínez 2014, 3). Such imposed taxes placed upon migrants creates just an
additional barrier to their already complex, dangerous, and traumatic journey. This
conceptualizes the fact that those who face such an economic barrier of not providing the
appropriate amount to the cartel it would ultimately cost them their life. With The Beast, the
brothers find ways in which they could maneuver around such a corrupt system that pressures
them to risk their life by moving onto a moving beast.
Essentially, it also brings to question the positionality between Los Zetas and migrants
and how such positionalities can also be altered by the choices of individuals of what side should
one represent. Migrant or Cartel member? This hierarchical structure of power places Los Zetas
at the top and such power is maintained by the connections that corruption entitles them to.
However, it’s incredibly interesting in attempting to comprehend that such migrants have the
ability to join such organizations. Corruption is imbedded into the political, economic, and social
fabric of both Mexico and Central America, thus -- at times -- leaving migrants no choice but to
join the same forces that capitalize off the bodies of their friends, family, and loved ones. These
narratives aren’t brought into context through the authors, but empathy for migrants has
introduced the opportunity to question what I myself would choose. Be left to my own demise,
empower the forces that exploit, or die trying to leave my home in search of a life worth living?
As such authors document the journeys of these migrants it reminds me that positionalities cease
to exist in this particular aspect. Within this instance, the presence of the scholar who is creating
such an empathetic space for us to feel towards migrants is necessary. Immigrant or not, Los
Zetas have no regard for those they exploit as long as capital and power is stripped away.
Migrant and scholar both become one and find the same dangers right in front of them.
With an abundance of narratives from migrants, it becomes obvious that although
Mexicans and Central Americans share the term of migrant, it does not mean they share every
struggle that is attached to such term. It becomes very apparent the paradox in which Mexico
surrounds itself with its views towards Central American migrants. Vogt describes such
hypocrisy: “It was the underbelly of one of Mexico’s darkest hypocrisies: the inhumane
treatment of transit migrants at the southern border and simultaneous critique of U.S.
immigration policy at the northern border” (Vogt 2018, 3). We understand the rhetoric regarding
immigrants spewed on behalf of the U.S towards its citizens can be seen replicated through the
Mérida Initiative (Plan Mexico). We see interestingly for the first time, the transition of
positionalities that ultimately affects empathy all around. Mexicans become much more hostile
and defensive towards the migration of Central Americans. The wrath Mexican citizens may feel
towards Central American migrants can be juxtaposed similarly with the manner Border Patrol -and even some American citizens -- may feel towards migrants overall. This comparison along
with the hypocrisy on behalf of the Mexican side empowers the ideology that such lack of
empathy strips away the ability to acknowledge one's own positionality. Mexican and Central
American migrants survive in order for them to continue on a search for a life worth living.
Empathy also evokes the ability for someone to not only understand someone else’s emotional
state, but because it allows for a door of uplifting one another to open. This brings in to
perspective my own positionality of being Cuban and the privilege that many Cuban migrants
have received well above many other immigrant groups. Having migrants roots myself to a
certain extent I understand and feel for the struggles that both Mexican and Central American
migrants must endure. However, we must not disregard the heirarchies of suffering and
deservingness placed upon migrants all around the world. Vogt highlights this in Lives in
Transit, “In 2015, a photograph circulated on social media showing Central American migrants
riding La Bestia and holding a handmade sign reading: “Somos Sirios No Disparen” (We are
Syrians Don’t Shoot)” (Vogt 2018, 207). Migrants themselves understand their own
positionality, because they see the empathy given to other migrants over them. The disregard of
Central American migrants is discussed by Martínez as well when he mentions, “Out of
indifference, moral mediocrity and fear, the Central American migrants' plight has gone mostly
unnoticed in Mexico and the United States. Now and then an especially large massacre, like that
of seventy-three migrants in Tamaulipas in 2011, brings some media focus, but it passes all too
quickly” (Martínez 2014, Foreword 15). The fact that such tragedies pass over too quickly makes
it clear where the focus of the situation is placed. Empathy is ultimately constructed in a way
which positionalities can either be accentuated or minimized.
As these narratives are brought forth through the lens of Hellman, Martínez, and Vogt we
are first given the possibility of empathizing with such stories. We must later acknowledge on
our own that there are limitations to empathy because it disregards the individual and the unique
story that they carry. As discussed in the paper, positionality allows for a better comprehension
of other situations while simultaneously becoming conscious of our own connections with the
same migrants we are reading about. We must aim to use the empathy we feel in order to
examine the positions of either scholar, migrant, or oneself and recognize that such
positionalities either reinforce or devitalize such power structures.