HIST130 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.