Psychology Today defines empathy as, “Experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase prosocial (helping) behaviors.” My teachers in school would often lecture the importance of that emotion but I never understood what it was. Through the stories and lessons my mom has shared with me, I now have a clear understand why empathy is so crucial in our lives. From my earliest childhood I remember watching my mother display kindness to every person she came across. At a young age she taught me to always have empathy for every person despite their ethnic group, gender, and social class.
My mother migrated to the United States from Mexico in her early twenties. She left her language, culture, and family behind in search for the American Dream. When she arrived, she experienced culture shock. The American lifestyle was dramatically different and it was difficult for my mom to find her place in this unfamiliar world. She quickly learned that the reality of this country was “white and blonde equals good, while brown equals bad, dirty, and less than.” That is exactly how she felt her first few years in the US. She received very unwelcoming looks and discriminatory behavior.
On one occasion, she set out to look for a job at a nearby supermarket. Due to the language barrier, it was difficult for her to communicate her reasoning for her being at the supermarket efficiently. The worker at the supermarket got so frustrated she said to my mom, “You will never work here. It’d be best if you came back to wherever you came from.” That was the moment my mom truly felt alone. She suddenly thought it was a mistake leave her home but she didn’t give up. A customer overheard and felt urged to speak up and say, “Leave her alone, that isn’t right. You shouldn’t treat a person like that, she is just trying to make a living. Shame on you.” It was the first time since arriving to the United States a person tired to help; this truly touched my mom. Adapting to a new language, people, and culture was difficult and at times painful, yet my mother never let any racist or rude behavior break her. This small act of kindness, give her a push to continue despite all the odds that were stacked against her. She remained kindhearted and empathetic for even the ones who had hurt her. As my mother told me this, I was completely shocked a stranger showed my mom such kindness and it reminded me how important it is to care for people.
At the age of eleven, my grandma forced my mother to quit school to help with house chores and raise her two younger siblings. While my grandma and grandpa worked, she was rushing to finish cleaning and cooking before they arrived home. Although she did not finish school, she was constantly learning and expanding her knowledge through books. She only completed sixth grade of school, yet she had a wide range of knowledge because she read so much. She often said,”Reading is revolutionary. You see through their eyes and you feel the emotions they endure. That’s why it’s important for you to read, mija. You travel into a new world and you understand the unknown.” Although she had never left Mexico as a young girl, my mother read about a variety of cultures and of many countries different customs. My mom would always say, “Reading helps you understand people and the world.”
Another form of empathy I experienced in my live is watching the dramatic differences of opportunities between me and my oldest sister, Elizabeth. Elizabeth was an outstanding student. She was the type of person that did not give up anything until she was an expert at it. Yet, Elizabeth was born in Mexico and is undocumented. Once she graduated high school she could not continue her educational career or even find any legal work. An individual as intelligent as my sister could not attend university simply because she was seen as an alien. My parents saw her possibilities of succeeding were extremely low so they decided to apply for citizenship. It took years to save up but they were determined to be able to give my sister an opportunity to achieve her American Dream. My mother, father, and sister were all successfully able to pass their Naturalization test which gave them permanent residency. Elizabeth went on to attend school and is now is ordering people around as a supervisor. She is now twelve-eight, owes her own home, happily married, and is raising her three beautiful children. My family were extremely fortunate because not a lot of people qualify, have enough money, or many do not pass and are deported back to their country. It makes me wonder what about every other immigrant in the United States? What happens to their American Dream when their parents do not have as much initiative?
My sister had a chance to become successful greatly due to her receiving her permanent residency; if she didn’t, her life would be completely different. In the United States, there is such loss of dreams and potential because many lack proper documentation. It pains me how important a piece of document will make or break your success rate in this country.
Since Donald Trump has announced he was running for President, hatred and racism has been outwardly shown throughout the United States. The racist behavior broadcasting throughout social media outlets are extremely disturbing and reminds me how important it is for a person to have empathy. It mostly stems from a place of misunderstanding and that is why we should all strive to understand people’s experiences in the U.S. because although it is the same country, everyone has different opportunities and realities.