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The accident of birth

| Thursday, November 16, 2023

This summer I lived in a migrant shelter in Monterrey, Mexico. On Sunday afternoons, a group of wealthy community members and students from the local private universities would gather in the big dining hall, seeking refuge from the blazing Mexican sun, for an orientation lecture on the services the shelter would provide. Adorned in designer clothes, they would clutch their bottles of cold, purified water as they scrolled through their phones and adjusted their jewelry in the same seats that the migrants ate their meals at. 

Every week, in an effort to humanize the situation, a migrant would be chosen to tell his or her story. One afternoon, a Venezuelan woman was chosen to stand up in front of the group and describe her journey to Mexico. Tears rolled down her face as she described hiking with her young sons through the Darién Gap. As she spelled out the prayers that she whispered to God in her moments of fear, her toddler clung to her calf, asking his mother why she was crying. 

During this deeply moving speech, several of the mothers in the room began to cry alongside her. One of the Mexican mothers told the Venezuelan woman how they, too, had three young children that they loved. Through tears, she told her that she couldn’t imagine ever having to put herself or her children through the same experience. 

In Mexico, I met hundreds of people like the Venezuelan woman who had left their careers, homes and families to escape gangs, economic despair, political oppression and instability in hopes of a better life. They left home for a safer, more prosperous life where their children would be given better opportunities. In this pursuit, they traversed jungles filled with crocodiles and monkeys, scorching hot deserts and rushing rivers. They risked getting kidnapped, extorted, abused and exposed to some of the most horrific defilements of human bodies. They ostensibly did all of this to have the type of life the Mexican mothers at that orientation and I have. 

At the end of my time in Mexico, I had never been happier to be an American. When I landed in Houston, I wanted to kiss the dirty airport floor and chant, “U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!” However, as much as I love my citizenship and am immensely grateful for all of the privileges that it affords me, I struggle with the idea of being “proud” of being an American. To me, pride is the product of having done something, but I have done nothing. 

The conditions and circumstances in which we are born into is our accident of birth. By whatever chance, I was born in the United States. I was born into a comfortable situation, free from persecution, violence or fear. I was born into a loving family in a caring community where I am accepted exactly how I am. I was born into the type of life that thousands are willing to risk their lives in the attempt to have. 

In the world that we live in, people put themselves in immediate danger to leave the place in which they were born for the opportunity of a better life somewhere else. At the same time, wars are fought over trying to remove people from the place of their birth. In both situations, the accident of birth becomes a determining factor in life. 

Seeing how the accidents of our birth are just that — accidents — what can we do to support those who may have had accidents less fortunate than  ours? Unless we are actively shaping and reforming policy, probably not much. But, within the scope of our daily lives, that are both mundane and chaotic at the same time, what we do have access to is our perspective. We can start to see people as they are, not their circumstances. 

Kat Regala is a junior studying the Program of Liberal Studies with minors in Computing and Digital Technology and Science, Technology and Values. She originally hails from Naples, Florida, but loves traveling. When not reading or writing, you can find her drinking coffee, practicing yoga or binge-watching reality television. You can contact her at [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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