Last week, I asked a question: “What if you looked in the mirror and couldn’t see yourself?” An event last Sunday reminded me that that question might be asked in a different way: “What if you walked down the street in broad daylight and everyone looked right through you?”
The event I referred to was a program at the San Francisco Public Library main branch explaining Filipino suffering defending Bataan in early 1942 and during the “death march” following Bataan’s surrender on April 9. Approximately 12,000 Americans became prisoners of the Japanese—but so did 63,000 Filipinos, died in far greater numbers due to disease, starvation and brutal murder on the 65-mile trek north and during imprisonment at Camp O’Donnell.
Cecilia Gaerlan, the Filipina-American creator of the Bataan Legacy Project, seeks increased recognition for Filipinos who fought alongside American troops. Those vets have had great difficulty getting benefits from Washington. Filipinos they may have been, but the United States ruled the Philippines after wresting the islands from Spain in 1898.
I mention this in light of the April 15 bombing at the Boston Marathon. The Boston bombing was horrific but not the only—or most chilling—act of violence experienced in recent years. Heinous acts beyond our borders often go unnoticed. Americans tend to think that what happens to us is tragic while what happens to others merely represents a footnote to history. Understandably, our deepest emotions respond when disaster strikes at home—Oklahoma City, September 11, Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy and the recent explosion in West, Texas to name a few.
Yet we must acknowledge others’ suffering. Following catastrophes in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 80,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war, many of them civilians. (About 1.4 million Syrians have fled the country, according to The New York Times.) Violence abounds in sub-Saharan Africa, too.
This past week’s news offered more tragedy. The death toll from a fire at a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh—allegedly caused by a lack of safety precautions—soared to 1,000. (One woman was just found alive.) Another factory fire in Bangladesh killed eight. In Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed 25 and wounded 65 at a rally organized by a religious political party. A gas tanker outside Mexico City exploded killing 20. Suicide bombers killed three people in Kirkuk, Iraq. Gunmen in Nigeria ambushed and killed as many as 46 police officers (death tolls vary).
My morning contemplation includes, “May this day bring us all a step closer to healing and peace, understanding that we’re all children of the same Creator and all deserving of the same respect.” I don’t kid myself. This thought won’t eliminate the hatred, greed and will to power too often attached to the human heart. This post won’t put an end to bad news.
Still, any and every step towards making the world better demands that we recognize the plight of others. We can’t dwell on these horrors all the time; we’d go mad. But we can transform footnotes to history into real people.
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