The Five Perspective Points
When it comes right down to it:
- Opinions are formed by perspective.
- Perspective, in turn, is formed by environment, physiology and psychology.
- Change any of those three and perspective changes.
- Changes in perspective lead to understanding.
- Understanding may lead to empathy and perhaps even a change of heart.
Pick an Issue
Pick an issue, any issue. I’ll pick immigration to illustrate how perspective works. I am the son of immigrants and have had the privilege of interacting with Hispanic immigrants my whole life, both personally and on the business side, legal and undocumented. I am not selling one side of the argument or the other, I’m just trying to illustrate how perspective changes things.
In my work, I have interviewed literally hundreds of Hispanic immigrants, many of them in this country illegally. So let’s get a little perspective. Let’s walk in their shoes for a few minutes.
Why They Come
The vast majority of Hispanic immigrants are coming to the United States for economic reasons. Cubans are the exception, at least theoretically. They are perceived as privileged immigrants, in a sense, because they can claim political asylum if they get to U.S. soil. Perspective – they are really coming to the U.S. for economic reasons as Cuba really doesn’t have much of an economy at all – indeed an economy that was driven into the ground by political ideology.
Can you imagine how desperate the situation must be? Many Illegal immigrants come to this country because they are hungry – not for freedom or opportunity, which is indeed part of the deal – but they are hungry for food. They may struggle just to put food on the table. How hungry are they? So hungry and desperate that they are willing to leave EVERYTHING behind – spouse, kids, parents, friends. They are going to a place where they do not know the language or the ropes. They risk everything because they believe it is for the greater good of the family – a family they may never see again. Bear in mind that if you are an undocumented immigrant, you can’t go back unless you are willing to endure the perilous journey and eventual illegal re-entry into the U.S. that many have died trying to complete. So put yourself in their place. Imagine that YOU couldn’t put food on the table. Would YOU leave everything behind with the possibility of never recovering it, enter a Latin American country illegally without knowing anything and settle in? Think about that. Does that do anything to your perspective of undocumented immigrants?
The Perilous Journey
I have heard the horror stories first hand. Not all of them are horror stories but they at least make you uncomfortable, and yes, change your perspective. As I was sitting in a Mexican immigrant’s roach-infested apartment (my client was freaking out) she recounted her crossing from Mexico to the U.S. This story was a little different because she came over by sea. She told us that she was pregnant and had her 6-month-old infant in her arms while she was in a speedboat that was tossed about in the rough seas for 16 hours. She did her best to hold her baby securely but the waves made all the occupants bounce around the boat like billiard balls knocking against each other. Needless to say the baby cried incessantly and the coyotes (these are the people who are paid to cross people over to the U.S. and now big business as the “industry” is controlled by drug lords) screamed at her to keep the baby quiet.
Another woman told me that she was raped several times by her coyote – a man she knew quite well. This is an all-too-common occurrence during these crossings and obviously leave indelible, lifelong scars.
There are many other stories like these and thankfully some that are funny, or at least some immigrants are able to put a humorous spin on them. So now they’ve left everything behind, risks their lives to get here and may have suffered physical and/or emotional scars doing so. Does that at least start to change your perspective?
So They Made It Here
The fun really starts when they get here. The common practice is that they are taken to a “safe house.” They are crammed in with other immigrants in an overcrowded house and are forced to live in subsistence until the balance of the money owed to the coyote is paid. And the family had better pay quickly because living conditions are deplorable and if the debt goes unpaid, the illegal immigrant may have to work the debt off. You probably guessed it, the jobs they have to do to work off the debt are degrading and illicit. So now you’ve left everything behind, have risked your life getting here and have landed in a sorry excuse of a living situation where you may be forced into sex slavery to pay for your trip. Any change in perspective yet?
Out of the Safe House
Now they move on to another living situation that is not even remotely ideal or acceptable in the eyes of non-immigrants (perspective). They often move in with relatives or friends. Again, the living quarters can be very cramped and personalities are almost certain to clash. I once interviewed a gentleman who lived in a closet and another in a car port. But they have no choice – they make it work.
They work and they work and they work and they work. This is their life – they work. And these are not the easiest jobs in the world. Some are fortunate to have or to have developed trade skills that get them ahead. The many construction, factory and restaurant workers that I have interviewed may travel far (hours) just to get to work and always work hard, long hours. They are unbelievably focused on making it in this country and all the while they dream of reuniting with the family – a dream that often does not come true.
What Does It All Mean?
I get it. I understand that a business owner may favor illegal immigration because he/she can hire an inexpensive, hardworking workforce – perspective. And that an unskilled laborer may feel just the opposite because illegal immigrants may take jobs away – perspective.
I have developed a very high level of respect for undocumented immigrants because my environment changed – I have been around them and have gotten to know them. Yes, there are bad apples just as there are in any society at all levels, but the majority are really good people. All they want to do is work hard and perhaps enjoy a small piece of the American Dream – they are not here with evil intent on their minds. But what most amazes me about them is their attitude. They are incredibly positive, regardless of what they have gone through or are going through, and are grateful for the opportunities this country has provided them.
I urge you to change your environment from time to time – maybe walk in someone else's shoes. I promise that it will at least lead to greater understanding and maybe, just maybe it will result in empathy and a change of heart.