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EL ESPECTADOR

Art As Antidote To Xenophobia

From films to photography, artwork can help arouse the empathy we need to counter these dark days of border walls and White nationalist terrorism, not yet extinct, and art foments it.

In Frankfurt, Germany, in tribute to Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian migrant boy found dead on a beach
In Frankfurt, Germany, in tribute to Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian migrant boy found dead on a beach
Piedad Bonnett

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — The massive exodus of Venezuelans has made us Colombians a little more sensitive to the phenomenon of migrants pushed out of their countries by poverty, violence and the absence of basic freedoms. Even so, when migrant boats sink in the Mediterranean, or when Africans, Cubans or Haitians are beaten, raped or killed by traffickers as they try and cross from Colombia to Panama, these appear as distant events that move but a few.

People find it even harder to empathize with those who — after surviving all of kinds of dangerous ordeals — arrive in countries where they do not speak the language, only to face either threat of deportation, discrimination or contempt, and even hate crimes by people who consider themselves superior. The nativists follow a doctrine, as the German writer Carolin Emcke observes, that sees their country as being "homogenous," with a "true" religion, "original" traditions, "natural" family structures and "authentic" culture.

White nationalism is growing like a monster around the world, intermittently manifesting itself as massacres like the one perpetrated in New Zealand. To be clear: without the discourse of far right leaders who promote discrimination against Blacks, Jews, Muslims and Latinos, there would be less terrorism. The fanatic who readies himself with mystical fervor for his exterminating crusade is simply the one who follows through on what some xenophobes, who limit themselves to verbal attacks, secretly desire: the physical annihilation of the people they despise.

The Other Side of Hope, by Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki — Photo: B-Plan

The terrorist also craves media attention. Without a hullabaloo, his acts do not exist. Thus the self-recording done in Christchurch by the terrifying Brenton Tarrant.

And yet, in the midst of this dark panorama, positive news does emerge here and there, of love and assistance for our neighbors. The day following the news of the New Zealand massacre, there was a report in our country on the Los Ángeles de las Trochas(Trails Angels), a non-governmental organization of more than 150 foreigners of different professional backgrounds "who offer humanitarian assistance to migrants from the neighboring districts of Ureña, San Antonio and San Cristóbal" in Venezuela. Good people.

There's also art, which as we know, can become an extraordinary resource for creating empathy and consciousness on the dramas of migrants. John Moore, who photographed a young Honduran girl crying at the U.S. border as an officer detains her mother, achieves this with photography.

I would also recommend an absolutely beautiful film, The Other Side of Hope, by Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki. It is the story of a young Syrian seeking political asylum in Helsinki. With an extraordinary cast and astounding acting, the film attains an incredible feat: it becomes a tragicomedy that takes us from tears to out-loud laughter at the farcical situations the protagonist lands in. It depicts the indifference of institutions, and the murderous hate and solidarity of ordinary people. Good people. Because they too exist and always will, even if they will not always prevail.

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