Our position and Haiti

By Christa Romano

As I sat in the heated office of the auto shop waiting for the mechanics to finish fixing up my car, a rather large middle-aged woman walked in and started chatting with the man behind the counter. She wasn’t the most refined of women – throwing unnecessary curse words into her vocabulary as she carried on about the day’s events.

I was paying more attention to the book I was reading than to whatever it was they were talking about, but at one point in their conversation my ears perked up as she said, “Why should we donate? You know, we’re floundering enough as it is over here. Just look at our economy, we need to help ourselves before we can help anyone else.”

She was talking about Haiti.

I always try to consider the adversary point, so instead of interjecting myself into their conversation and preaching my offended humanitarian viewpoint, I bit my tongue and considered where she could possibly be coming from.

I considered that maybe she really can’t afford to donate to the starving Haitians because maybe she is unemployed or even homeless. Maybe she is raising six children on welfare and is expecting one more. Maybe on top of all those maybes her car just broke down, which would explain why she was there in the warm office that day, pessimistically discussing world issues that have no direct effect on her.

It could also be possible that she was just parroting the conservative and instigative comment Rush Limbaugh made on Jan. 13, the day after the devastating earthquake. He said, “We’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the US income tax.”

So, woman in the garage and Mr. Limbaugh, what you’re trying to say is that the world’s most influential nation charitably giving money to the poorest country in the western hemisphere, after they experienced among the worst natural disasters in the past 200 years, is unjust because we pay taxes on top of our struggling economy?

I suppose everyone is entitled to his or her own viewpoint.

The way I see it, though, the fact that I was born and raised in the United States is pure luck, because in another life I could have just as well been born in a developing nation such as Haiti. So, when I hear that thousands of people are suddenly buried under tons of rubble and broken concrete, or that countless children have lost their parents or even their limbs I feel empathetic. While I recognize that we should consider and hold significant our own problems, we should also consider what they could be, had we not been so lucky to be born and living in such a privileged country.

I’m not saying the woman in the garage doesn’t have problems. For all I know, all of my previous speculations could be true. But even if she were on welfare, raising six kids and paying for a broken down car, does that mean that she is justified in trivializing the situation in Haiti?

The fact that she, as a citizen of the United States, is at least able to get welfare, to have clean drinking water, to have the luxury of carrying around a few extra pounds of body fat, is more than the 3,000,000 Haitians who have been affected by the earthquake can say.

In the United States, regardless of what magnitude of an earthquake hits, how fast a forest fire spreads or how destructive a hurricane is, our nation will never be in the same situation that Haiti is in, or even as it was before the January earthquake. It’s true that it will take a while for the U.S. to get out of the current recession, but we all know that it won’t last forever. History has proven that our economy will bounce back, because we have recourses that other countries want.

We also have doctors and nurses, a prosperous agricultural industry and a vast majority of people who earn more than $450 a year, the average annual income in Haiti. While we may no longer be the richest country in the world, we are certainly still a main player in the game, especially when compared to Haiti. We are two countries who are at opposite ends of the spectrum; so far removed from one another in every sense, that it can be difficult for Americans to see the big picture.

The position of power, influence and wealth the United States has, despite our recession, comes with a moral responsibility to offer whatever help we can, not as a rich and powerful benefactor but as a neighbor, a helping hand. Whether helping means donating a large sum by the U.S. government, personally pledging five dollars to a telethon, or putting your hand-me-down clothes in the boxes at the rec. center, I have every faith that the Haitians will appreciate it and perhaps someday, if they are ever able to gain solid ground, will return the favor.

Christa Romano is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]