The Day I Found My WHY
I woke up to a delicious, simple breakfast with the best orange/green juice I have ever had in my life, but with rain, in the forecast, the day looked bleak. K and I decided that today would be a museum day. The first museum of the day was one I had read about but had no expectations of what it held within its walls.
El Museo De Memoria y Tolorencia, the Museum of Memory and Tolerance’s mission is to “disseminate tolerance, non-violence and human rights.” It sounded like an intriguing museum concept, and I knew its content would be heavy from the beginning. However, I was ill-prepared for how this museum would emotionally tear me apart.
From the second I pressed play on the audio tour, I began falling down a rabbit hole. One that began in WWII Germany with an image of faces in windows of an apartment complex. As you walked through the exhibit, you could feel a sense of impending doom with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. From propaganda to identification tags for Jews, gays, Romani, and anyone else who did not fit into the German’s vision of the Aryan race.
Next, you walked into the ghettos from pre-war neighborhoods before you walked on to one of the train cars that once carried Jews to their impending murders in concentration camps. The way the museum forced you to walk the timeline of the holocaust gave you the unmistakable sense of impending doom when you got onto the car. This domed cared with you as you looked at a module on display, showing the camp layout and how people were squished and herded like animals through the different rooms upon arriving.
This sense of impending doom is stuck in my memory of the museum, along with one other thing. At the end of each section of the Holocaust exhibit, there was an interactive portion of the radio tour. Most of the questions asked had faded away, but one remains burned into my memory. The audio asked me If I believed Switzerland’s policy of neutrality during WWII was an act of tolerance, was it an act of complicity, or true neutrality. I chose tolerance because, in my opinion, inaction in WWII was in the least condoning the beliefs and not acts of violence of the Nazi party.
I was wrong. I was so wrong with my choice. The answer was Switzerland’s glorified neutrality in WWII; the neutrality many Americans today yearn for the US to take on every international issue was just face. During WWII, Switzerland was complicit in the heinous acts of Hitler and the Natzi party. The audio described how Switzerland not only rejected refugees from Germany and the surrounding countries but how its banks helped fund the war. This funding allowed the German government to launder millions of Assests owned by Jewish people through the Swiss banks. After the war, the Banks nor the Swiss government returned what they knew was stolen money and assets to the rightful owners. In some cases, Swiss nationals even took over these assets after the accounts lay dormant for years.
Finding out that Switzerland’s Neutrality was a lie hit me like a ton of bricks. It weighs heavily on my heart even today when I hear criticism about the US sticking its nose in the world’s business and how the US should stay neutral. Although I recognize the harmful colonial mindset of the US and how US politics has distorted countries bringing dictators into power. I acknowledge that the US is war happy. I Believe it needs to change its policies and attitudes toward international politics and conflicts. However, I wonder if any nation can be truly neutral during mass conflicts. In one way or another, for better or worse, there is money to be made in war. For a country to be neutral, it can’t rely on financial support nor make money off of the countries at war or whose policies are causing human rights violations. This includes private and public companies. If a company is exploiting war or does business in a country that is violating human rights, but they contribute to the GDP, and the overall stability of your counties economy, then your country is still directly benefiting. In our global economy, that is next to impossible to be neutral. Someone is looking to make money off the situation or is unwilling to risk economic stability to save others.
My thoughts weighed heavily as I left the Holocaust exhibit, which ended in a black room where I looked up a narrowing passage ending in a small window to the blue sky above. I broke. Crying for the first time at the museum. I was looking up a chimney.
From the holocaust exhibit, the museum opened up into a room with many windows. It was like a breath of air, giving you relief and hope for the rest of the museum to show the salvation of humanity. Which, at first, it did. It talked about the founding of the UN and how it set up a justice system to prevent genocide and other crimes against humanity. However, the longer you stayed in the room, the more you realized the deep flaws and the political corruption involved in the UN.
From that room of hope, you wind through darkly lit rooms displaying the Armenian, Bosnian, Rwandan, Gwatamalen genocides, and more. You learn about the failures of the UN. The failure to officially recognize more genocides because recognizing them would mean they would have to take political action. More often than not, genocide is a lucrative business where placing sanctions on them and trying to save a group of people is less economically and politically beneficial to the world’s leaders. These same leaders who vote on what is and isn’t genocide are complicit by taking no action.
Since that museum, there has been more proof of the UN’s political disconnect with its beliefs, especially regarding genocide. This museum was already eye-opening for me by this point, but it wasn’t done with me either.
From the last black empty room of the memory portion of the museum waiting to be filled by a future genocide, I walked through glass doors into a bright white room. This room began the Tolerance portion of the museum. The white light was blinding after the bleak, dark rooms before it. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust. When they did, I realized the walls were interactive screens showing social media posts from around the world.
As I started reading the post, I realized they were full of hate speeches. They were full of racist slurs and people condoning violence against those they didn’t understand. There were Tweets calling for neutrality, images and videos of insensitive jokes mixed in. I was overwhelmed by the stream of opinions from everyday people to celebrities, politicians, and news stations. Just when I was ready to move on, I heard him.
I heard Donald Trump, the president of my country, spew hate about the Mexican people. He called them lazy and criminals in his hate speech. He called for a wall to be raised between the borders. I started to shake in shame. I looked around me, and I was the only white person in the room. I was the only American in the room, surrounded by Mexicans, and I started crying.
I could barely contain my ugly cry. My thoughts raced, asking, how did we get here? Mexicans don’t deserve this. They are just humans; why can’t people see that….. Why? Why? Why? I ran out of the room, breathing deeply, ashamed of being American. I was angry at my country and felt hopeless that things would change.
The next part of the museum was a blur after that. It shook me to the core. Nonetheless, the message of the tolerance portion did come through. It poked and prodded my conception of morality. It asked who’s at fault when someone under age drinks and drives, killing a person. Was it the mom who knew the party was unsupervised? Was it the cousin who bought alcohol? Was the police officer who pulled him over earlier that day and didn’t give them a speeding ticket? Was it the friend for not taking their keys? Who was responsible for the death of innocents?
The museum also asked about the morality of being against LGBTQ+ while calling out the kidnapping and trafficking of women. The museum turned its focus from the world and began a discourse about Mexico and her people ending in a hallway where it asked people to take a stand. In the hallway, Mexicans could register to vote, volunteer, or donate to organizations that promoted human rights.
I left the museum emotionally wrecked but eternally grateful for the experience. Between the oferendas to the Tlatelolco Massacre and this museum, I had an epiphany of sorts. We all want the same things; we all fight for the same things. In this world, we are all alike yearning for freedom. I want to learn about our fight to obtain those rights and liberties in every country I travel to. I want to learn how we are all the same by listening to and sharing the voices of the oppressed in whatever way I can.
Places to Go
El Museo De Memoria y Tolorencia – The Museum of Memory and Tolerance – $50 Mexican Pesos – Av. Juárez 8, Colonia Centro, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06010 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
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