By Jessika Harkay |

My mom used to tell me that one of her favorite parts of her childhood was when her mother would come back with a box of lo mein every few months. What we see as an $8 meal was a luxury to my mom, as her and her six siblings sat around my grandmother, each having a piece of pasta in the dark. 

My grandmother wouldn’t eat anything, knowing her biggest luxury was having a townhome a few minutes from the city with a gate and in an area safer than most of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Little did we know a few decades later, my aunts and uncles would be fleeing from this same townhome. The same one that my grandma was so proud to once own, all because of domestic terrorism. 

This local threat escalated to the point that you couldn’t trust taxis in fear of being kidnapped. It became a world where you can’t walk outside with more than a shirt or pants unless you wanted to be robbed or killed. A society where there’s no familiar faces, sense of community, nor trust between anyone you encounter.

There’s something unexplainable about realizing the home you visited every year since you were eight months old will forever become a distant memory because it’s too unsafe to visit. 

There’s something unexplainable about the fact that people who have lived in the same area for over 40 years are running away from it in fear. 

And there’s something unexplainable about having to understand that people are escaping for their lives.

And two minutes away? A Baylor student is downtown posting the same city, talking about how Peru has their heart and they can’t wait to move here. 

The thing is, the concept of tourism is hard. It’s always going to exist. We’ve all been in that position, especially if you’re one of the 10.6 million tourists this year who took a trip to Mexico for a cheap beach vacation or culture experience, and easily pushed the reality of the country’s internal crisis’ to the back of your head unconsciously. 

Only speaking on my behalf, having to watch people visit a country that you know the truth about outside the tourist limits is hard. It’s difficult seeing Instagram posts with cheesy llama captions, while I pray for my brother’s safe return every time he visits his fiancé for a few weeks.

It’s a different — and frustrating — world, understanding that so many people are oblivious to the society they take for granted. Something as simple as walking a dog while scrolling through Twitter. Or being able to go to coffee shops without bars on the windows. Or simply being able to have pizza delivered at 6 p.m., without being told you’re in a “red zone,” and no one can go to that area after the sun sets.

With this, I challenge you to become conscious of the world around you. Understand the depth of different societies. Appreciate culture and beauty but also be willing to open your eyes to the not-so-Instagram-worthy areas and people. Research and contribute to bettering these communities. Be a smart consumer. Use your platform for more than a pretty picture.

And finally, as easy as it sounds, live with empathy.