This Thursday evening, July 29, I’ll be joining with my friend Russ Russell, a Zen priest with the Desert Mirror sangha, to offer a Buddhist presence at the Interfaith Vigil for Immigration Reform in Albuquerque. If any of you reading this are in or near Albuquerque, I hope you’ll join us. Send me an email at maia [at] gmail.com and we’ll figure out how to find each other.
If you’ve been reading The Jizo Chronicles for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been writing about the situation in Arizona ever since the passage of SB 1070, the anti-immigrant bill. This Thursday, the bill goes into effect, which is the reason for the interfaith vigil (as well as a much larger event in Phoenix).
Why does this matter to me so much? I’ve been wondering about that. You know how some issues just grab us and won’t let go, but they don’t have that same effect on other people? This seems to be one of them. I’ve been blogging, tweeting, and Facebook-ing about this, proposing the idea of a Buddhist “Love” Delegation to Phoenix, and a few people responded. But for the most part it doesn’t seem to touch the same nerve in other (mostly white) people that I know.
Then I remembered Mrs. Sanchez. I grew up in Southern California, just outside of Los Angeles. I went to a small Catholic school where I was in the minority – a good 75% of my class was Chicano/a, and I was one of the few white girls. My best friend was Pattie Sanchez and most weekends I would hang out at Pattie’s house. Mrs. Sanchez introduced me to tamales and enchiladas, and watched over me just like I was Pattie’s sister. The Sanchez’s celebrated every milestone along with me and my parents… from First Communions to graduations to family births and family deaths. Their house was really my second home, and they were my family. Mrs. Sanchez was like my second mom.
So I think at some sub-conscious level I’ve been holding Pattie and Mrs. Sanchez and so many of the other people I grew up with in my heart as I’ve been reading about SB 1070 and the likely consequences of it. As I wrote in an earlier post, I feel impassioned to speak out about SB 1070 because:
- It’s mean-spirited… the opposite of lovingkindness.
- It’s a massive display of white privilege. The bill mandates law enforcement officers to determine people’s immigration status based on “reasonable suspicion.” What exactly does that mean? If you have brown skin, you’re a suspect. Hey, how about me? I might be an illegal German/Slovenian immigrant. But would anyone ever think of that? Bingo. Racial profiling.
- It will create a climate of distrust, and will almost certainly prevent people from reporting crimes to the police out of fear of being deported.
- It’s redundant… the federal government is already responsible for enforcing immigration laws (for better or worse). The way I see it, even if you think that the immigration system in this country needs a major overhaul, this bill is still offensive and injust. (See this excellent interview with Rev. James Ishmael Ford, a Zen priest and a Unitarian Universalist minister, for his take on the bill.)
I’ve had to go through my own process to discern how to respond to this issue, and I want to share some of it with you because I think it’s a good illustration of socially engaged Buddhist practice, at least I understand it.
My first thought was to head to Phoenix on July 29 to join the Day of Non-Compliance there. But I struggled with this plan. There were a lot of factors to consider – it would be a big trip to take in terms of time and money, not to mention the carbon footprint. I thought perhaps I could take the train from Santa Fe to Flagstaff and then get a bus down to Phoenix. All of this felt like pushing against the river, especially in light of the fact that just a few days later, I need to be on full-duty for our core training time in the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program.
But I was willing to do this even if it felt like it was a big stretch. Then I looked at my ego… how much did I want to be in Phoenix, perhaps participating in civil disobedience, simply to satisfy my identity as “an engaged Buddhist”? I’m not immune to having a big ego and being righteous.
But then again, on the other hand, it truly did feel important to offer solidarity to people in Arizona who will be affected by this bill.
Every day of the past month I’ve gone back and forth with this, not being able to fully commit to going but also not being able to decide it was out of the question. Only in the last week did I finally become clear that I wouldn’t go to Phoenix but would instead make a donation to support Alto Arizona, the group that is doing much of the organizing around this day and immigrant rights.
The day after I made the donation, I saw the news about the Albuquerque vigil on July 29 via Twitter. Finally, the “appropriate response” took shape. Albuquerque is much closer to home – only an hour away. This was a way to take action that felt more sustainable in terms of time, money, my own energy level, and travel. I emailed Russ and she responded back almost immediately that she would join me.
Activist movements are often filled with people who are martyrs to a cause, and with the expectation that we should be martyrs to a cause or we’re not really doing anything worthwhile. I’m not sure this belief system really helps a situation. It’s not that I think we should never get out of our comfort zone… in fact I’m sure that if we don’t, no real change occurs and we never challenge our own ideas of power.
But I also believe that we need to find ways to take action that generate joy and connection, not further suffering. This, to me, is what is at the heart of socially engaged Buddhism.
I have no idea if I got it “right” on this one, but I am looking forward to being in Albuquerque this Thursday night with my dharma friend and “standing on the side of love,” as the Unitarian Universalists put it. Maybe we’ll see you there.