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July 29: Buddhist Love Delegation in New Mexico (and a lot of background story)

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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] 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.

Updates on Gulf Coast and Arizona

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Two stories that I’ve been following with particular interest over the past couple of months have been the Gulf Coast Oil Spill and the passage of SB1070 in Arizona. Perhaps it’s because both strike me as situations in which our interconnectedness is front and center.

No matter how hard we try, we can’t escape from the fact that along with BP, all of us are in some way responsible for the oil spill that is decimating countless miles of ocean, habitat for water creatures, and livelihood for residents of that area.

And Arizona — immigration is a complex issue. But by labeling some humans as “illegal” and creating laws that cannot but help discriminate against certain groups of people, we are looking right in the face of what the Buddha points to as a prime source of suffering: the delusion that we are separate from one another.

So I’ve been covering responses from Buddhists to both of these events… “bodhisattvas in the trenches.” Here’s the latest update:

The Gulf Oil Spill

Penny Alsop, a student in the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program, is currently in Grand Isle, Louisiana, on a reconnaissance trip to see what is needed. She plans to return to that area August 19 – 27 and bring a group of volunteer Buddhist chaplains from the U.S. and Canada. She writes:

Coastal communities have been holding their breath for months now:  waiting for oil to land, fearful of both short- and long-term impacts, and waiting for help.  We know good will come from sending chaplains to land on the same shores in suffering communities.  Their gifts of presence and witness will be of service during their visits to the Gulf, and they will bring back real stories of the region to their home communities.

…More volunteers are welcome, as are business partners and individual sponsors.  Our collective outreach can be powerful. If you would like more information about how to join this project, contact Penny directly at

You can read more about Penny’s efforts here.


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this post where I offered the idea of a Buddhist Love Delegation (riffing off the theme of “Standing on the Side of Love” that the Unitarian Universalists have created) to Arizona to take part in a July 29th “Day of Non-Compliance.” I also sent the idea out via email, Twitter, and Facebook. Only a few people wrote back to me, so it seems like the energy may not be there for this right now.

But if you are interested in going, take a look at this website and see what the UU’s are organizing. They are doing great work to speak out about this situation, as is the organization Alto Arizona.

And if a Buddhist Love Delegation does indeed form to head to Phoenix on July 29, you will be the first to know!

Quote of the Week: Rev James Myoun Ford

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Given that our focus lately has been on SB1070, the anti-immigrant bill in Arizona (covered in the Jizo Chronicles here and here), this week’s quote comes from Rev. James Myoun Ford, who traveled from his home in Rhode Island to Phoenix in May to take part in a day of solidarity with those affected by this bill.

Rev. Ford has the distinction of being both an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister as well as a Zen teacher (he is the successor to John Tarrant Roshi). He began studying Zen in 1966 with Mel Sojun Weitsman, then later received dharma transmission from Roshi Jiyu Kennett. Ford is the author of In This Very Moment: A Simple Guide to Zen Buddhism and Zen Master Who? A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen. You can also find his writings on his blog, Monkey Mind.

Danny Fisher interviewed Rev. Ford earlier in June–you can read the full interview here. This quote is from that interview:

In Arizona I saw my task as bearing witness. I wore a clerical shirt and marched with other ministers and priests. It was important to show that people of faith, of many different faiths saw this law as cruel. It was meant to underscore as we move into a national dialogue that while it is absolutely necessary to address the issues of undocumented immigration, we need to engage this conversation with a sense of decency and care, and avoid scapegoating and even worse things….

As a Buddhist I feel compelled to bear witness to our radical interdependence. As a citizen I feel compelled to bear witness to our being a country of compassion and justice. As a human being I feel compelled to bear witness to the humanity of these people who have come to this country seeking nothing more than hope.

Where is the Love? (aka: Meet Me in Arizona)

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To my knowledge (which is limited), the word “love” doesn’t show up very often in Buddhist suttas and teachings, at least not in the way you see it over and over again in the teachings of Jesus. Which may be why people get the impression that Buddhism is primarily a cerebral exercise. The prevalent use of the word “mindfulness” just reinforces that notion. I was recently at a meeting where someone suggested that a better word might be “heartful-ness” – because what’s really happening if we practice deeply is that our heart awakens and we respond to the world from that place.

(A semantic note: Part of the problem here is a cultural/linguistic one. Western modes of thought and language tend to reify dualism. As you may know, the Chinese word shin [xin] means “heart-mind.” There’s a wonderful article by Shohaku Okumura on this word and its Japanese parallel kokoro here on the Buddhadharma website.)

Which brings me to Arizona.

Arizona needs a lot of love right now. Over the past few months, the state has passed a couple of bills that make it pretty difficult to be a Latino/a living in that state and not feel that you are despised and unwanted. First came SB 1070. Less than a month later, the governor signed another bill that limited the teaching of ethnic studies classes in public schools. And on top of that, the state’s education department started to mandate re-assignments of teachers who it was deemed didn’t speak English well enough or who had an accent. (See how some Stanford University professors responded to this.)

A number of people are responding by organizing a Summer of Human Rights in Arizona. One of my favorites is the “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign from the Unitarian Universalists. One of those UUs is also a Zen priest – James Ishmael Ford. Danny Fisher did a great interview with Ford which you can read here.

So how about it, dharma sisters and brothers – who would like to join me in a Summer of Love in Arizona? Let’s practice the dharma in a big-hearted way. Since I’m in New Mexico and Arizona is my neighbor, I’m thinking of going to Phoenix on July 29 for a Day of Non-Compliance (the day SB 1070 goes into effect). Perhaps we can get a Buddhist Love Delegation organized, similar to what a number of us did in Washington D.C. in 2005 and 2007 (see photos here and this past Jizo Chronicles post).

We’ve got one month. Anybody else interested? Let me know and let’s see what we can cook up.

And by the way – I’m also following up to find out more about the potential Buddhist group that’s going to the Gulf states to respond to the oil spill. I’ll be writing again soon with details on that.


Arizona: Do I Look Illegal?

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Sorry I have been an absent blogger lately… I am on the road to the Wisdom 2.0 Conference near San Jose, CA, which starts today. It should be an interesting combination of high tech and mindfulness, with speakers like Roshi Joan Halifax, Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos), and Meng Tan (of google).

This road trip took me through Arizona, so the recent passage of  SB1070 (the anti-immigration/immigrant law) has been very much on my mind. No matter what your thoughts about the current state of immigration, my take on it is that as human beings and socially engaged Buddhists we should be outraged by and speaking out against this piece of legislation. Why?

  • 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).

Here’s one way to respond, cooked up by some Facebook members:

In defiance of the new bill in Arizona and in support of the Arizona citizens who will face harassment every time they step out their doors, the call is out for everyone to ask the question: “Do I look “illegal?” during the week of May 1st to May 8th. The focus is on raising awareness on the day of May 1st but by the overwhelming response, putting out this message is extending for the rest of the week.

Post the question as your status on Facebook. Throughout the day, send the question out on Twitter. Ask one another the question, “Do I look illegal?” Hopefully, this will get all of us thinking and discussing what exactly does “illegal” look like..

Finally, wear shirts, buttons or hold signs saying, “Do I look ‘illegal’?” and take pictures to either send to Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona and/or post them [on Facebook]..

Her mailing address is:
Jan Brewer
Governor of Arizona
1700 West Washington
Phoenix, Arizona 85007

So I’m looking for a t-shirt to wear tomorrow. There’s also a good online letter to Sen. Brewer that you can sign and send, from the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Let us know what you plan to do, and your thoughts on this issue.

Correction: In the original post, I wrote that “The bill mandates law enforcement officers to determine people’s immigration status based solely on “reasonable suspicion.” Actually, there is a provision in the bill that race cannot be the sole grounds for reasonable suspicion. However, as attorney Patrick Rung writes: “even if that’s the case, what non-racial basis can be used to justify a check of a person’s immigration status? So far, that’s a question that no one – including the proponents and authors of the bill – can adequately answer. And that makes it subject to a vagueness attack.”

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