Andrea Castillo’s Intersangha Talk 2017 (edited by Ginger Clarkson) – 5/8/2017

Dharma and Cultural Competence with Latino Practitioners

The dharma of the Hispanic population is taking it’s own unique form.

In the Dharma in Spanish sangha at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, CA, Andrea Castillo has devoted several daylong-retreats to investigating particular aspects of the Latino culture and the Dharma, such as our Christian roots, how they influence our Buddhist practice, and how both spiritual traditions can co-exist without conflict.

  • Last year the sangha devoted a day to investigate the reality of immigration, with its challenges, joys, and sorrows, within the dharma.
  • Sangha members from Latin America shared their three-stage journey: leaving their native country, the shock of acculturation in the US, and their new life, which attempts to blend the two cultures.
  • With the focus on emigration last year, they laid the ground for what was coming our way this year with the presidential election.
  • There are times when we have the luxury to reflect at length and other times when the appropriate option is to act.
  • In the 2017 daylong retreat the sangha felt urgency to understand and to act.
  • In our present historical moment, the topic of Dharma and Cultural Competence with Latino Practitioners is about being informed how a Hispanic sangha is experiencing our new reality and how Insight teachers and leaders can support communities that are being targeted.
  • Trust comes with responsibility. Sangha leaders may feel compelled to ask difficult questions and to stretch beyond their comfort level.
  • Politics and activism have not been a central part of Andrea’s life in the past, She prefers studying dharma to trying to understand the law. Yet these times demand knowledge in several areas.
  • She aims at finding the middle path between reflection and action.
  • As Pema Chödron put it, courage is about feeling fear and making the next step despite shaky knees.
  • The best antidote to fear is loving-kindness.
  • Andrea is giving voice to sangha members’ fears and hopes. To protect their privacy she has changed their names.
  • As you hear their stories, may loving kindness trump fear in your heart.

The talk is organized in three parts
1. Sangha as a refuge for all
2. Prejudice and Invisibility
3. Considering the responsibilities of Insight teachers and leaders

1. Sanghas as Refuge for all
“I want you to know
What it’s like to come into this country without papers,”
Said Teresa
I was fifteen
And all I knew is that
I was following my mother’s American dream.

I crossed alone with my little brother.
I helped him climb the big fence in Nogales.
Grotesque skeleton-figures adorned the fence
Alluding to the many who died while crossing.

Perched on the fence
I saw an army of officers.
My body was rigid with fear
I could barely breath
The feat of running past them
Seemed impossible.

There was a sign
And then, we all ran.
There was chaos
We scurried like rats
Running wild amidst the cars and officers.

I don’t recall how I did it
But I was one of the lucky ones
Who wasn’t caught.
My little brother, however, was missing.
That night I spent the hardest night of my life
Anguishing about what could have happened to him.

  • Teresa shared this story in our last daylong retreat. She comes to our weekly sits with her 9 year-old daughter and her middle-aged mother.
  • Teresa, a single mom, who is 29 years old, is not self-preoccupied about achievements for herself. Instead she states, “All I want now is to give a good life to my daughter and my mother.”
  • The three generations live together and support each other.
  • It is inspiring to witness how granddaughter, mother, and grandmother take in the dharma in their own way with so much appreciation.
  • The grandmother proudly showed Andrea a photo of her nine-year-old granddaughter Valentina sitting on the floor, crossed legged with impeccable form in front of a row of stuffed animals seated on the floor. “She loves to play meditation teacher.”
  • Valentina was born in this country; Teresa managed to arrange her status, but Modesta, the grandmother, is still here illegally.
  • After expressing anger about new presidential policies, Modesta recovered quickly and said, “Well, if I have to leave, then maybe it’s time to be with my other grandchildren in Mexico.”
  • The intention of the February, 2017, daylong retreat was to offer a refuge for the Hispanic community, providing time and space to come together and hold the present reality.
  • Francisco Mora and Andrea co-led the retreat, “Teaching the daylong retreat,” commented Francisco “was a gift of ineffable proportions. Our sisters and brothers in our Spanish-speaking Sangha are afraid… some are rightfully angry.”
  • During the daylong retreat they investigated the topic of implicit bias. It is healing to understand how implicit bias occurs, how all of us have biases, and how mindfulness has the potential to illuminate these areas, making them visible and protecting us from blindly acting them out.
  • The daylong retreat represented so much good will! The IMC board president, Liz Powell, showed up early that morning to hang a beautiful banner she had made that read in Spanish, “Todos son bienvenidos aquí”. All are welcome here.
  • Other members of the IMC sangha cooked and offered a meal for 25 participants and provided beautiful flower arrangements.
  • The daylong retreat started with questions: What does our new political reality demand of us?
  • How can we transform anger, fear, and sadness, and allow loving kindness and compassion to infuse our actions?
  • There are no quick, simple answers, but we have to learn to live with these questions, to allow them to unsettle us, to prod us into trying new actions that demand courage.
  • As Reiner Maria Rilke writes, “perhaps one day we will live into the answer.”
  • One of the various ways participants expressed their emotions during the daylong retreat was through creativity. Each person had an opportunity to make a clay sculpture depicting three of their emotions.
  • Pedro reported: “I have been practicing for 7 years and I have never felt so confused as I do lately….I attempted to express emotions of sadness, pain, and doubt. I feel like I am in a grieving phase. Emotionally the shock is over, but now anger is here. I feel it as a strong energy, such as I never felt before… I have realized that this is an opportunity to deepen my practice; sadness, pain, and doubt have opened up a space in me. It’s not easy to transform these energies, but today I feel wider, more spacious.
  • At the base of my sculpture I represented loving kindness; I depicted myself lying down so I could be the container of loving-kindness…I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but I am happy to be here; I feel at home here, and ready to meet what happens tomorrow.”
  • At the highest level the main answers will come from the dharma, but at the worldly level, sanghas need answers from the logistical world, from the arts and creativity, and from the law.
  • How can our sanghas become a place of refuge for all? Are we, for example, ready to join the sanctuary movement that other faiths have been offering to their communities since the 1980s?
  • We need to practice not only karuna, compassion, but also anukampa, compassion in action.
  • As we a struggle to find the balance between action and stillness we need to remember that cultivating inner peace during times of upheaval and uncertainty is an essential social, political act.
  • We also have to find out what our unique gift is that we can offer the world. Support and solidarity can take many forms.
  • Eli Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor said, “Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.” p.xvi

2. Prejudice and Invisibility
An intrepid guerrillera
With rifle strapped to my back
Traversing ragged mountains
Helping wounded men.

I was a nurse.
I didn’t want to leave El Salvador
But it was about staying alive.

Here I made myself a good life.
Yet the palpable curse
Of being a second class citizen
Internalized by my son
Broke his spirit.
He fell into drugs.
He is an addict.

Always needing cash
He took my laptop to the pawnshop.

Trying to reclaim it.
The man behind the counter
Refusing to give it back
Disdainfully looking at me said,
“From a Latino what else do you expect?”

His words pierced me like arrows.
This was the last drop that
Caused the cup of a mother’s suffering
To spill over.
Stepping out of the pawnshop
Unable to hold the pain
I collapsed and convulsed.
Tears, mucus, phlegm
Even breakfast, it all came up
A small, helpless heap of fluids.

The author attended the IMC daylong-retreat. This is her testimony:

“To come here to IMC is something mystic for me. I wish this day would not end. I meditate daily two or three times. Meditation has become a place of refuge. I have consciously opted not to drown in pain and suffering. Once again I realize there is something in this practice that I have to share with others. I want to make this available to others because just like this practice has saved my life it could save others too. It’s hard to explain, but sitting down to meditate, finding a refuge within me, and then opening my eyes and feeling full of energy, it’s such a mystery for me. I owe this discovery to my stubborn son… his suffering is what has brought me here. In my sculpture I depicted three faces: one of silence, attention, and happiness and a heart that sustains it all.”

  • Our present situation is characterized by a strong xenophobia, especially for Muslims and Hispanics, and particularly poor immigrant workers who have come to the USA driven by hunger or political oppression.
  • What is important to understand in relation to our practice is that xenophobia is rooted in ignorance.
  • We don’t know the “other.”
  • We don’t see individuals, but we see groups of a particular race, ethnicity, etc.
  • We internalize gross generalizations about whole groups of people. Out of this ignorance, xenophobia gives way to intense and irrational dislike and fear of the “other.”
  • Jack Kornfield writes, “Beneath the sophistication of Buddhist psychology lies the simplicity of compassion. We can touch into this compassion whenever the mind is quiet, whenever we allow the heart to open. Unfortunately… thick layers of ignorance and trauma can obscure our compassion. On the global scale ignorance manifests as injustice, racism, exploitation, and violence. On a personal scale, we see our own states of envy, anxiety, addiction, and aggression.” (The Wise Heart, p. 24)
  • We all need to educate ourselves to break the stereotypes we are constantly being fed by the media.
  • Shakil Choudhury in his book Deep Diversity, writes that we need to learn to practice the platinum rule. And that means raising the bar from the golden rule, that we all know, “Treat others as you want to be treated” to “Treat others how they want to be treated.”
  • The latter implies knowing the other. Facing our fears and making the effort to go out of our way, to reach out to the other, and get to know them.
  • Who are these faceless Mexican immigrants that have been so vilified in the media lately?
  • In my day-to-day life what are my interactions with immigrants? Do I know who they are, their names, where they are from?
  • Do I know who cleans my office at work? Do I know who washes the dishes in my neighborhood restaurant where I eat?
  • Do I know who picks the fruits and vegetables I eat every day?
  • Our system is set up so that the immigrant population performing what we call “menial work” is invisible to us.
  • This fact was poignantly vivid for a Dharma in Spanish sangha trip last July. Andrea’s group wanted to meet some of the farm workers who labor so hard and who are responsible for fresh produce in grocery stores.
  • These men and women work an average of 10 hours a day stooped over in the hot sun harvesting fruits and vegetables that we eat daily.
  • The sangha traveled to Watsonville, CA, to meet strawberry pickers and to express gratitude, solidarity, and support.
  • Maru, one of the sangha members felt anxious about this outing. Her father had been an immigrant farm worker himself, and she was afraid that this outing could prove too painful for her.
  • She decided that she would go, although she knew it would be hard.
  • Thanks to the admirable work of Dr. Ann Lopez, the director of the Center for Farmworkers in Felton CA, the sangha could visit the migrant camp, see how the workers live, and talk to them about their lives and working conditions.
  • Their working conditions are deplorable; they have no rights, no power to speak up. They described themselves as “disposable workers”; if one keels over from exhaustion another is waiting in the sidelines to takes his or her place. The life expectancy for farm workers is 45 years.
  • The system is set up so that the migrant workers are invisible to most Americans.
  • In Watsonville, the migrant workers’ camp is in the middle of nowhere, and there is no public transportation into town. In the camp, workers are not allowed to gather outside their units, children are not allowed to play outside, and once the picking season is over in November, they all must leave, moving out completely from their unit.
  • The migrant workers don’t earn enough to pay for storage, so every year they have to throw out furniture, pots, pans and anything they can’t pack into one suitcase. When they return the next year in May, the workers start with a completely empty unit and have to start creating a household again. This repeats every year.
  • Consider for a moment what it would be like to have to move every half a year.
  • The workers not only have to leave the camp, but the law specifies that they cannot remain in the vicinity of at least 50 miles from the camp.
  • Imagine what this means for children who are yanked out of school in the middle of the year? Many don’t get any schooling from Nov. until May when the picking season starts again.
  • Is it surprising that these children’s school performance is poor? Is it surprising that many of these children grow up to be youngsters who feel lost and make unwise choices? Is it surprising that some end up trafficking drugs and/or becoming addicted themselves?
  • Perhaps the most heart wrenching moments that day was when one of the women farm workers, who told her story with tremendous strength and courage, broke down in tears when she admitted that, due to financial hardships, her two sons had recently dropped out of school and were now also working in the fields.
  • She could bear the hardships of the work as long as she had the hope of giving her children a better life, but when that hope collapsed, it was too much for her to bear.
  • Andrea proposed that the IMC sangha organize a tutoring program to help the boys study in the evenings, but their spirits were broken. The boys showed no interest in making an effort to study.
  • Andrea realized how the system is set up in a way that makes it almost impossible for people to break out of this grim reality.
  • The migrant worker system is institutionalized greed, hatred, and delusion.
  • Ann Lopez, the director of the Center for Farm workers told the visitors, “Many people are concerned about buying organic food, but do they know that the food they are eating has been harvested with tears?”
  • A few, very few extraordinarily strong and resourceful people manage to break loose from this slave-like life.
  • A week later after our Watsonville outing, at the sangha meeting, Maru who had felt so much fear and sadness at the prospect of witnessing the harsh realities her father had lived with, shared a glowing impression: “As we got there, and I began to see and talk to these courageous, hard-working people, the fear melted away and in its place I felt profound appreciation, love, and gratitude for my father who had worked so hard and had made it possible for me to have a better life.”
  • To meet and talk with our immigration population, we have to make an effort to go out of our way to meet them. We live segregated from poor, immigrant populations.
  • Even when they come to our neighborhoods, many immigrants have been taught to “know their place” and make themselves invisible.
  • Have you noticed that in wealthy neighborhoods Hispanic gardeners usually keep busy and avoid making eye contact? If, however, I make a point of approaching to greet them with a friendly “Buenos días,” the workers are invariably appreciative.
  • Please notice immigrant laborers, greet them, and thank them for their work.


3. Considering our Responsibility as Insight Teachers and Leaders

  • What are the social, political responsibilities of Dharma leaders?
  • Bring to mind the difficult lesson learned by the German Protestant pastor, Martin Niemöller.
  • After coming out of 8 years of imprisonment, he gave part of a sermon,

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

  • As a privileged Protestant pastor, Martin Niemöller waited to speak up against the Nazi atrocities.
  • When he did speak up, he faced the terrible consequence of 8 years in prison and the torments of regret. Niemöller recognized that if the German clergy had spoken up earlier, thousands of lives would have been saved.
  • During his time of captivity, he transformed his view of what it means to be a spiritual leader.
  • Teachers and leaders of sanghas have a responsibility to embody anukampa, compassion in action.
  • We must not confuse a Buddhist capacity for reflection with inaction. We can be reflective and be active in a wise manner, thanks to the value we place on reflection.
  • We want to remind ourselves that it’s not only through our action but also through our inaction that we cause happiness and unhappiness for others and our selves.

A vignette from a mindfulness group:
A cherubic seven-month old
With big, black, round eyes
Bursting with vitality
Bounces on his mothers lap.
Today we are talking about emotions
Yes, recognize, accept, investigate and name….
Fear, she says quickly
Angelica wants to learn to be at ease.
“If I’m stopped in the street
And taken away
Would my children come with me?”

  • These are the questions that come up now along with questions on mindfulness and meditation.
  • Andrea feels a need to learn about the law. She has participated in a couple of trainings to inform herself about the constitutional rights of immigrants:
  • If someone is stopped on the street and asked for identification.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers (ICE) can’t legally limit their ability to move about unless they have a probable cause. Andrea was taught that whether or not you have papers, don’t show them, but simply ask the officer, “Am I being arrested? Or am I free to go?” If ICE officers detain someone without a probable cause, an ethical judge won’t consider the case.
  • Andrea learned from an immigration attorney that many immigrants have the mistaken belief that ICE officers have the right to detain them for looking Latino or not speaking English.
  • Can those of us with the privilege of education become sources of information to help inform and protect undocumented immigrants.

Here are 5 essential rules all can learn and keep handy for protecting the rights of undocumented immigrants:

1. If someone tries to serve you papers at home, you do not have to open the door.
2. The Fifth Amendment states that you have the right to remain silent.
3. You have the right for legal representation and due process in court.
4. The Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. ICE officers cannot storm into someone’s house without having a judicially valid warrant, i.e. a warrant that is signed by a judge.
5. There is a difference between a judicial warrant and an administrative warrant. Although an administrative warrant is not backed up by a federal court, ICE officials may try to use it to pick up undocumented immigrants.

  • 99% of ICE raids occur without a valid judicial warrant.
  • Since December of 2016 Andrea and two other IMC sangha members have been participating in meetings of the San José, CA, grass roots organization called People Acting Together in Community (PACT).
  • PACT empowers people to take actions on various issues involving their communities.
  • PACTs leaders consist of a multi-denominational caucus: Catholics, Protestants, Evangelical, Jewish, and Buddhists.
  • Their guiding principle is, “Across our different faith traditions, we share the value of dignity and respect for all people. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, to recognize and nurture our interdependence, and to heal the world.”
  • Although we express our values and beliefs differently, we can all relate to the organization’s guiding principle.
  • It is a challenging exercise to collaborate with people from different spiritual traditions; however, everybody learns from being in such diverse company. One of the PACT organizers expressed it as, “putting our faith into action in a public sphere.”
  • Presently PACT is joining a national initiative led by (PICO), which stands for People Improving Communities through Organizing .
  • This national initiative calls churches, temples, etc. to offer sanctuary to those who are being threatened by deportation.
  • As part of this initiative, PICO has organized a multi-tier immigrant support program.
  • Depending on your situation and resources, a sangha can choose to participate in one of the following options:
  1. Sanctuary Hosting Sangha: your center would protect individuals by offering housing to those that are facing the threat of deportation. For decades, some Catholic churches have been sanctuary hosts.
  2. Supporting a Sanctuary Hosting Sangha: giving support to those who are offering sanctuary. The support can take many forms: logistical, material, and/or emotional.
  3. Rapid Response Team: consists of people who are trained to show up, witness, and document the words and actions of ICE officers’ actions as they come to pick up an individual. Such documentation is vital to use later in court to support an immigrant’s case. Documenting ICE apprehensions does not imply civil disobedience. Andrea has been trained to be part of a national network of Rapid Respond Teams who document ICE deportation activities.
  4. Know your Rights: Offering workshops to educate immigrants about their legal rights and to help them be sources of helpful information for others.
  5. Organize a Public Solidarity Action: Find creative ways to let immigrants know that there are American people who don’t think like the current political administration.
  • A young immigrant mentioned that his mother was moved to tears watching the demonstrations in airports around the country to protest Trump’s travel restrictions. “Son” she said, “there are some people in this country who do like us.”
  • PICO’s website may list a local chapter in our home-town.
  • Consider what might be your unique contribution based on where you are based, what your sangha’s resources are, and who in the sangha might take leadership roles.
  • IMC supports and protects our Hispanic sangha in various ways.
  • Let us close with a final testimony from the 2017 IMC daylong retreat:
  • “Getting to know this center has changed my life. I feel now like I am living this practice; I meditate twice a day. I only ask myself: why didn’t I do this before? I can’t conceive my life without meditating daily anymore. The practice helps me enormously to keep me balanced; it gives me strength and power to face the present. Even though I am not personally in danger–I am one of the few who came here with papers and a job–I feel for all of you who have suffered so much as you have attempted to find hope and create a new life in this country. I have deep respect for you. You are in my heart. I have felt your voices, your sadness.
  • “The three emotions I depicted in my sculpture are the first a mixture of impotence and anger, the 2nd sadness, and 3rd happiness. I placed them in a little boat, much too small for the size of the emotions. The boat has a flag with a heart because this is the boat of compassionate love that travels through the ocean of struggles, obstacles, challenges, and injustices. It travels towards the light, towards hope. In this little sculpture I tried to represent what I have learned from this practice.”

May we all be able to stand up with the fierce sword of compassion for all those who suffer.