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To Liberate All Beings from the Dukkha of Deportation

Photo by NWDC Resistance / Resistencia al NWDC, shared with generous permission.

Last year, on November 8, a member of my chosen family deported himself to Mexico. Since then, the impact of his departure and the unrelenting attacks of a United States under Drumpf have been hard to tease apart. For myself and many others, the attacks of this administration are deeply personal. The termination of DACA is one of many recent threads in our ongoing grief.

It’s hard for me not to think of Rodolfo and DACA without regret. In 1997, a teenage Rodolfo arrived in New York City to find work. Because of his circumstances, he was never afforded the benefits of DACA or the dreams of Dreamers, but that never stopped him from coming out of the shadows. He organized his co-workers for better labor conditions at the Manhattan restaurant where he worked; he marched in the city streets for equal rights; he put his face and voice in all the Spanish and English-language newspapers if it could lead to more space for more people to speak their truths.

Rodolfo’s courage reminds me of the first vow of the Bodhisattva path—the commitment to the liberation of all beings.

As Bodhisattvas, we pledge to first commit to the liberation of all people, even before pursuing personal enlightenment. Being a part of Rodolfo’s life reminds me that as we rage and mobilize against the ending of DACA, we must also continue to find ways for all immigrants to be de-criminalized and for full paths to citizenship.

Rodolfo speaks to news outlets at a May 1 International Workers’ Day rally. Photo shared with generous permission.


The following are excerpts from an essay, written by his partner, about the days surrounding Rodolfo’s departure:

Every day of Rodolfo’s final week in New York held a weighty goodbye. His coworkers threw a despedida party, and close to a hundred people squeezed into the narrow, dimly lit workers’ center on Grand Street to dance with him one last time. As the night drew to a close, one of the board members thrust a tightly packed manila envelope into his hand—inside were countless small, bright red envelopes, the kind I eagerly awaited as a child every Chinese New Year. And every red envelope contained folded bills of $5, $10, $20. We both knew the faces behind the names scribbled on each—Puerto Rican and Dominican grandmothers in public housing, Chinese garment workers, Jamaican home care attendants, Ecuadorian women who painted nails and massaged feet in the glass-paned salons on Madison Avenue—and we knew what it meant for them to send these blessings.

For years, I had imagined Rodolfo’s big day at John F. Kennedy. Airport security was part of the reason I wanted to travel with Rodolfo; if he was to be detained at the final hour, I needed to know. But leaving was surprisingly easy. We passed US immigration check for international departures, and as far as I could see, the blank visa- and stamp-free pages of Rodolfo’s New York-issued Mexican passport didn’t raise an eyebrow. Then we were boarding, and Rodolfo and I kept jolting ourselves awake for those final moments our feet touched US territory.

When we finally landed, Rodolfo endured what I can only call an initiation hazing at Customs that finally ended after we handed over $90 USD. Then, with a breath of relief, we were out of the airport and on our way to a last week together in the country of his birth, in a city he had never known.


The last time I saw Rodolfo was at 11:03 p.m. on November 15, 2016. I had accompanied him to Mexico City’s busy eastern bus terminal, helping to pull along one of the three suitcases containing all of his American belongings. We had arrived far in advance of his departure time, and now all we could do was wait to separate from one another. Rodolfo paced the corridors and I went to the bathroom several times. We sat in the hard plastic seats of the waiting area gripping each other’s hands but saying very little. I watched as he became the final person to board the bus bound for Tlapa that night. The bus pulling out of the station was my cue to bow out . . . but in such situations, one is bound to stay until there’s nothing left to stay for. With my feet fixed to the ground, I felt myself grow up and old in each secondhand tick of the clock. Because growing up means I had done the right thing. Because growing up means living with certain heartbreak, and heartbreak is when you can’t be with the people you love for every reason imaginable and unimaginable.

Friends comfort us by saying that we, but especially Rodolfo, left the country in the nick of time, slipping away just hours before Donald Drumpf solidified his ascension to the throne. And the stories continue to amass: just last month, a Mexican friend of ours in the Bronx was attacked by unknown men who invoked the president’s name. Throughout our entire year of preparations, Rodolfo and I never called what was happening a “deportation”; we never said this word aloud. And I never knew that the impact of deportation was an unshakeable haunting . . . until I came home to Queens one last time, touching all the surfaces of emptiness he left in his wake.

Read the full story at On She Goes.

More on U.S. Immigration relevant to Buddhists

Photo by Sina Sam, BPF Block Build Be ’17 alum, shared with generous permission.

 1UndocuHealing is a rad healing justice project that incorporates mindfulness and Buddhist meditation.

Founded by Jose Ivan Arreola-Torres, the grassroots project’s aim is “to fortify and rejuvenate the lives and political movements of immigrant and undocumented communities.”

This prayer is for all those forcibly displaced by external forces,

This prayer is for all of our relatives who are seen as foreign,

This prayer is for all those who are invisible, excluded and exploited in this country,

This prayer is for all those whose central struggle is simply surviving day to day…

We pray to our ancestors to ask permission to do this sacred work,

We pray to all great spirits and cosmic energy in this universe,

We pray to the water, to the fire, to the earth and to the air,

We pray for our maternal lineage, for our paternal lineage, for our children, for our elders, and for our babies,

We pray for you,

We pray for your healing and health,

We pray for your happiness,

We pray that you receive all the help you need…

We pray for the day when we will all move freely across this planet without restriction,

We pray for the day when we can live and express ourselves freely without being persecuted,

The UndocuHealing Project is a prayer for connection, balance and reconciliation…


2. While Rodolfo is one of over 11 million people who have migrated to the U.S. from México, folks emigrate from many different places and locations.

Did you know that 1 out of every 6 undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is coming from an Asian country? 

U.S. immigration law affects many communities across racial, ethnic, and cultural lines, but tends to have racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness in common — in addition to being built on settler colonialism and theft of indigenous lands. While obviously not every country in Asia is Buddhist-majority, all Buddhists in the world trace our lineage of spiritual tradition to places on the continent now known as Asia.

According to the latest available estimates, there are about 1.7 million Asian undocumented immigrants in the United States. To put those numbers in perspective, they account for about 16%, or 1 out of every 6, undocumented immigrants in the United States. This also means that about 1 out of every 7 Asian immigrants is undocumented.


3. Dharma teacher Mushim Ikeda reminds us of the history of federal raids on Japanese American Buddhist communities.

She advises sanghas (Buddhist communities) to stock up on Know Your Rights materials as a way of offering support in this political climate.

[T]he U.S. government arrested and put into concentration camps Japanese immigrants and U.S. citizens (the children of the immigrants) alike in World War II, including many Buddhists—and Buddhist priests were among the first to be arrested in Hawaii. They’d even arrested a priest in his robes!

4. Check out this new Immigrant Justice Curriculum geared toward white folks and non-immigrant communities committed to migrant justice.

The Catalyst Project, specializing in anti-racist education for white people, recently published curricula that can be adapted and modified.

We created this curricula to support non-immigrants to take strategic, effective and accountable collective action in solidarity with immigrant communities toward the end of deportations, detentions, and discrimination.  While this curricula can support all people who are not immigrants to be stronger partners, we especially hope white activists and majority white organizations will engage with it–and we have included optional sections intended to support white folks in identifying and challenging white supremacy.  The curricula contains many different exercises, which you can use all together as a full day curricula or pick and choose from to meet your audience’s needs.

Perhaps pair it with some Buddhist-influenced resources from White Awake, or the white folks’ caucus that meets monthly online, 2nd Wednesdays, with the North American Buddhist Alliance.


5. And who said national borders are real to begin with?

For a non-Buddhist yet anatta-resonant take, check out Illusory Borders: The Myth of the Modern Nation-State and its Impacts on the Repatriation of Cultural Artifacts.

Many of the nation-states we see on maps today were political creations whose borders were drawn arbitrarily, with complete disregard for the cultural, ethnic, political, religious, and social divides that already existed among indigenous and native peoples. … The framework for the repatriation of cultural heritage must evolve away from a system in which the default rightholder is the nation-state. Instead, where feasible and just, peoples should be recognized as having superior rights to cultural heritage.


Photo by NWDC Resistance / Resistencia al NWDC, shared with generous permission.

May all beings be safe, happy, free from suffering, and free from oppression.

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