“Latino Diversity at Spirit Rock? The dance between being seen and the “I” in People of Color Retreats”


2017-08-01-PHOTO-00000104I recently spent a week in silence at Spirit Rock’s People of Color Retreat organized by Dharma teachers of color, Spring Washam, Rolf Gates, Bhante Buddharakkhita and Ruth King. Unexpectedly, as I unraveled the many identities that lived in me, I questioned what I was being “seen” for.

I’m a long time meditator and have participated in many retreats at IMS, Insight Meditation Society, Barre Massachusetts, and at Spirit Rock, Woodacre, California. As usual, I felt nervous about going into silence for days at a time, but something in me told me that this retreat would be special. Three years earlier, during my first people of color retreat I was afraid of how other yogis would see me, whether I belonged in the People of Color sangha because of my lighter skin. Not having being born in the United States also added another layer to my many identity dilemmas.  Despite my anxiety, the quality of sitting with other people of color took me deeper into the body/mind connection around issues of color, culture, and territorial boundaries.

I signed up for the yogi job to chop vegetables in the morning (after standing in a long line) and asked to lay down in my bedroom to rest my back. Two African-American women were working the registration process, and one of them I recognized from an earlier people of color retreat. Both women had volunteered to work as registrar, getting paid like Dharma teachers, based on a Dana system of donation by the participants. One of them attended to my physical needs right away, especially after telling her about the time it took to register us for the yogi jobs. This White guy seemed more “mindful” about how well he got his job done than our restlessness to get to our rooms. She offered me a motorized wheel chair but I decided to walk instead. I didn’t want to call more attention to my body. My color skin was already something I was becoming more and more conscious as I made my way into the dorms.

After a nap, I walked into the Dharma Hall to reserve my seat and to my surprise the statue of Kuan Yin and the Buddha were back to back on the floor surrounded in a circle with our yogi cushions. Flowers, crystals and other adornments decorated the altar, showing no hierarchies amongst the participants that were about to gather around them. It brought me back to those circles of truth we did in elementary school in Argentina when playing with a bottle we twisted around and whoever had the neck pointed at them had to choose between a Kiss or Telling the Truth. I always went with the second option, which brought me closer to what I was about to do all week, look at my own truth.

I also recognized the circle as an ancient tradition amongst Third World communities, African and Native American in particular, and I recognized the intention of bringing us back to “home” to the many communities that as people of color we had left behind or were forced to leave behind one, two, three or four generations ago. Our commonality: we all lived in the United States and related differently to one another depending on our historical and ancestral roots. I smiled at the altar image thinking its lay out brought us as equals, all brothers and sisters ready to strip ourselves of our egos.

A few days in, not having talked to most people on retreat and deep in my yogi mind, I began to question whether my pink olive freckled skin and reddish hair had people confused about my cultural background. My accent was what defined me once I opened my mouth, but here I couldn’t speak. Many times during my research on immigrant women in Dominican Republic and New York City, I had passed inadvertently as White, and most people thought I was a “White Gringa,” until I spoke up and shared my political views with a foreign accent. I never passed as “White” intentionally but my white privilege was at times my leverage for whatever situation could arise, or didn’t arise.

As hours and minutes went by (everything slowed down on retreats), I began to question: Am I Latina? Am I South American? What are the border differences of all my identities: Latina Immigrant, Third World, U.S. citizen, and Woman of Color? How do they include or exclude themselves? How do they include or exclude me? In a way, the many labels made me a “SATA,” a name Puerto Ricans used when they didn’t know the breed of their dogs, a “MIX,” a “HYBRID,” and in some instances a “TRANSGRESSOR” for daring to cross the lines of “pure blood” or White dominant culture.

I was sure of one thing, being of Italian, German and South American great grandparents who emigrated in the 1850s to Argentina, and having been born there had changed the way my European ancestry marked me. This stood in contrast to becoming of age as an adult woman in the United States. Many times I wondered why my ancestors decided to go to South America instead of North America, and I imagined how our fates would be different today. Besides, while growing up I adhered to a global middle-class South American rationale whereas looking up to U.S. and European culture, mainly through music and fashion in my teenage years, was the way to go and put me in a global community of personal tastes and lifestyles.

Once in the United States, I studied the ways globalization impacted inequality, social justice, color, and class, and it took only a few years before I became more and more politically “aware,” especially when I taught Sociology at the university, resisting and bringing social awareness to discrimination against the Latino/a community in the U.S. and abroad. I also saw the impact U.S. domestic and foreign policy had on Third World countries, and how these policies were connected to migration patterns in the Americas. In the beginning of the week, I even told one of the teachers in an interview, “I don’t feel I belong anywhere. I’m a US. citizen but I wasn’t born here.” Why wasn’t thirty years living in this country enough of an alliance to feel “American”? What was I missing? I was American, I would tell myself, having been born in South America. How ethnocentric of one country to take the name of a whole continent? Other times I had been able to differentiate between community politics and government decisions, telling myself it was okay to feel “American” even when I didn’t agree with our government policies. Many of my U.S. American friends didn’t agree either. I told that same teacher that I had noticed the lack of Latino Dharma teachers in this and other retreats, and he kindly agreed with me.

By the middle of the week, I felt anger and frustration with Spirit Rock for not training more Latino Dharma teachers. I was also frustrated with the U.S. government, foreign policy, oppression and violence in the world, and how every single person on retreat was affected by the larger picture. Each hour I became more self conscious and self aware of the political underpinnings of our identities, colors, class differences, but instead of going down the spiral of blame, guilt, and shame, I focused on what was at stake for me to become a more conscious, loving, and compassionate individual in the midst of social oppression.

One of the notes included my thoughts on the endless causes and consequences of our racial and cultural crossings, and the lack of Latino representation in the teaching body. To make things worse, one of them said in a Q&A session in reference to the Black Body and her own experiences: “and then we have the immigrants.” Her phrase didn’t land well in me. It made me feel even more foreign. I thought to myself but I really meant it for her, “Let’s revise the history of colonialism/imperialism/capitalism please,” and how countries’ policies affect immigrants in their decision to displace themselves from their families and places of origin. Why was being “an immigrant” such a big deal in my head? Was economics the only motivation guiding our decisions? Why did I feel on the defensive? Were immigrants not included in the “people of color” U.S. definition? It reminded me of a polemic with affirmative action in the eighties when newly arrived immigrants from South America were filling requirements that critics said “should have gone to the colonial groups that have been oppressed for generations in the United States like African-Americans, Latinos/as, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans.” After days of observing my stories, cravings for likes and dislikes without crossing the bridge between wanting, feeling, and doing, I realized that my “difference,” the one I carried in my body and psyche, revolved around the fact I was born and raised in South America, and two of my grandparents were born in Uruguay and Brazil, two countries with a large African and Indigenous population and a process of mestizaje that was now part of my historical origins, locality and identity. For the first time in the Dharma community, this acknowledgement deep in my yogi mind changed the way I saw myself, from the moment I migrated from South to North in search of a professional degree at eighteen, to a day on retreat where after thirty years of having lived in the United States, I was still feeling like a “foreigner.”

Interestingly enough, when I wasn’t in my head, the experience of my body was a different one. On this retreat I felt comfortable, safe, taken care of, pampered with good, healthy food, and caressed with love and good boundaries when it came to our presence and communion together. The peace I experienced sitting in community with other people of color was magic, and it didn’t matter where we were from. In fact at one point on the retreat I realized that thinking about our own cultural/racial origins was endless, so I began to see each person as another human being, and allowed for our common and yet unique human experience to settle in. This was possible because of our own understanding of the suffering we have carried from generation after generation around discrimination and oppression in the world. Used to spiritual bypassing in so many violent forms, going deeper into the realm of color and identity made my retreat much more real and powerful. I was able to heal those forms of violence that got us to who we are today, to be seen as empowered people of color, giving back to those who made this retreat possible, from the White guy assigning yogi jobs, to the two women in the registrar office, to the people who raised the funds for us to afford the retreat, to the teachers for giving us the opportunity to sit with them and heal with us.

My change in one week was radical. By the end of the week, I began to feel I belonged in this country. It just took one look at the meditation hall, back to our circle of truth, to look at my “other” brothers and sisters like me “to be seen.” Buddha, Kuan Yin, us holding each other’s back. Like them, I also lived here, and was part of the myriad of races, cultures, skin colors, and intertwined histories of colonialism and modern capitalism that made up the United States today. We weren’t “the hungry” and “the poor” His-story had wanted us to be for an easier assimilation; most of us brought culture, music, aliveness, resources and much more of our humanness that we were able to admit, contributing to our ongoing, unraveling “American” commons.

Today, as I write this and wait for my next silent retreat at IMS this Fall, where I was given a scholarship as a people of color to sit with White folks once again, I wonder what yogi mind will emerge as I go deep in self awareness with them and “others.” Will I be “seen” for my many labels or for who I am? Will I embrace my Latina Third World Woman of Color without the need to speak up about it? My mind/body connection begins to dread the geographical contours of my Self as I set myself for another journey inward, yet in communion with what may arise in our common humanness.



“Silence as seen in sacred places in India from two spiritual teachers: Gandhi’s last residence and the Buddha’s first teaching site”

On my trip to India, I visited Gandhi’s residence in New Delhi, where he spent the last years of his  life before he was killed. His footsteps were circled in cement as he walked to his evening meditation, finding death instead. I stood in that same place and silence took over my heart in sadness, yet in celebration of his path. Observing the pictures of his life trajectory, I relived my passion for social activism through his eyes. Soon after, grief was lifted and I treasured his simple life. One day a week Gandhi chose to be in silence, and no matter who came to the door, or what situation arose, he stayed in solitude which had become his extended practice.


I also visited Deer Park near Varanasi, where Siddhartha Gautama, known today as the Buddha, taught the ins and outs of a meditative, skillful, all united body, mind, and heart. I felt connected to his devotion for a balanced, harmonious and wise life. I recommitted to the four noble truths regarding craving as the end of suffering, and the foundations of mindfulness through the contemplation of the body, the contemplation of feelings, the contemplation of consciousness, and the contemplation of mental objects. The words, “Sadhu, Sadhu,” ended his sermon, meaning well spoken. I walked away noticing my breath. Breathing out a long breath, I know. Breathing in a short breath, I know. Experiencing the whole breath in the body, I shall breathe in; thus I train myself. Experiencing the whole breath out the body, I shall breathe out; thus I train myself.

As I recall those moments in my writing, I reconnect with the power of now, no past, no present, no future. I follow my breath, my body sensations, my thoughts, my feelings and emotions, one at a time. The mindfulness of those moments made the sites sacred for me, and I am reminded of another saying by Thich Nhat Hanh, “Real solitude comes from a stable heart that does not get carried away by the crowd or our sorrows about the past, our worries about the future or our excitement about the present.”





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Homecoming= Advent, Arrival, Appearance, Influx, Landing, Meeting, Return, Approach, Disembarkation, Entrance, Happening, Alighting, Dismounting, Acknowledgement, Answer, Revisitation, Recovery, Reoccurrence, Restitution, Repossession, Reinstatement, Reuniting, Recoil, Retreat, Rebound, Reconciliation.

The taxi driver rushed through the outskirts of Buenos Aires in silence. White and grey buildings, decaying paint, brick and tile terraces with grills and dried flower pots. Metallic antennas, telecommunication cables, windows in divided walls, rails in a five lane highway, and another Renault car packed with suitcases heading towards the airport, in the opposite direction. A sudden exit, cobble streets in my old San Telmo neighborhood, youth hang-outs and sexual escapades with my boyfriend, Mi Luna Hotel. A Coca Cola advertisement, Deli Markets with empanadas (meat turnovers) and milanesas (breaded beef cutlets), a graffiti of Carlos Gardel singing tango and Julia Roberts’ image featuring the latest Lancome perfume. A billboard of Shakira’s promising elixir, “Dance,” and United Colors of Benetton’s reconciling cologne, “United Dreams,” depicting Black, Asian, White and Native women next to the words, “I’m White, I’m Black, I’m Yellow, I’m Red.”

Trees decorated the world’s widest avenue, La 9 de Julio, where the obelisk, a gift from the French, stood in its center. Eva Peron’s metallic contour of her head overlooked the traffic. On corporate ad billboards, colorful graffiti from youth gangs cheered up passersby. Still lit, Corrientes Avenue to my right held various signs featuring names of theatre companies, local plays, and cinema productions. Many halls though closed down, their old Neon signs replaced by Cable Television and Netflix advertisements. MacDonald’s occupied the place of the local hamburger joint, PumperNic. Cellular phone stores, Personal and Movistar popped up everywhere. Clothing store’s names showed a mixed of languages and cultures, Legacy, Icebow, Sea Tu Voluntad, Crocs, The London Shop, Rip Curl, Devre, Vilaro Ropa, Ash, Urban Cow, Rouge, Clara, Cheeky, Mc Taylor, Mamy Blue, Yagmour, Boating, OGGI, Look Famacity, Cardon—Cosa Nuestra, Antonio Belgornio, Kill Jeans, Maldito Glam. They stood next to Universo Garden Angels Oils, Freddo Ice Cream Parlor, Karpatos Luggage, Los Robles Polo, Biblos Resto and Coffee Shop, Martinez Café, Starbucks, and The Coffee House. On the edge of transnational shopping, homeless people slept on the Avenue’s parks next to stop buses for shelter. The former city governor closed down the business area to private cars. Only pedestrians, buses and taxis could transit. Children dove into overflowed blue garbage containers looking for the day’s meal. Jugglers did their best at the stop light for some change. Old movies of Soledad Sylveria, Moria Casan, Susana Jimenez, and el Gordo Porcel starred in an old city theatre.

I stared out the window. Another Friday in the Cartesian calendar. At eight in the morning the city woke up from a nightmare. Youth and night owls were gone like my Dad. The avenue’s clock reminded me of the father of rationality, Descartes’ less famous phrase: “To arrive at the truth, one must get rid of everything we know once in a lifetime and rebuild our system of knowledge.” We were always creatures of habits. Tightness in my stomach. After a fall from a horse, my mom’s leg broke. After fifty-six years of marriage, her heart was also broken. Tingling signs from my overworked, burnt out spine. Love and Trauma. Family dynamics, forerunners of negative emotions. Resentments: Unmet expectations. Blame, Anger, Grief. Unconditional love: Words or whims of fate?

The car took a turn on Marcelo T. de Alvear Street, leading to the same bedroom on 1065 Libertad Street. It hit me then I lived  on a city street called Freedom since I was a teenager. It never worked. I anticipated jasmine scent from my mom’s perfume, the smell of steak and salad, baked chicken with potatoes, meat bread with homemade ricotta ravioli, ham and cheese empanadas. Her aloe plants hung from the balcony security bars. Intimacy spaces defined the outside in a postmodern world. A fifty-year old refrigerator with magnets from around the world. The same velvet sofa from their wedding gift list. Two hundred-year-old handmade Oriental rugs. The same red kitchen clock I gave my parents for their twentieth-fifth anniversary. No image of an in-between space lacking edges or borders. How many doors did I open to take a look outside? How many doors did I close to take a look inside? Crumbling structures that no longer served me. World contact led me to renovation, invention, and new habits.  Maybe Descartes was right but no one listened and lived instead by “to think is to be.” Jorge Luis Borges’ memory of a memory. Was it as real or the same?

The taxi stopped and the driver rushed to put my luggage on the sidewalk. I tipped him a $5 dollar bill. He smiled and didn’t say a word. Pedestrians walked around them. A line of youth in school uniforms stood at the 39 bus stop on Libertad Street and Santa Fe Avenue. My finger held the buzzer. Two crystal doors, two floors, two balconies, two parallel soap-operas between my mother and myself. The lavender oils in my purse soothed my hyperactive, anxious brain. I lowered my sunglasses holding my hair straight. I shook my head and adjusted my eyes to the morning sunlight. I covered my right ear. The sound of the breaks in the orange school bus penetrated my eardrum. Kids yelling in their blue and white uniforms from public schools. It used to be one of the best, free educational systems in Latin America.

The doorman held the doors as I pushed my luggage. I welcomed his greetings and update on my mother.He had a concerned look. “She was always coming and going. She must be in a lot of pain.” I nodded. “Yes, she is pretty active.” I held my mouth tight, thinking what was ahead of me. “We’ll see how she takes it.” I took my sunglasses off and rolled my eyes. “Two months of bed rest.” He chuckled, “Good luck with that.” I closed the metallic door of a tight elevator in the back and pushed the second floor button. The front entrance was always locked.

Going up, I already missed my corner of the world: grounded, neutral territory, walking on my own two feet, unlocked doors, the quiet of the country-side, orange and mint bubble baths, C.I.A agent Carrie Mathison’s bipolar fantasies with a U.S. Marine  turned terrorist on Homeland–a popular T.V. show on Netflix, two million unaccounted presidential votes, Sheryl Crow’s song “Soak up the Sun” playing on Spotify between car commercials, the barking of dogs, the grace walk of wild cats and a neighborhood fox, the smell of horse sweat, the crunch of their teeth, the bright orange of calendulas and poppies, the fresh scent of earth, the salty ocean breeze, lavender and pink sunsets, the smell of rotten apples on the ground, the pinch of black berry thorns, poignant horse and cow manure after the morning fog, a $12 New York sirloin steak from Safeway Supermarket, the rattle of raccoons at night, the stormy, cranky wind of California winters, women’s sacred circle, the fog when it touched the warm sand from a Mediterranean-like sun, soothing tea herbs from my garden, fresh lettuce and walnut salad, steamed kale and Swiss chard, the touch of my sweet lover, sunflowers in the rain, freedom beyond a street name, my embodied heart awaken in a hybrid world– my one and only true home.


[Disclaimer: The stories and pictures in this Blog do not coincide with the women and people depicted in the photographs. Names have been changed to protect their identity. I am solely responsible for the facts gathered and on which the stories and images are based. Nonfiction narrative asserts descriptions understood to be factual and may incorporate fictional elements to clarify and enhance them.]

“Yoga and Healing Arts Center opens in San Juan, Puerto Rico”

by Joy Karin Weyland


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StarMoonSky is a non-profit organization that collaborates with other resources in Holistic Health locally and around the world, founded in 2013 by Ruth Figueroa, Jesse Rodriguez and Karin Weyland. Its mission is to bring about individual, family and social awareness and well-being.

“Book a massage, a class, or join community with us.”