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You Are My Other Me

In southern Arizona, where I live, many people think that it’s illegal to give exhausted desert travelers water, food, and shelter. Go ahead and re-read that first sentence.


It’s hard to find someone on the street who would argue that another human being should be denied such basic humanitarian rights.  Even here in southern Arizona, where border enforcement is part of daily life, we have yet to meet a reasonable person who believes that the punishment for immigration violations should be death by dehydration in the desert.  Most people don’t want to inflict harm. Most people feel uneasy when they see others suffer. So why are we afraid to help the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, brothers, and sisters who thirst under the desert sun? How did we get so confused about when to reach out to someone else in trouble? What is this story, spun so fearfully, that separates us from our human tenderness?  This is not a naïve musing. This is a difficult inquiry, asked on behalf of the more than 2,000 undocumented migrants who have died in the last decade along the brutal Arizona-Mexico border, and for the families waiting by the phone, for news of their loved one, now crossing.


Buddhists speak to each other about the natural arising of compassion, when conditions are ripe.  We talk and talk about it because it can be hard to trust the idea.  Doubt creeps in.  Can we humans overcome the obstacles that obscure our basic goodness?


We all know what it means to have nothing left to give.  We have all experienced personal boundary/border violations and we all erect walls to protect our sense of self (yes, liberals too). Even after we’ve been clued-in about self and its illusory nature, the mind persists in perceiving threat where there is none.  


If you met a traveler in the desert, so many things would arise within you.  It’s been my experience that, given permission, compassion can be one of those things.


There’s a poem, written by activist/poet Luis Valdez, that was recited daily in Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program, a program that was ultimately banned by the state legislature in 2012. It borrows a phrase from a Mayan greeting that recognizes our interdependent connections to other humans.  Find it below, and click here to support an upcoming humanitarian aid project in the Arizona-Mexico border region or here to learn more about ongoing efforts to end death in the desert.


In Lak Ech


Tú eres mi otro yo
You are my other me.
Si te hago daño a ti
If I do harm to you,
Me hago daño a mí mismo
I do harm to myself;
Sí te amo y respeto
If I love and respect you,
Me amo y respeto yo
I love and respect myself.


- From Luis Valdez’s “Pensamiento Serpentino”

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