On the Power of Words: Public Statements against Racism and Other Injustices


In this post I share a statement against anti-Asian Racism from an organization I work with at UCLA, the Center for the Study of International Migration (CSIM), and reflect on the work such statements do in the world. (Follow the link above to the text, which is also copied below).  I also reflect more generally on the power of words to transform the world. I share some of my ambivalence on this matter, but also my convictions – which lead me to continue writing blogposts despite the inner demons who taunt me all the time. (“Why throw a few more words out into the cacophony of messages out there in the world?” “Will anything I say make any kind of difference?” “Is anyone even reading this?”)

First, a bit about CSIM. The Center for the Study of International Migration is an interdisciplinary network that brings together scholarship on a wide array of immigration-related issues. The aim is to build a community of scholars, and to share our work more broadly.  Our recorded guest speaker series is publicly available in podcasts.  We also have an ongoing community engagement initiative that connects our scholarship with policy issues, and through which we take action in small and larger ways.  Before the pandemic, for example, we conducted visits to Adelanto Immigrant Detention Center to show solidarity with detainees. Our members engage in a variety of policy-focused work; see for example Hiroshi Motomura’s testimony about discrimination and violence against Asian Americans, made before the Subcommittee on The Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Committee on the Judiciary House of Representatives in the U.S. Congress. Making public statements such as this one, and another recent one on Anti-Black racism, is part of our public-facing work.

But we have wondered: Are such statements merely symbolic?

What about the issues we haven’t addressed? Given all the injustice, inequality, pain and hatred in the world, we could surely write public statements every week.

Does anyone read them? Do they fall on deaf ears, or just re-sound in the Echo Chambers of the like-minded?

I think about these kinds of issues all the time.

As an academic, words are the tools of my trade. I spend a lot of time trying to get them “just right,” but I know they may never resound with those operating from other points of view.

As an activist, I have witnessed the power of words to unite, ignite, and mobilize – and to separate and divide. I also recognize their limitations, if not coupled with action.

As someone who is stumbling along some kind of spiritual pathway, I know that words are the handmaids of our egos, and they don’t easily open the doors to closed hearts. Many times, it’s better to listen than to speak.

But sometimes, it may be helpful to add our voices into the discourses that are circulating in the world. We can use statements for their symbolic power but also as pedagogical tools. While we can’t speak to every injustice on the planet, we can help amplify ones that are rising to the forefront right now, and ones where we might offer unique perspectives.

In general, this is the approach I am trying to take to my public writing. This involves embracing contradictions: Words matter, but they are also, inevitably imperfect and inadequate. I try to listen more than I speak, and only speak when I think I have something helpful to say. (These Buddhist precepts serve as a guide: Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it kind?) I also try to accept that the words I offer may not be heard, or not taken up in the ways I had hoped. But sometimes, like seeds, they will be fertilized by the words and ideas of others, and grow.

Racist discourse planted the seeds for the racist and xenophobic attacks that we witness all around us  We can plant different kinds of seeds with our words, and trust that if enough are planted, some of them will thrive.

So here are the words that CSIM planted in the world last week:

Statement on Anti-Asian Violence

The UCLA Center for the Study of International Migration condemns the latest wave of racist violence in this country, this time directed at Asian communities, and specifically the murder of six Asian workers in Georgia. We express our solidarity with Asian American students and faculty at UCLA and with all Asian Americans living in this country. We condemn the insults that have been hurled by politicians, adding insult to grievous injury, and we call for an end to the violence in both words and deeds.

As scholars of immigration, we note that this wave of violence is the latest manifestation of a sad and almost 200-year history of violence against Asian Americans and of racist opposition to immigration from Asia. Our own city of Los Angeles was the site of one of the most terrible such outbursts: in an 1871 riot, residents of the then small city of barely 6,000 persons, lynched 18 Chinese immigrants.

Ten years later, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which, in imposing very severe limitations on Chinese immigration, inaugurated the long regime of immigration restriction, which has lasted to this day. In the early 20th century, Chinese exclusion was followed by an agreement between the United States and Japan to limit emigration from Japan. In 1924, the Johnson-Reed Act made immigration from East and South Asia all but impossible, imposing restrictions that were not fully lifted until the Hart-Celler Act of 1965.

Opposition to Asian immigration was coupled with opposition to the acquisition of U.S. citizenship by Asian immigrants. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Congress amended naturalization laws, which until then had restricted naturalization to white immigrants. But when naturalization rights were extended to Black immigrants, the Reconstruction Congress deliberately chose to withhold naturalization from Asian-born immigrants. Some Asian immigrants were nonetheless able to obtain U.S. citizenship, but two important Supreme Court decisions (Ozawa v United States, 1922 and Thind v United States, 1923) unfortunately affirmed that immigrants from East and South Asia were ineligible to naturalize on account of their race.

Exclusion from citizenship in turn set the grounds for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, as the entire first-generation population lacked citizenship and was thus uniquely vulnerable. Internment represents one of the most deplorable moments in American history. As internment occurred in the context of international tension between the United States and another country, we also see a disturbing parallel to today’s situation, and we sound a warning: Never again.

There has been much discussion as to whether the Georgia killings were motivated by racism or sexism. We reject this binary, noting the long history of racialized and gendered stereotypes about Asians and Asian Americans. These were reinforced by policies such as the Page Act of 1875, which was predicated on the idea that Chinese women were prostitutes, and are magnified by xenophobia in the context of globalized capitalism that propels many Asian women into service work.

Layered on this history, the racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric that was promoted over the last six years by the former resident of the White House was profoundly disturbing, as were his anti-immigrant policies. We again express outrage over interlinked racist, misogynistic and xenophobic violence and discourse. We hope that legislation being prepared by the House of Representatives to provide a path to citizenship for the “Dreamers” as well as undocumented farmworkers will help us all at last embrace an understanding of a thoroughly inclusive “we” that is fully accepting of immigrants and immigration and is ready to provide refuge to people seeking protection from around the world.

Ten Days?


The State of California is proposing to add ten days of instruction to the 2020-21 school year, in an attempt to compensate for learning losses during the pandemic. 

Schools are driven by the clock. We can probably all picture that great round wall clock at the front of every classroom we ever sat in. Bells chime to signal the beginning and end of each day, at precise hours like 8:14 am and 2:43 pm. The time to pass between classes is rationed, with high school corridors briefly coming alive before the panic to beat the buzzer.

Time is a variable schools can carve up, manipulate, and – maybe – control. We often do it in the name of equity. If we can just ensure the same number of minutes of instruction for all…

In the 1980s I was a teacher in a multi-track, year-round school – a time-based solution to over-crowding in LAUSD. In our “Concept 6 Modified” calendar, 40 minutes were added to the end of every school day, and a whole month of instruction was cut. A trade-off of time and space was achieved, in the name of equity: three “tracks” rotated through the building, sharing classroom space, and students across the district all received the same number of minutes of instruction each year.

But as a teacher I knew that 40 minutes at the end of the day was not the same quality time as a whole month of mornings for children. Never mind all the instructional time that was lost shuffling between classrooms, moving materials, and going on and off of “vacation” mode.

The pandemic has put the whole world on hold, and upended time in countless ways. It has forced us all to take a pause in so many of the things that gave our lives a sense of momentum and direction. We can’t just plod blindly forward along predetermined developmental tracks to a presumably certain future. We can’t start and stop the buzzer just when we choose.

Since April, I have been conducting a diary-based study of the pandemic experiences of 33 families from diverse social positions around the U.S. * Through participants’ words, we see the uneven the impact of the pandemic on the education of children – shaped by families’ social and economic positions, the ages and grades of their children, their access to technology, internet services, and technical support, and children’s particular social, emotional and learning needs. Some young people – across race/ethnicity and social class – are thriving. Freed from the drudgery of school, they are using this time to explore their own interests. And families are learning all kinds of things as they live through this moment – despite or because of all the challenges it presents.

What would it mean to really seize this pause, and use this time to reflect deeply?  What if schools led this effort? Rather than adding a few days of instruction to the school calendar – charging forward with our pre-pandemic curriculum – what if we retreated for ten days, to bring students, teachers, parents and community members together to share what we are all learning from the pandemic itself, and from our experiences within it?

I propose a ten-day educational summit, led by California school leaders and students.  That’s a ten-day plan I could get behind.

*The team of researchers on the project include Dr. Lu (Priscilla) Liu and Sophía Ángeles. The project was funded by grants from the Spencer Foundation, the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, and the Social Science Research Council.

The COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons for Schools


Note: This blogpost was developed in collaboration with my project team, Dr. Lu (Priscilla) Liu and Sophia Ángeles. Thanks to all the families who are participating in our project.  Thanks to the Spencer Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and UCLA’s Bedari Kindness Institute for supporting our work.

The COVID-19 pandemic, with all the suffering and challenges it has brought, offers us all a tremendous opportunity to see our social worlds and to re-imagine them. In this blog we suggest a few lessons that we have learned from our research exploring the impact of the pandemic on the lives and learning experiences in a diverse set of 33 U.S. households, and offer suggestions for schools.

Three lessons

    1. Social processes and practices can change very quickly, and do, when circumstances force them. The rapidity with which we collectively moved our lives (and schooling) online and rearranged our social lives is really quite astounding. For sure, it wasn’t without upheaval, dissension, discord, and uneven-ness – partly because of the mixed messages we got from our leadership. And the changes may be more in form than in substance. But we did make certain kinds of changes very fast – changes that might have seemed impossible a year ago.
    1. Existing social inequities are illuminated and magnified. The pandemic has made more visible long-standing disparities in health, well-being, economic stability, and education. The rapid changes are enacted in unequal ways and their effects may further exacerbate those inequities.
  1. New possibilities emerge, if we are able to see them. This is where we find hope. We are trying to focus our attention here, as we draw lessons from the families in our project, for reimagining schools.



While schools have rather quickly gone “on-line” or adapted to remote instruction, for the most part they have not changed basic practices to respond to the moment. Generally, schools seem to be trying to do the same lessons they would do in person, in an effort to keep students “on track.”  (We might ask, on track to what?) The rapid changes have been largely in form – learning to work on line – than in substance.

What’s worse, on-line instruction has forced a retreat to practices that we know are not pedagogically sound: ones that magnify and exacerbate existing inequalities, as a report by my colleague John Rogers makes clear. This includes more disembodied approaches to teaching and learning; more reliance on decontextualized language (without the supports that would benefit all students, and English Learners in particular); more “reductionistic” tasks that students experience as disconnected from their lives and experiences, and boring.  More drill-and-kill, rather than working with the affordances of technology to open up the new possibilities that many of us are discovering for ourselves in our everyday lives, such as the fact that we can connect across great distances, build new social networks, and collaborate in new ways. More solo work rather than collaborative project-based learning.

This reinforces inequities. Some children in our project had the material and technological resources – and space within their home – to concentrate on schoolwork. Some had older siblings or parents who could tutor them, and help them “broker” technology, so they could address problems that arose as well as use the Internet to explore their own interests. Others used school-loaned Ipads mostly just to do the textbook-like exercises the school gave them, as best they could, on their own.

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Given these inequities, and given the stressors that  all families are experiencing right now, we have been asking: How could schools support all kids in engaging in rich learning at home during this time?


There is an extensive body of educational research and practice that calls for recognizing and building on what Luis Moll and Norma González called “community funds of knowledge:” the knowledge and skills that are learned and shared in everyday contexts. This work calls for bridging homes and schools in the service of learning, equity, and educational opportunity.

Under the pandemic, the bridge between homes and schools has gotten much shorter. In fact, schools have moved into homes.  But movement across the bridge seems to go mostly in one direction, as teachers send home long lists of tasks for children to complete at home.


We want to suggest a few ways in which teachers might cross the bridge themselves, and invite families to cross as well – bringing lived experiences during the pandemic into view and connecting schools and homes in more meaningful, generative, and engaging ways.

Household Activities as Source of Inquiry

One mother of three elementary-school aged children in our study described trying to supervise her children as they completed more than 30 discrete assignments on the iPads each had been loaned by the school. María’s own mother, Isabel, who lived with the family, had meanwhile moved her domestic work outside, so as not to disturb the children. She set up a portable stove on the porch where she prepared “mole,” a heritage-food from her native Oaxaca that involves toasting pumpkin seeds, grinding chocolate, chopping red chili peppers, and mixing some 20 other ingredients.


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María struggled with the transformation of her role as a mother into that of teacher/disciplinarian, especially having to enforce silence as the kids tuned into their separate “classrooms” from within the small space her living room offered. She wasn’t always sure what the tasks required or how to guide her children, in English.  She did, on the other hand, find creative ways to involve her children in everyday activities that involved all kinds of learning – to, as she put it, “reinvent” themselves, as they struggled with the challenges of the pandemic and its emotional impact. She regularly involved her children in food preparation.


What if schools supported families in learning together,  as they participate in daily life?

While not all families may be preparing things as elaborate or culturally/historically rich as mole, most certainly they are all budgeting, shopping, cooking and sharing food. This everyday lived practice is going on around children as they try to “do school” at home, and many parents are struggling to juggle shopping, cooking, and cleaning with their new roles as tutors, teachers and school disciplinarians. How much stress might be alleviated if this work could be combined? What if we honored the work that is happening in homes, and invited children to learn about and share in this essential, everyday work?

Teachers could invite families to prepare a meal together from start to finish, and/or ask students to observe the preparation process. They could write lists of the ingredients, identify how much they cost (perhaps comparing the prices in several local stores), take pictures of the preparation process and the finished products, and write about the experience. Class lessons could involve writing out recipes (which families may never have written out before) to share, describing the meals, graphing favorite foods, comparing and contrasting different ways of preparing common foods such as rice. These activities could easily be connected with state standards in math, science, social studies and language arts.

Importantly, we want to caution against discussions of food preparation that simply reinforce cultural stereotypes or assume  cultural norms. We also urge teachers to be careful in the ways comparisons are made across households. Not all families prepare the elaborate kinds of traditional heritage-culture food that Helen, another participant in our study, displayed in photos.


Some families may be struggling just to put food on the table. (In anticipation of that possibility, teachers might offer a list of local food bank resources.)

If families do share food that might be considered more “typical” of their cultural heritages, teachers can help elicit the stories behind these foods, contemplating the meanings these foods take on both historically and in households. Helen, for example, shared the history of the Dragon Boat Festival in China, explaining why people make rice dumplings and do boat racing on this day.


Domestic work: Divisions of labor

The pandemic has increased the domestic labor required in many households, as families are spending more time at home, often combining paid and domestic labor in that space. As with food preparation, children may be witness to work that previously took place when they were away at school, or when their parents were out of the home.  This was true in María’s home, as the family stepped up food preparation partly in order to sell it as a new source of income after they lost their outside work.  It was true as well in the homes of professionals in our study, such as Luz, who taught her own third-graders from her living room while her two pre-school children played nearby. 

Why not make this a source of inquiry as well? Children could interview family members about the work they do at home (both domestic work and paid labor).  As with food preparation, they could take photos, write stories, share and compare. (See for example Wendy Luttrell’s article, A Camera Is a Big Responsibility”: A Lens for Analysing Children’s Visual Voices). Perhaps they could support their parents’ work in some way. Luz, for example, involved her own children in the work of recording videos for the classroom.

This might easily lead to discussions of equity. Who does what work, and how is that work valued both in homes and society? What kinds of work are more invisible in households? (For example, who does the work of brokering language, literacy and technology?  Here are some ideas about how this kind of everyday language work could be leveraged in school.)  They could discuss ways of distributing the work at home – and in society – more equitably.  

Healthy habits

The families in our study have described a number of new practices they have taken on to enhance their health, happiness and well-being during this time. This includes taking walks in nature, writing “gratitude journals,” hosting game nights, establishing family weight loss competitions, and more  Schools could be a place for sharing these practices. Teachers could support students in exploring how these new practices impact their health and well-being. They could also consider what practices interfere with health and well-being. (The stressors that “doing school” at home might be one of them.)

Learning together while easing family stress

We have offered just a few ideas for how schools could integrate learning activities with the things that families are doing every day.  The first step to doing this would involve talking with children and families about their daily lives: using the bridge that has opened between home and schools to cross both ways.

We are suggesting that this kind of integration could perhaps ease some of the stress that many households are experiencing at this time. Rather than adding additional, unrelated chores to family life, and forcing parents into untenable roles as disciplinarians while managing household tasks, families could better attend to their own health, well being, and social-emotional needs – which are surely greater than ever during this time. Schools would be supporting families in developing or solidifying practices that could enhance their well-being for the long-term.

For sure, this kind of creative, relational and dynamic approach to learning might not ensure that kids are prepared in exactly the same way for standardized tests at the end of the year. And projects like this might be hard to grade in equitable ways, especially given the diversity of household experiences. It requires creativity, adaptability and flexibility on the part of teachers – teachers who are also experiencing tremendous stress due to the pandemic.

This returns us to the first lesson outlined above: that practices can and do change very quickly when circumstances force them. Perhaps it’s time to re-imagine accountability processes to better respond to the needs and realities facing children, families and teachers during an incredibly challenging time.

And perhaps this re-imagining could help us make much-needed, substantive changes for education in the future as well.

Happy New Year!


When we began 2020 I thought the big event of 2020 would be a personal one: turning 60.  I reflected on my life – now most certainly past any “mid” point – and wondered what the years ahead would bring. I revisited a birthday blog I wrote in 2018 in which I reflected on the generally-taboo topic of Death.

It turned out that my February birthday celebration was the last “normal” thing I recall. I took an amazing boat ride out to Santa Cruz Island with my kids, then had old and new friends over to my house to write “get out the vote” letters that I saved until October to mail. 121615412_10158379599896928_5144305000363540761_n

That’s the last clear memory I have of sharing food and drink in a crowded room without worrying that standing too close and simply breathing could lead to someone’s death.

A few weeks later, the world turned upside down. The great taboo topic of Death became harder and harder to ignore. (But somehow, most people managed to ignore it anyway.)

When the pandemic first began, I read many thoughtful, philosophical essays and blogposts about the lessons that Mother Earth, the universe, God or the goddesses seemed to be trying to teach us. I wrote a few myself: about the opportunities that this crisis presented for seeing the social world in new ways and for re-imagining it; about the contradictions we were all suddenly living; about what it would mean to really, truly, deeply appreciate what we have right now, by embracing “the cups already broken” – the fact of our impermanence.

I joined a chorus of people who focused on what we might take from this experience:  Slow down. Be more present. Be grateful for each moment, each connection we have with our loved ones, each breath. Re-evaluate our priorities. Drive less, consume less, produce less, and BE more.

But then those lessons seemed to fly out the window, as we – especially those of us in Academia – ramped up. While Death was all around us, we acted as if we were invincible.  While the plans of the whole world got derailed, we just kept chugging along the same train tracks.  We got schools on line, meetings on line, everything on line…and we taught more or less the same lesson plans we would have, because we were worried about keeping everyone “on track.”

On track to what?

Admittedly, I ramped up my own work this year by taking on a whole new project:  a study of the impact of the pandemic on 33 households across the country, part of a study of households in ten countries around the globe.*  While this added significantly to my work load, it also helped me to slow down.  Reading the diaries of our participants, I and my research team (Dr. Priscilla Liu and Sophia Ángeles) cried and laughed and heard the lessons our participants were learning this year.  While not all their words were hopeful – some expressed great despair, and cynicism – I was struck by how many seemed to be learning profound lessons about what really seems to matter in life. Here are a few excerpts:

“Things that mean more to me now: a warm hug, a belly-laugh with my girlfriends, our little apartment with a window full of green leaves that blow in the breeze, the peaceful crash of waves at the beach, an evening stroll in the neighborhood, a freshly-baked slice of banana bread, a drive up the coast, Thai take-out, and smiling eyes peeking out from behind a face mask.  Simple, beautiful things that fill my small days with happiness.”

“I was able to appreciate spring this year. Since we were home most of the days, I was able to see the leaves and flowers grow. It’s like time stood still.”

“I have learned to be grateful and take nothing for granted.”

“We’re learning that patience and grace are imperative.”

“This time together is a blessing, and no matter what challenges come with this pandemic, I hope to forever be grateful for this time together.”
“This pandemic has taught me to make the most of a bad situations.”

“What an increase in awareness I now have on the freedom and privileges I have taken for granted in life!”

“Living with gratitude in my heart is the single easiest and most gratifying way I know of that grounds me in the moment and allows me to see the blessings manifest in my life and in the lives of my loved ones.”

“Without love, this pandemic is just a thing that brings disappointment and despair.”

As we launch 2021 I’m hearing lots of platitudes like: “It has to get better.”  But does it?  I don’t think the universe works by simple rules like that.  Unless by “better” we mean the things we have power to change – which is probably, mostly, or only, the way we view things, what we do with what we get, and how we respond to whatever comes our way.


As for my own New Year’s resolutions? Through the years, I have written countless  lists for self-improvement. I’ve also made commitments to the world – ones I revisited today, and stand by, because accepting things as they are doesn’t mean we can’t, simultaneously, take action to forge a better world. We can help the arc of the universe bend toward justice.

But mostly, this year, I hope to be a little less “resolute.”  Google’s on-line dictionary defines resolute as “purposeful, determined, and unwavering.”  Instead, I hope to be more flexible, adaptable, present, and ready to respond thoughtfully to whatever comes up. 

Because really, who knows?

Maybe that’s the real lesson that 2020 can teach us.  To get a little better at responding rather than reacting. To recognize that “better” is what we make it. To see the cups we hold right now as already broken so that we treasure them now, while we have them, all the more.download-1

*The project was funded by grants from the Spencer Foundation, the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, and the Social Science Research Council.

Getting in and along: Connecting with Clarity and Compassion


Here’s a summary of one more chapter from Mindful Ethnography – one that addresses one of the most important issues in this book, not just for ethnographers, but in terms of the lessons I want to take from ethnography for living in the world. It explores how we can connect compassionately and empathically with others (and with ourselves), staying connected with both our heads and our hearts, as we engage in activity in the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdoQ62CRXI0.images

It digs deep into the question of “othering.” Just who do we create as others (in both small and big ways, along large social axes of race, class and gender, as well as in all kinds of everyday ways).  To what aspects of our selves do we construct these “others”?   What “empathy walls” do we put up – what Arlie Hochschild refers to “obstacle(s) to deep understanding of another person, one(s) that can make us feel indifferent or even hostile to those who hold different beliefs ”? Can mind-hearted practices help us surmount them, transcending our own limits on how far we are able or willing to go – or at least better recognizing them? What might we see on the other side, and how might that help us in our efforts to transform the world?

I also share an “aside” in this chapter – on the paradox of accepting things as they are while acting to change the world – one of several paradoxes I sit with in this book as I bring together scholarship, spiritual pursuits, and social action.  (See also this blogpost:    https://marjoriefaulstichorellana.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=262&action=edit)

At the end, I offer a guided “metta” meditation for field workers: a way of connecting with more clarity and compassion with all of the people in our field site.

Seeing with Beginners’ Eyes: For Ethnographers Entering the Field


Here’s an overview of Chapter 2 from my book, Mindful Ethnography: Mind, Heart and Activity for Transformative Social Research: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zH7a98OJnOc&t=2s.  download-1As with the other chapter summaries, it is set to music composed by Andrés Orellana (Abstract Apathy).images

This chapter takes us to the first day of a new field enterprise and offers mindful ways of entering a field site and seeing it for the first time. Considering the human tendency to leap to evaluation, summaries, category-formation, and pattern-seeking, I suggest ways of slowing down those analytical processes, becoming more aware of our thoughts and feelings and creating more room to listen, and see, with our hearts. I’m curious what people think about my reflections on the term “reflexivity” versus “reflectivity.”  A guided meditation for first visits to the field begins around 6:00.

I hope this format is a useful teaching tool for introducing students to ethnography,  with, perhaps, some more general lessons for Life.


Living and Learning during a Global Pandemic: Lessons from Diverse U.S. Households




Here is a link to a blog about a new project I have been conducting since May (with Dr. Priscilla Liu and advanced graduate student Sophia Ángeles) – following the experiences of 33 families across the U.S. as we move through this global pandemic.  The project is part of a 10-country study (that includes Chile, Argentina, Taiwan, Singapore, South Africa, Pakistan, Great Britain, Sweden, and the U.S.). This blog is housed on the website for this international consortium. Each country will be posting there, so you can read about how families around the world are experiencing this “unprecedented” time.

Talking about Mindful Ethnography


Here’s a link to a Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1ssPWYWYUukHjJvkDqHcyw) where I read some excerpts from my new book, Mindful Ethnography: Mind, Heart and Activity for Transformative Social Research, summarize the key ideas I address in each chapter, and reflect further on these ideas and my motivations for writing them. I include some brief activities for applying mindfulness to ethnographic research, guiding listeners in some short meditative and contemplative practices oriented around field work.

The tracks are accompanied by music: composed, electronically produced and mastered by my son, Andrés Orellana (who goes by the name “Abstract Apathy” for his music, which can be found on Spotify and other music platforms). The cover image of the book was designed by my visual-and-performing artist daughter, Elisa Noemí. 9781138361041 I enlisted my children’s artistic talents not just to support them as emerging artists, and not just because I’m a “proud mama” (though I am), but because despite our very different approaches (Elisa via theatre, storytelling and visual arts; Andrés via music; I via research and writing), we have much in common.  We have influenced each others’ thinking and ways of being over the year.  For sure, my kids have learned some stuff from me, but I have also learned from them in substantive and important ways. They really have been some of my greatest teachers, and my own ways of seeing, thinking, doing, and being have been enriched through our extended, informal, family collaboration.  I also share their art and music as a way of balancing the heady or “mind”-centric nature of academic writing with more heart-centered stances. As you listen to my words, you can rest your eyes on the beautiful image Elisa created, and imbibe the gentle background music Andrés performs. Academic reading doesn’t have to be onerous. And academic work doesn’t have to be boring.  It can be a creative, spiritual and aesthetic experience that connects our minds and bodies and anchors us in the world. I hope you will enjoy!

The cups already broken


IMG_0607 2“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

From Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective by Mark Epstein.

On this 45th day of Los Angeles’ “Shelter in Place” initiative, I sit with my Barcelona coffee mug in hand, treasuring all that is already broken.

Memories, still vivid in my mind’s eye, but someday broken too. And new experiences that may leave us feeling a little cheated, but that I treasure just the same, knowing that these, too, will become memories, and that even the memories will shatter one day:

…Standing shoulder to shoulder in a circle with my students on the first day of class; setting our intentions as we pass a ball of yarn around, weaving ourselves together in an interconnected web that we promise to uphold. This spring, we have stretched the threads almost to the breaking point, through the world-wide web that is even more invisible but just as real.  But we each still get to hold our little piece of it, for now.

…Sitting on the filthy floor (how I hated that floor) of the room where our precious B-Club was held, watching young people of all ages move freely as they learned and played together. IMG_3924Now, I smile at video clips of those days, as our team gathers in a Zoom Room to analyze the embodied nature of learning. I relish the connections we are managing to sustain with the kids in our program, through letter exchanges, Remind App messages, and a new and interactive web page. Not the same as playing together, but precious just the same.

…Eating lunch at a faculty meeting in a small room in Moore Hall, another floor beneath us scuffed by countless footsteps in and out. (I never thought I would say that I missed going to faculty meetings, or the opportunity to re-scuff that now-polished floor.) Now, I delight in the tiny glimpses we get of each other’s lives while we struggle through Zoom Gloom meetings: our children, our pets, the books on our shelves or the paintings on our walls or the virtual backgrounds we choose to represent ourselves with. I am happy to see the faces of these dear, smart colleagues, to know they are out there, in the world, doing their good work, fighting the good fight, coming together as best we can with our shared commitments to make the world a better place.

download…Running with friends along the beach path on moonlit winter nights. (I hated wearing a headlight and couldn’t wait for daylight’s saving.) Cheering these loyal friends on, as they pounded with thousands of others through the streets of LA in March’s marathon, right before that cup broke. Now, I treasure the daily texts my running friends send, posting photos of their solo routes on empty streets, reports on distances and times; and I cheer them on in a strange new thing called “virtual races.” I am learning to run alone again,  breathing in city air that is miraculously clean.

…Yoga classes in sweat-filled studios. Holding a plank for an interminable length of time as our teacher prepared us to deal with anything life might throw at us, with a smile.  Now, I treasure meeting up with friends from around the world in my daily kundalini yoga class, listening to my sister-in-law as she leads us in movement and meditation with a chorus of tropical birds around her. I hold in my heart sweet memories of being with her in her Costa Rican paradise, along with those birds…and biting ants and mosquitos. Now we sweat and smile and chat together in this physically distanced but spiritually connected and still-fully-embodied way.

…Places, all around the world, where my feet have touched the earth. The shop where I purchased this mug, on a crowded, narrow, winding street in Old Town Barcelona. Shuttered now, perhaps. Not crowded. IMG_5020The trains and planes and buses that took me there, filled with people going somewhere, oblivious to the privilege of this movement across borders, ignoring the passengers beside them or greeting them with a nod, a smile, or friendly banter, not with fear of the invisible enemy that could spew from their mouths or the pores of their skin and silently spread. All the crowds I have pushed through and the queues I have stood in with aching feet and grumbling mind. I cherish the broken cups of these memories, and embrace the six-foot-spacing-to-buy-toilet-paper-queue that is in the cup I hold right now.

…Greeting friends and family with a handshake, a hug, a kiss on one cheek, or two, or three, or the surprising sweet salt of lips meeting unexpectedly. Selfies and video clips and group shots we took to record precious moments together. Carefree people with linked arms and uncovered smiles for the camera: “Squeeze in! We don’t all fit!”

My hands come together in a prayer, as I bow to these memories, and to all the people I now greet from six feet’s distance: Namaste.

What cups are you holding, right now?



Embracing contradictions: The beauty and terror of life during a pandemic


Words, like the virus, are circulating madly through invisible networks of exchange these days: words of conviction and certainty, anxiety and fear, blame and shame, praise and support, anger and outrage, compassion and kindness, hope and wonder, terror and grief.

Most writers take one tack or another.  Some point to the injustices that the coronavirus brings into relief. Others highlight the possibilities that emerge when people work together for collective good. Some find creative ways to send uplifting messages for the future. Others look to the past, seeking someone or something to blame. Some anticipate the Apocalypse. Others see the Dawning of a New Age.

I am trying to embrace all these contradictions, and to feel it all: beautLet everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going ...y and terror, hope and fear, love and anger, humor and horror, joy and grief. I see the best and worst of humanity, and both dread and relish what could lie ahead.

The things I am witnessing are both difficult and wonderful, both terrible and beautiful, both full of possibility and filled with tremendous pain.

They are the result of actions taken or not taken in the past, and caused by things that none of us could ever fully control. We know what we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and we also know these things may not work.

The suffering is, and will continue to be, both shared and unequally distributed. The pandemic will target particularly vulnerable populations and it will hit all sectors in an inexplicable, seemingly random way.  It will likely lead to creative solutions to long-standing social issues and to the deepening and hardening of existing inequities.

We already miss things we can no longer do, even as we are discovering new ways of connecting and of reinvigorating social life.

We will surely weather some aspects of the crisis with grace and strength, and fall apart at other times. We will rise to our best selves and succumb to our worst. This will be true at both an individual and collective level.

In short, there is no single, definitive narrative to tell about the coronavirus, just like life.

Except, perhaps, the ones we choose to tell, and work to make come true.

Where do we want to put our energy, our thoughts, our time? What words and ideas will we send into the ethosphere?  Which ones will we breathe in, and which will we block with a metaphorical mask? Could we collectively bend the arc of the universe even just a little bit toward justice? Could we tip the balance from terror to wonder, fear to peace, anger to love?

This may be the most disconcerting and liberating lesson we can take from this time.  To some degree, it’s up to us.

The coronavirus may seem like our enemy, but perhaps it is our greatest teacher – and even, despite or because of all of the contradictions it brings – our friend.Life: The Greatest teacher of them all | EdTerra Edventures