At New Latina, we celebrate and honor diversity among Latina women. The Spirituality Series showcases Latina women’s faith and spirituality, highlighting how they choose to live a centered and guided life.
Spirituality Profile: Laura H. Sanchez
Married, Two children
Occupation: Laura works outside of the home in loan administration for a capital services firm.
1. What religion/faith are you currently practicing? How did you come to know your religion? Family? Personal choice? Have you always been a part of this faith background?
Currently I practice Buddhism, not any particular school of it, although I seem to gravitate towards temples that practice what is called the Pure Land school of Buddhism. In terms of how I came to know my religion, my journey was kind of a long one although my mother said that when I was first exposed to Buddhism at about 9 years old (ironically as part of the Sunday school of the Unitarian church I attended at the time), I immediately was fascinated. So maybe that seed was planted a long time ago and I just didn’t realize it myself until about 8 years ago.
My father was of Jewish background and my mother was raised Catholic. My father felt Jewish from a cultural standpoint but not religiously, whereas my mother was disenchanted with the Catholic faith period. They fell into the Unitarian faith (a humanistic religion) and felt it would be fine to raise me Unitarian since there would be much freedom of thought and that I could ultimately choose my own religion. So, I stayed with the Unitarian faith until college where I explored the faiths of Non-Denominational Christian, Baha’i, Lutheran and finally came full circle to Buddhism where I am today. And plan on staying.
2. What was it like for you growing up with this or another religious background and how did that impact your perception of faith and family traditions as an adult?
It was difficult at times to be Unitarian since not many people were familiar with it as a faith. I felt like I had to explain myself all the time. My Jewish friends wanted me to attend Hebrew school with them and my Christian friends wanted me to attend mass. As an adult, particularly as I worked my way through the Baha’i faith and now that I practice the Buddhist faith, still misunderstandings occur. People wanted to pray for me because they thought the Baha’i faith was a cult. (While I left the group I worshipped with on unhappy terms, it had nothing to do with the faith being cult-like).
While as a Buddhist there is some concern, it doesn’t seem to stir up the same type of references or perhaps we have become more open-minded as a society. I think if nothing else there is more familiarity with different faiths than when I was a child.
3. Do you think that your faith traditions and beliefs play a role in your personal or family identity? How so?
Certainly my faith (and my husband’s lack thereof) plays a role in both my personal and our family’s identity. My husband is Latino, I am Anglo, our biological son is therefore Mexican/Irish/German/Jewish and our daughter who is adopted, and while has every right and access to the above heritages, is technically Guatemalan. So when you throw in a Buddhist mom, an agnostic Dad and undecided children to the above mix, let’s just say we’re not a mainstream family.
My hope is that our embracing of all of the above helps our children grow a strong sense of self and acceptance and tolerance of different views. To know that it’s okay to be different, even better than okay, that it’s fun and even “cool” to be different.
4. What are some common misconceptions about your faith that you would like to explain to others?
Common misconceptions of my faith . . . That Buddhists do not eat meat and that Buddhists do not believe in God. In terms of vegetarianism while many schools of thought “require” vegetarianism, it seems that just as many do not. There is a lot of room for interpretation but I think it is safest to say that Buddhism encourages vegetarianism as you can be assured that what you are eating was not killed for you to eat per se as in the case of a cow, chicken or a fish.
In terms of God, while the Buddhist faith is not one where you worship God or equivalent deity, I think that many Buddhists may well believe in God, although they may not take the form that one is accustomed to in Judeo-Christian faiths. What I take away from the teachings is that just having belief in God or a deity will not bring you enlightenment or nirvana, which is the ultimate goal.
5. What do you think are the most comforting things about your faith? Why do you feel it’s the best fit for you?
What I find comforting is the emphasis of working on one’s own character and flaws to improve your happiness. I suppose most faiths have that as part of their belief system but for me, praying is looking for a specific outcome, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s as if you are requesting that life take a certain path. Whereas with meditation, I feel as though you are opening yourself up to accept a situation, whether the outcome is what you wanted it to be or not. Much of the faith is very simple but as we know, sometimes the very simple tasks can be the most difficult.
I have children’s books for my son on Buddhism and they are generally made up of very short stories. And I like the ones on anger, on naming your anger, so that you can recognize that you are angry. Rather than tell yourself, “You shouldn’t be angry. Anger is a bad emotion”, you name the anger, you recognize the anger, and that in and of itself can help it dissipate.
Very often when I am in a house of worship of another faith, I feel like I am being talked to by whoever is presiding over the service as if I were a small (and not very bright) child. It’s as if you walk in there and all your common sense went whoosh right out the window. Whereas I feel that Buddhists talk to adults and children with respect and the expectation that they are intelligent, capable human beings. That’s not to say I don’t learn when I attend a Buddhist service, I do, but I don’t feel like they had to “dumb it down” for us lay people or as if I had been naughty and need a reprimand.
6. What are some things about your faith that might be difficult for individuals to adjust to? Have you found certain aspects challenging?
I suppose that a lot of people from the West would expect any faith they follow to have God in a central place or follow some deity. It’s not a requirement for me because while I do believe in God, my concept is to be inspired by God rather than blindly obey his commands. So, I’m sure many people in the states would find Buddhism a difficult switch, particularly if they come from a Jewish, Christian or Muslim background.
7. How do you practice religious traditions in your daily life? What is your daily or weekly routine like?
Incorporating Buddhism in our daily life is still a work in progress! Since the temple we were attending closed their children’s program to “focus” on the adult programming, we’ve been without a place of worship however there is a temple that I am looking to check out. On an internal level, I meditate, read books with my son about Buddha and principles of the faith and just generally try to live my life in accordance with the precepts.
Laura Sanchez lives with her husband and two children in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. Both are both fluent Spanish speakers and are raising their children bilingually. Laura works outside of the home in loan administration for a capital services firm. She enjoy reading, listening to music and exploring different cultures.