Blanca Pacheco, co-director of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, discusses the relationship between community care and self care, the power of laughter, and the need to elevate personal stories and wholeness in an immigration system that denies resources, rights, and humanity to people of color. Blanca shares the miracles and sacrifices of her own journey, and asks: how can we respect the integrity of ourselves amidst individualism, urgency, and unjust systems?
Read the transcript of this episode.
Blanca Pacheco is a passionate community organizer and a single mother with over 15 years of experience organizing with immigrant communities in Philadelphia. She is currently the Co-Director of New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith immigrant justice organization which she helped found. Throughout her career she has worked on successful campaigns such as stopping collaboration between Philadelphia Police and ICE, and won Sanctuary campaigns with families fighting their final deportation orders. She is currently one of the leaders in the state of Pennsylvania fighting for Drivers Licenses for All regardless of Immigration Status.
Watch Blanca's March 2023 First Monday Lecture, "Building Sanctuary within to Build Sanctuary for Others," on Pendle Hill's YouTube channel.
The Seed is a project of Pendle Hill, a Quaker center, open to all, for Spirit-led learning, retreat, and community. We’re located in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, on the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape people.
Follow us @pendlehillseed on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and subscribe to The Seed wherever you get your podcasts to get episodes in your library as they're released. To learn more, visit pendlehill.org/podcast.
This project is made possible by the generous support of the Thomas H. & Mary Williams Shoemaker Fund.
[I Rise Project]
Blanca Pacheco 0:08
Helping people see immigrants not just as the sad story. When we left our countries, we had skills. We had dreams, we had communities, we had a lot of culture. And when I crossed the border, it came with me.
Dwight Dunston 0:26
You're listening to The Seed: Conversations for Radical Hope, a Pendle Hill podcast where Quakers and other seekers come together to explore visions of the world that is growing up through the cracks of our broken systems. I'm your host, Dwight Dunston. This season, we're creating a space to explore the Quaker testimony of integrity. Together with our guests, we'll talk through the challenges and possibilities of aligning our intentions and actions, in embodying our values with authenticity and grace. Our guest today is Blanca Pacheco. Blanca is a passionate community organizer and a single mother with over 15 years of experience organizing with immigrant communities in Philadelphia. She is currently the co-director of New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith Immigrant Justice organization, which she helped found. Throughout her career, she has worked on successful campaigns such as stopping collaboration between Philadelphia police and ICE, and won sanctuary campaigns with families fighting their final deportation orders. She is currently one of the leaders in the state of Pennsylvania fighting for driver's licenses for all, regardless of immigration status. Blanca, welcome to the show. It is so exciting to just be here with you in Season Two of The Seed. You and I have been in orbit with one another for years. And when the opportunity came to just be in conversation with you, I was just like, come on now, set that up. We gotta set that up. So the way we like to start is just by landing here in the present by just asking our guests what it's like to be them today. So Blanca, I'm curious. What is it like being you today?
Blanca Pacheco 2:08
Well, thank you for the invitation. And for that nice introduction. I don't know, just sitting in this room, I just feel so fortunate. I immigrated from my country years ago. And I will have never imagined meeting so many amazing people, you know, like you, like so many other people that I meet and my work and friends that I have, from so many different countries, from so many different faith backgrounds, beliefs, or challenges. So I feel very fortunate. The image comes to mind that I like to imagine myself, like a leaf falling down a tree. You know, you don't have control of where the wind takes you. But you're falling down and moving with the flow, moving with a rhythm and falling on the soil. That then you will, you know, do your work, whatever we work you have to do in the soil. So that's how I feel today.
Dwight Dunston 3:05
Yeah, I would love to hear just a little bit more about who you arend , athe Blanca that we see here, We will get into some of your work out in the world, but would love to know about home, about the people, the places that help to shape you. Maybe it's connected to the work that you do today as well. But I'm curious about the origins of how we got the Blanca that we see here today.
Blanca Pacheco 3:32
As I was preparing for the day this morning, I was thinking about that question. And I think some of the thoughts that came to mind is the stories of my childhood. My mother will spend a full year raising a pig to eat it together as a family in a particular month of the year. And all the family will come together probably sometimes we will get together between like 50 to 100 family members. We're a big family. I was thinking of that particular story, because there was like so much sense of community where I grew up in the mountains of Ecuador. I grew up in a town where we share things with each other, with neighbors. And in that particular time of the year, we will you know get the pig ready to eat. But the first thing that we will do was like to cook the first big pot of food and then give it to our neighbors. And very early on, like the younger children, we had to become very strategic. Because it was really fun, you know, to choose everybody. We will like have a plate of food and then we'll like wrap it in a piece of cloth and then we'll have to walk to all the neighbors to give it out. Some neighbors were like 10 minutes away, some other neighbors were like an hour away. Some of them have very like angry dogs. Some of them will be good people, they will give you goodies. Like you will give a plate of food and they will give something back in return. So me and my sisters were always like fought for who are we going to go give the food to, because we wanted to make sure that we were safe from the dogs...
Dwight Dunston 5:16
Right? Come on now.
Blanca Pacheco 5:18
We're also like, we'll receive a good, some good goodies in return, because people would put candy or maybe an orange or maybe banana in in the plate and we, like, enjoy that. And I think that was very strategic for us to choose who are we're going to get food.
And I think in that part of the story for me, it was just the generosity. And it was not only our or my family's custom, it was the custom of everybody in the neighborhood. So whenever somebody had a big event where they had like a big meal, they will come and give the food to each other. And I just like think like the joy of like as a family coming together, and the music being played, like playing with each other... even fighting, because that's part of the family. And I think they also did big respect for the elders, as well. So I think those are some of the stories that I think shaped me in thinking that caring about your neighbors and caring about other people's wishes or pains are important.
Dwight Dunston 6:27
Yeah, I heard so much in that. You know, this season, our topic is integrity. We're going to focus a lot on thinking about integrity, what that means, and really exploring questions of how we live in alignment with our values, and how we integrate the heart and the hand, our words and our deeds, and live according to, you know, some of the deepest truths that we know. And a lot of these deep truths, you know, come from, how we grew up, come from our experiences in community. And I'm curious, just knowing that that's our theme this year of integrity. When you hear that word, what's that mean to you? And how did growing up, you see integrity being being lived out? Through family, through through community?
Blanca Pacheco 7:15
The immediate image that comes to mind, it's a body silhouette, and what are the things that -- if we forget about all of the systems that are, you know, crushing us, if I go back to that scene where I grew up, and everything was not perfect, but we cared about each other and we respect like living things -- the image comes to mind, what do we fill out our bodies with? In thinking about the wellness of our minds and our body and our soul? How do we treat ourselves in a way that is respectful, in a way that we care about our health, in a way that we care about our heart? And I do think like, yes, we do have control of what we put inside of our bodies, inside of that silhouette, of treating our body with integrity in our mind and our heart and our soul. But then I do think about all of the outside forces that doesn't want that for us. So yeah, I think the image is filled with food, it's filled with love, it's filled with, you know, peace. It's filled with whatever the person needs to survive.
And yeah, like going again, back to the image of how I was raised. And in the town that I grew up. There was none of those systems like... I see this in the US, like I see this individualism, that like it's, I think our worst enemy. I think back home, we supported each other, even if like later, we didn't like each other. But we supported each other and we cared about our elders, and we had deep respect for like living things.
I feel it's hard in the US and I think I woke up in the US to see all of these systems. Like the work I do is against, you know, detention and deportation that feels that tries to push out or to deny people -- in particular poor people, people of color in particular -- all of those things that our body needs. We can't have peace because, you know, our family members are being crushed, or we don't have enough resources, enough money or we don't have a job. And we can't have enough food because you know, the salaries are very low. So all of the systems are blocking us to have such simple things that are filling our bodies with, you know, peace, love and caring for each other. We're so distracted about surviving, that we don't get to experience how good it feels to be helping one another. Because there is enough resources. I think there is enough resources.
Dwight Dunston 9:56
Yeah, that silhouette. I was feeling into that, as you were sharing it and, yeah, thinking about all the things that my silhouette would be filled with, which was many of the things that you shared, right? Love and, and food and community. And then that image of these outside forces that you named. And I was really struck when you talk about individualism being our worst enemy, especially coming from the community in which you grew up where that was not a value. So there's, there's this way where as I look at your work in the world, and I see you, creating a sphere for that silhouette to really thrive. I'm just curious if you can just share a little bit about the work you do in the communities you work with, and maybe taking that image you gave us, just how you see your work, supporting the silhouette to get all it needs to, to thrive.
Blanca Pacheco 10:56
There's so many things that come to mind. I think faith is... you know, we are an interfaith organization that are fighting for immigrant justice. Which means that first we need to initiate by recognizing that the immigration system, as many will say, it is broken. We think that it's not broken, it works exactly as designed, which is to, you know, keep white people in power to hoard resources for themselves and deny the humanity and rights to people of color, black and brown. Citing faith is something that I see so present in my work, we work with Jewish members, Muslim, Christian, people who don't believe in any particular religions, but I do believe in the humanity of everybody, and our spiritual. And I think faith is big, that builds the silhouette and how we act, how we put faith into action to actually practice what the Torah or the Bible says, outside of just going to the congregation. I think that's one thing that comes to mind.
The other thing that comes to mind are images of laughter, lots of laughter, I have the fortune to work with people from so many countries, I'm going to name some of the countries that our staff is at: ones from Guatemala, Peru, Senegal, from the USA, from Venezuela, from Mexico, from Honduras, from Jamaica, Indonesians. We work with people who are from South Africa. And our stories are very similar. We enjoy having food, we enjoy dancing. What binds us together is that most of us left our families behind. But we were able to gather and like kind of form a chosen family in the US and be able to tell each other stories. So opening a chance for immigrants to be able to share what is their background, what are their struggles, what are their dreams, instead of just seeing the person as, oh, this person crossed the border, and just feeling sadness for the person. Or this person's visa expired, or this person is in deportation proceedings.
We have much more. We are full human beings who, when we left our countries, we had skills, we had dreams, we had communities, we had a lot of culture. We didn't left that outside of the border. When, you know, when I crossed the border and didn't stay in Mexico. It came with me. And I think the same for everybody. So I think we work to elevate all of that. So when we do celebrations together, what are we making sure that we include when we meet? How do we include, you know, food and laughter and joking? And people love to teach each other. And I think that's also for me a way to resist, because I think a lot of people talk about like, oh, but when immigrants come to this country, we have to work to acculturate them to the US. I don't want to. I don't want to lose who I am. I don't want to lose my spirit.
Dwight Dunston 14:18
What people have to give up in coming to this country... You know, my people have a different history with this country. But there are, you know, aspects of African culture that was attempted to be removed in order to force people to assimilate or subscribe to that individualism, because it upholds capitalism, keeps it in place, you know. So, thank you for for bringing all of you here with you. The system is relentless. And I actually hear you saying, "I'm going to be in charge of cultivating my own joy, my own sense of purpose, you know, through my connections, through my relationships, through what I've learned." And, and I think our listeners, when we think about this being a conversation for radical hope, I'm curious about maybe a specific story where someone said something to you or you experienced something, and it maybe deepened your commitment to your own spirituality, your own faith, it gave you hope to continue to work that you do want to just hold space for any, any stories or specific moments that come to mind.
Blanca Pacheco 15:28
As a woman, I think that I have gone through like different, different situations of violence. Or sometimes, you know, I talk about being proud of my culture and everything, but sometimes like dealing with machismo or stuff like that. It's really hard. I don't have any other family, and I had to fight for myself to raise my children different. And that's why this particular story has come to mind: This woman who I love her, like, as if it was like my mother and my grandmother. She had her son deported. And she fought like really hard in the campaign for us in the city to disconnect immigration from the police, the system that deported her son. She would tell her story all the time, to the media, to different people in the church, in city council everywhere. And she would break down, of course, you know, her child was separated from her. And there was a public hearing in the city that she had to testify in. It was like the hearing that will give us the victory that we were fighting for. And she -- normal, you know, we had a lot of people, we have press, we're doing our work. And we got a sense that we won our campaign, and then we were going to have lunch together to celebrate. And she touched my shoulder and said, "Blanca, did you noticed?" And I was like, "Yes, what?" And she's like, "I didn't cry. I didn't cry today." And that was just so deep, because she was so proud that having traveled through this healing process, she was so proud of herself because she said, "I've cried enough. I didn't cry today." And she shared with me like she was a little child and she was so proud of herself. And in those moments sometimes I think like you know, impostor syndrome, like who am I to be holding all of this beauty and pain and growth at the same time. And then I recommit to enjoy those stories again.
Dwight Dunston 17:53
Wow. Blanca, I want to come back to this theme of integrity. You know, our system tells us that some lives are valuable, and some aren't, you know, some people are worthy to be loved and cared for and get needs met, and some people aren't. And what I see you doing in your work, and what New Sanctuary Movement really does is actually holds out a truth that, no, every single person on this planet deserves to be treated with their full humanity. And so, what supports you to live within a deep sense of integrity in the work that you do? And how would you orient people to living within the sense of integrity that you embody?
Blanca Pacheco 18:43
I think for me, acknowledging that I am just one individual. Sometimes what people need is just to be listened, and to help them organize their thoughts and their needs, and helping them see the agency that they have to decide and what they need, using my power, my connections, my resources, to help, but also to teach the person how to like find the resources for themselves. But there might be moments where I cannot resolve or help resolve anything for that person. So I need to check in on myself. What can I do at that moment, that respects the integrity of the person but also my own integrity, my own process and be able to check with myself. What am I feeling? Why am I doing certain things? And then knowing that maybe I cannot resolve that problem for that person today. That if I do things that like damages the person's integrity and my own integrity, tomorrow, the problem is going to be there still. The monster that we're fighting is a lot bigger than me, unfortunately. And tomorrow when I wake up, I'm gonna be burned out, I'm going to be drained. I'm not going to be able to even like look at the monster tomorrow, if I don't treat myself today with respect, with integrity, and take some time to breathe and to find... to ground myself. So I need to let my ego go, and just really analyze what's going on in that moment for me. And also, when I'm listening to the person really asking myself, "Is this what I want? Or is this what the person wants or needs?" Because what I think the person needs might not be what the person wants.
And when we're talking about orientation for others, just really having this conversation about people helping people see immigrants not just as the sad story of a broken human being, but helping people see the totality the wholeness of a human being. Again, like, I have a history. I have skills. I have agency. I have a lot of things. I don't want our members, or immigrants in general, to be treated as somebody who needs to be saved, who needs to be given things to, who have no decision in what they wanted to. So, I think, for me, is when we open the door in NSM, to whoever knocks on the door, to have them sit, to offer them sometimes a little bit of water or coffee or tea... to offer them something, and offer an open ear to be able to listen and work with them and what they need.
Dwight Dunston 21:40
One of the things I heard you share, just in doing this work, is resourcing yourself, checking in with yourself, so you have your own sense of grounding. And from that from that place that actually allows you to really hear and receive the stories, the experiences, the needs of others. It supports you to have the ability to really be present for folks, supporting people to self-actualize, self-regulate. Maybe imagine themselves in a different place than perhaps when they knocked on the doors of NSM. But yeah, I really appreciate hearing that reflection.
Blanca Pacheco 22:15
And I think one other thing that comes to mind, that I've been working on and I want to continue working on because I don't think I'm good at it. This is a moment of honesty for myself. Accountability, I guess.
Dwight Dunston 22:32
Come on, now. We love that at the Seed.
Blanca Pacheco 22:34
Because I'm talking about all of this, like listening and checking on yourself and doing that for others. But I think it's also important how we do that self check-in. Because outside of, like, opening the NSM's door, I have a home. I have my husband. I have my children. I have my dog. How do I want to come back home? And sometimes I do get home really stressed because we hear very painful stories every day. And like winning these campaigns that takes years to like move the needle in it. It's really heavy. I think there's a quote, I don't know if it translated correctly to English, but it's like, "You can't be the light on the street and be the darkness in your own home." So how are you doing the work on yourself to like, stay grounded, to stay healthy? And also enjoy the ride? Because I don't know if I'm gonna be alive tomorrow. So how am I, yes, working with these painful situations, but that's not all that I should carry. I should also enjoy it. So there's moments of joy. And I think that that's a reflection also. Like how am I finding medicine or space or rituals or things that I do to stay sane? Because if I burn out, I'm not going to be able to do anything, any of it.
Dwight Dunston 24:02
Yeah, I really appreciate the honesty around knowing some of your own growing edges. And I think I'm a work in progress. You and I both are works in progress here in this space together. And yeah, just appreciate you being real about being on that journey. Because we know it's a journey. We know it's a journey.
Blanca Pacheco 24:21
Dwight Dunston 24:23
As we move to closing, Blanca, a lot of people have gotten to know you today. As our listeners are tuning in, they might know you from your work as an activist. And a lot of people might not know this part of you, the writer, that that is also Blanca Pacheco. And I'm wondering if you could read something that you wrote to your community. And I'll read the translation. And then I have just one closing question about your reflections on this piece. But would you mind reading your writing?
Blanca Pacheco 25:01
Sure, thank you for bringing that up. Whenever I do my meditations, things come to mind so I think I wrote it a couple months ago: "Un dia como hoy 3 de Septiembre hace 22 años me embarque en un camino incierto...camino hacia el norte...con mochila al hombro y con espiritu aventurero. La primera madrugada en el barco tres mujeres deconocidas me abrieron sus brazos y me cuidaron... los primeros 10 dias fueron de pura aventura. Nos volvimos estrategicas para robar comida, bañarnos con agua de lluvia en medio del mar y pasar noches enteras contandonos nuestros sueños. Que el universo bendiga a Lola, Nancy y Amada donde quiera que anden. Valio la pena? Quien sabe, el precio es alto..."
Dwight Dunston 26:04
"On a day like today, September 3, 22 years ago, I embarked on an uncertain journey, a journey north, with my backpack on my shoulder and an adventurous spirit. The first morning on the boat, three women who I didn't know open their arms to me and took care of me. The first 10 days felt like an adventure. We had to be strategic, to steal food and to bathe and rainwater in the middle of the sea. We spent entire nights telling each other about our dreams. I hope the universe blesses Lola, Nancy and Amanda, wherever they are. Was my journey worth it? Who knows. But it comes at a high price."
Wondering if you want to share anything, Blanca, just as we move to closing? Anything about these reflections you share to your community? All right, anything you haven't had the chance to share during our conversation today.
Blanca Pacheco 27:18
I think when I share this reflection and the question about if it was worth it, I think I'm thinking you know... My father passed away. I wasn't able to go to his burial. Or say goodbye. I left my child when he was two years old. So there's 10 years that I lost of his life. I don't really have family here. The majority of my family are back home. The people that I left probably wouldn't even recognize me when I go back. The paths for walking that existed when I left probably are not there anymore. New homes are probably there. So I don't know. I don't have an answer if it was worth it or not. But I also know that I can choose to stay in that painful and bitter space. Or I can choose to enjoy all the opportunities that knocked on my doors. An image that comes to mind is I left my country with a dream of buying a house. And when I was trying to buy a house with no money in my pocket, I honestly don't know how I did it. I think that's a miracle. I think the fact that I can interact with so many amazing people every day... It's a miracle. It's a gift. I remember a person telling me you're not ready to buy a house, you're not ready to do this, or you're not ready to do that. And I said, I was so many times told that I wasn't ready or that things weren't possible for me. But I chose to do it anyway.
And I always like to think of an image of a window that shows me a light far away that I can choose to work towards that. And I've always chosen to do that. And all the opportunities that has opened for me... I took it. We're always sacrificing things. I think I just have to learn to live with the pain of the things that are sacrificed, and reflect and enjoy the things that I have. And I think one of the lessons is that I try not to suffer for what I don't have, I don't have control, and work towards the things that I do have in, that I do have control. And move towards my dreams and visualize and enjoy things even before they get to my hands. So they come to me when the moment is ready.
Dwight Dunston 30:28
Well, I want to thank you, Blanca, for bringing all of you with you. For the many miles you traveled. For the many lifetimes that it took to get you here, the many heartbreaks and heart-openings that you had. The miracles, just everything you did to get to this moment. And for allowing me and us to hold it with you. Just so much gratitude to you. And all those miracles you see in the world, I just can't help but see the miracle that you are. And so, just thank you. Thank you.
Blanca Pacheco 31:09
[I Rise Project]
Dwight Dunston 31:25
Pendle Hill is a Quaker center, open to all, for Spirit-led learning, retreat, and community. We’re located in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, on the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape people. Visit us at PendleHill.org.
Many of our guests are teachers, leaders, and speakers at Pendle Hill. For a full list of these upcoming education opportunities, visit our events page at pendlehill.org/learn.
This podcast was produced and edited by Ariel Goodman with editorial support by Pendle Hill Education Associate Anna Hill, and advising from Education Director Frances Kreimer. Our episodes were mixed by Leah Shaw Dameron. Our theme music is the I Rise Project by Reverend Rhetta Morgan and Bennett Kuhn, produced by Astro Nautico Records.
This project was made possible by the generous support of the Thomas H. and Mary Williams Shoemaker Fund.
Please subscribe, rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts! It helps us to continue planting seeds. You can follow us @pendlehillseed on all social platforms.