Interview

Becoming the Pillar of the Community

District Profile: McAllen District

Photo: McAllen Public Library.


McAllen District is 250 miles away from the nearest SGI-USA Buddhist Center in San Antonio, Texas, and sits on the Rio Grande, bordering Mexico’s city of Reynosa. The district has a diverse mix of Japanese, English and Spanish native speakers.

Two years ago, the district united in sharing Buddhism with others and started weekly new members meetings. Soon, these new members were bringing their friends. Last year 15 new members joined the McAllen District family. Pioneering kosen-rufu on the U.S.-Mexico border has not been easy, but the members of this district have made dynamic strides based on applying the fundamentals of prayer, action and study.

McAllen District members commemorate their February discussion meeting, February 2016. Photo: Robbie Cruz.
McAllen District members commemorate their February discussion meeting, February 2016. Photo: Robbie Cruz.

 

Q: WHAT WAS THE KEY TO YOUR DISTRICT’S DEVELOPMENT?

 

Mariko Ichino
District Women’s Leader

Mariko IchinoA: Over the years, we have continued caring for everyone, and th the district has grown. We started new-members meetings every Monday to teach them how to do gongyo and study the basics together.

When I joined the Soka Gakkai at 5 years old with my mother, our family was very poor and had no hope. My father was drinking a lot, but my mother transformed everything by standing up with this practice. I was even accepted to the first class of Kansai Soka High School. When my husband, Masa, and I moved to Texas, we encountered many difficulties and it was hard to introduce others to the practice. But we learned that the key is to never give up on kosen-rufu.

 

Masahiro Ichino
District Men’s Leader

Masa IchinoA: After coming to America for graduate school, I joined the SGI in Houston in 1980. I had no job and no money, but that’s when the SGI members really supported me.

I had the opportunity to meet SGI President Ikeda in 1990. Seeing him talking with people deeply touched my heart. I felt, I will follow this man! That’s when I seriously began practicing with my wife, Mariko. Eventually, I took on district leadership and started supporting other members.

 

Sean Gilpatrick
District Young Men’s Leader

Sean GilpatrickA: In our district, we share our struggles, knowing ng t that we’re thereher for one another—that’s what I enjoy about us. We all work as one unit. I would come to district meetings in McAllen when I was in elementary school after my father was introduced to the SGI. We were a really small group back then.

When I was 21, I had a daughter who has motivated me to practice even more and use Buddhism to become a responsible father and leader. Over the years, I’ve seen our district grow, and I try to talk to as many people about Buddhism as possible. Now, we’re always bringing in guests, and 15 to 20 people regularly attend discussion meetings. As a district leader, I make sure to let other people know that there’s someone willing to be their friend.

Marlen Ramirez
District Women’s Leader

Marlen Ramirez

A: When my daughter, Ravinia, and I moved to Texas from M Maryland in 2014, we weren’t even sure if there w would be SGI members here. I told her, “If thereere is isn’t a group, we need to start one!” Eventually we got in contact with SGI members including Masa, Mariko and Sean. We immediately felt supported, like we were meeting family!

Being on the border of Mexico, there is a lot of turmoil and people go through intense struggles. My daughter and I felt like we wanted to help people out and started supporting the Spanish-speaking members and guests. Being bilingual, I will often translate the study material and interpret during meetings.

Ravinia Ramirez
District Young Women’s Leader

Ravinia RamirezA: Now, more people who speak Spanish are coming, because they’re hearing about our meetings from their friends. There’s a steady influx of new people coming to our district. When my mother and I were introduced to Buddhism a few years ago, someone was always there for us—and now we want to be that support for other people.

Kosen-rufu is very important to me. I’ll drive 11 hours to Dallas for youth meetings and visit members. I even confronted my severe anxiety in order to go to a young women’s conference at the Florida Nature and Culture Center. This practice has not only helped me through really dark times, but has helped me use my struggles to become a better person. I have Buddhism to thank for this. Now, I want to help other people use Buddhism to succeed in their lives, too, and see the people of McAllen grow.

Members of McAllen District study at their monthly discussion meting, March 2016. Photo:
Members of McAllen District study at their monthly discussion meting, March 2016. Photo:

Five Keys to Our Victory

1. Working as one unit to encourage members.
2. Supporting new members by holding weekly meetings, teaching gongyo and studying the basics.
3. Visiting members.
4. Propagating Buddhism to as many people as possible and bringing guests to district meetings each month.
5. Revealing the beauty of our diverse languages and cultures.