By Diana Dhāraṇī Díaz
Asteya, or non-stealing, is the third of the five yamas. Growing up Catholic and attending parochial school, we had a monthly practice of the sacrament of Reconciliation, more commonly known as “Confession”. My younger self struggled with deciding what was confession-worthy (because thoughts counted) but it was a no-brainer that you’d mention whenever you took something that wasn’t yours, whether it was an extra cookie when mom wasn’t looking, or that quarter you saw someone drop on the sidewalk. It seems pretty straight forward – don’t take what isn’t yours. Our tiny school bordered Little Italy, Chinatown, and the surrounding low-income apartments of the Lower East Side. Many of us were first generation Americans, and our class of 29 kids was ethnically and culturally diverse. We had questions around Columbus Day.
As we folded paper to origami the Pinta, Nina and Santa Maria, someone asked “How could Columbus ‘discover’ a land where people already lived?” Somewhere between Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, the phrase “Manifest Destiny” was introduced. We watched “Elbow Room,” the School of Rock version of the growing of America, which didn’t feature, or even hint at, the existence of Indians or anyone else previously on the land. It was just there for the taking. And yet, when we folded our origami hats in celebration of Thanksgiving, we heard of Pilgrims and Indians breaking bread. Again, we had questions. The image painted for us was in sharp contrast to the Cowboys and Indian movies we saw on PIX TV, where the Indians looked uncannily like many of our grandparents.
We were the first generation to be taught by lay teachers, and not just nuns. These Hippies discussed the Trail of Tears, the Chinese Railroad Workers, Slavery. They confirmed what we already knew – that taking what is not yours is indeed stealing. There was the stealing of land, the stealing of lives, the stealing of cultures, of names, of happiness, of health and well-being, of freedom.
They discussed the Japanese Internment Camps. Recently, one of my writing mentors, a Japanese American author, discussed his family’s history in Internment Camps in a writers workshop. They were taken from their homes. Their businesses, houses, possessions lost and lives overturned. They were a family of successful florists whose business was booming. He asked his mother once what would have happened had they never been interned. “We would have been rich,” she said. They had just landed the Kentucky Derby contract.
Asteya. Non-stealing is pretty straight-forward, the long reach of theft isn’t always. Generations are robbed of financial foundations, of knowledge of their ancestry, of that sense of belonging that provides security. With security comes a sense of peace. And we all know how valuable that is.