What Radicalized You?

“What Radicalized You?” The popular hashtag turned Reddit thread, turned q and a for social media circulates through my feed on almost a daily basis. Someone responding with their personal experiences of racial, gender or socioeconomic inequity will tell us about their friend who had to drop out of college because they couldn’t afford it. Of their first time learning of a Black boy killed by police. Seeing their mom survive domestic violence. Learning what it means to work full time and still go hungry. Having a family member deported. The question asks us to think back to that moment in which our reality was so shifted that we were forcefully shoved into what felt like an alternate universe. One where we would instantly begin the search to explain the realities we lived in within a larger system of brokenness. So we could fight it. I feel like for many of us, that moment is like clarity. Contextualization.

I began to ask myself that question. What radicalized me? I couldn’t really answer it and have it make sense. I have always felt radicalized. Maybe not as a small child, but ever since I can clearly remember my high school years and beyond, I was searching. I read, a lot. I listened to punk rock, a lot. I understood on a philosophical level that our systems were broken, and yet, I felt mostly protected and privileged enough to avoid most hardships outside of money being tight and my parent’s divorce. I remember being happy most of my childhood, but critical of the world anyway. Many times I investigated something and discovered the brokenness, I would feel an affirmation of something I already sensed was wrong. It would take that idea I had and sharpen it.

The first time I remember I acted on this relearning of reality was with vegetarianism. I knew killing animals wasn’t right. That eating them wasn’t necessary for our survival. That exploiting life for our own selfish gains couldn’t be ethical. After confirming the reality of factory farming, I was radicalized when it came to food. No more meat, then years later, no more animal products at all. I write about it, I talk about it, I live that political choice to heavily opt out of a food system that is corrupt and set up to exploit animals, people, and the planet in order to make us all sick for the profit of few. But outside of being a vegan, why can I not trace my radicalization and unlearning of other systems to any one moment, or time in my life?

I have a degree in journalism. I’ve had it for about eleven years. About one year ago I started reading books and listening to podcasts written and produced by Mexican or Mexican/American journalists that identify as women. Four years of studying media theory and not one of these (sometimes Pullitzer Prize winning) journalists was mentioned or studied. Sure, I got my degree eleven years ago, but I am almost positive that Mexicans were around back then.

I remember being disillusioned and bored in college for the first few semesters. I learned about who owns the news in America (white guys), who owns the television networks in American (white guys), and who critiques this co-opted and mostly biased dissemination of information in America (they told us, mostly white guys). I knew there had to be more to this equation than reading Noam Chomsky and being upset at Viacom. I didn’t see myself anywhere in that reality, and I felt equally unseen in classrooms where being louder is overvalued and being quiet and introspective is a reason to not get the media job.

So first, I tried the theater department. I needed to blow off steam after taking depressing class after class on media theory and how corrupt it was. The problem, I see now, is there was no greater framework presented to help us understand the inequalities or reasons for corruption: theory. And then no real plan to change it: action. It was all just depressing this is how it is, and feel free to sacrifice yourself at the alter of fighting the good fight, if you dare, for $30,000 a year. I needed more explanation. I wanted to “fight that good fight” (aka: write) but I didn’t understand why I was drawn to the fight in the first place, and what we were fighting against or for exactly. There were blind spots and unexplored intersections everywhere and they were screaming out at me to be discovered. How could I write to change a system that no one was naming? It would take me years to understand that education is also a complex and often times corrupt institution that protects itself by omitting what is necessary to do so.

So, back to the theater department. I took acting. I took costume design. I loved being creative and doing things outside of my comfort zone and I felt more seen. Things like studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream AND A Raisin in the Sun are important. But I still needed more than that. I needed explanations. And I found them in the Women’s Studies Department.

And the explanations (with a million additional questions) were everywhere if you wanted them. It was like your brain could explode on a daily basis if only you wanted it to. A lot of the theory presented explained my experiences and added legitimacy and context to previously amorphous concepts. Some of it was so paradigm shifting that it took months or years of unlearning to start to understand. But each day I was a little bit more radicalized. I took Feminist Theory, Race Gender and Globalization, Water Politics, (turns out, enough to get a second degree if I could’ve afforded one more semester) and as things got more confusing, they made more sense to me, and I wondered why Women’s Studies was separate from the other disciplines because it’s really in everything. In separating it lies much of the problem.

So I’d find myself searching. And I’ve continued searching ever since for what radicalized me. And I found it, or at least a big part of it in Mexican Female journalists, writers, and podcast hosts.

My entire life I have been over-represented. In every form of media I was told I was the beauty ideal, the American standard, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed symbol of whiteness in this country. Porcelain skin. Barbies look like me, Disney princesses look like me, the people on Saved by the Bell and Full House looked like me. I would be hard pressed now, or growing up, to turn on the TV or look at a beauty, fashion, or fitness ad anywhere in this country without seeing someone who looks like me.

But they aren’t me. They’re only half of me. The other half goes unnamed, erased, invisibilized and ignored. Or worse, vilified. My mother is a Mexican immigrant. I am biracial. I am simultaneously represented everywhere while being erased from almost all narratives. Because of my biracial identity, I rarely centered whiteness, aware that I was half Mexican, which equally deserves to be centered. Yet I was constantly told through popular culture, education, and media that my white half is the valued half, the half that is seen and recognized. The half that is worthy and entitled. So what becomes of the other invisible me?

What radicalized me was not one moment, but a million little moments of denying my identity (almost always unintentionally or unconsciously) in a country that favors whiteness. I was taught to erase half of myself in order to step into the immense privilege the other half gives me. This happens in small ways and in big ways. Sometimes the erosion happens slowly as I choose silence and privileged whiteness over pain and confrontation. Sometimes it’s more obvious. A swift mental breaking down amidst the dual concepts of being entitled to everything while simultaneously being entitled to nothing.

Example:

I’ve never felt afraid or discriminated against due to the color of my skin, my language, or my accent.

I once stood in front of a white woman, doing her makeup in the mall when she flippantly mentioned her disdain for Mexican immigrants who are “illegal” and “taking our jobs.” This comment came from no where and was completely out of context. As she looked into my blue eyes for confirmation, seeing a camaraderie implied by our common whiteness. I was stunned, but not too stunned to tell her I was half Mexican, and my mom was a Mexican immigrant. She said nothing for the rest of the appointment.

Was I worthy of this job? Was my mother worthy of existence? And if she wasn’t, wouldn’t that mean I wasn’t?

Example:

I have never felt that I’ve lost business / clients or am perceived to be lazy or less competent because of the color of my skin, my country of origin, or the language I speak.

I was once giving a routine facial to a client I’ve seen once a month for years. Off topic, she mentions the laziness of “illegal immigrants” who could simply fill out the form online to become a citizen, but choose not to do so. She went on to explain the simplicity and ease of this one form that she perceived would magically lead to their instantaneous citizenship.

I chose, in that moment, for her white comfort, to explain the complexities and hardships of becoming a US citizen using an example of a close friend from Australia who married a US Marine. I chose to erase my Mexican family (and half of myself) in that moment to avoid a combative response.

What does that say about me? I was born to someone she just described as incompetent and lazy. In that moment I used my whiteness as a shield, a shroud. Something to protect myself but also to protect that client and her racism and xenophobia.

My husband wonders why I don’t speak Spanish. Why I don’t cook recipes passed down for generations. And the only explanation I can seem to come up with is a slow and insidious wringing out of Mexican culture. A reduction in browness that has everything to do with a generations-long assimilation into whiteness, which in this country is synonymous with being American.

A piece chips off when my mother tells me she’d be mistaken for the maid or nanny when we’d go on outings together when I was small.

Another piece falls away every time I check a box. Whiteness is a social construct so why is it even on there? Which do I choose? I’m half of each but constantly told by the country I live in to only choose one.

My high school Spanish class was made up of 99% white kids who were instructed to dress up like “Mexicans” as part of a required project. I spoke up, was ignored, and got a lower grade for “non-participation.” Another piece is chipped off.

A piece chips off when my parents moved away from the city to raise my sister and I in a “safer,” small, rural, white town. I learn safety is synonymous with whiteness. I’m slowly taught to leave my browness behind in a place where it’s completely erased.

But my mom did the best she could to show us. Every summer I would play with my Barbies (that looked like me) in a small two bedroom Los Angeles apartment where those few familiar notes of La Cucaracha regularly blared indoors from somewhere out on the street. Where my grandparents, aunts and uncles would talk in Spanish over a loud telenovela while smoke from chilis burning on an open flame wafted out the sliding glass door. Mama took us to Olvera Street where we watched beautiful women twirl in their folklorico skirts. Grandma always had money for Paletas, or Helados bars from the ice cream man at the park, or who drove on our block. And grandpa loved his fresh conchas that would sit on the dining room table next to the fresh fruit.

I felt shuffled between one world where I looked like no one, and felt that I only partially belonged, to another world where I looked like everyone, and still felt like I barely belonged.

I am over represented everywhere, yet invisabilized everywhere. My double life radicalized me. My journey to mend my two identities into one whole person radicalizes me now.

My Favorite Vegan Junk Foods Right Now… that you don’t need to make yourself.

I love snacks. All of them. Sweet and savory alike. My husband would tell you I especially love chips and salty things and he would be right. I also have (at this point) quite a few options I make at home, but sometimes I just want to be lazy and go to the store to buy them like everyone else. I also find that new vegans and those of us trying to reduce consumption of animal products frequently wonder what vegan snacks are easy, delicious, and accessible.

Luckily I love finding vegan junk food that is either refined sugar free or extremely low in refined sugars, with fairly clean, organic ingredients, that are sourced ethically. It’s junk food without the corn syrup, food dyes, and questionable chemicals. That used to be a tall order. Today it’s becoming commonplace to find these types of items in your local health food store or COOP and I’m here to show you my favorite go-to junk food snacks of the moment. No time in the kitchen required!

Siete Foods Grain Free Tortilla Chips

The first item on the list are my favorite chips from Siete Foods. I personally love the Fuego and Nacho flavors because they remind me of classic Doritos without all the questionable ingredients. They’re delicious and crispy, and come in tons of options. This company also makes salsas, seasonings, taco shells, and miscellaneous other products.

Ingredients from Fuego Flavor
The Empowered Cookie Double Chocolate Chunk

Next is The Empowered Cookie. I found these when looking for alternatively-sweetened treats. Most of the cookies use coconut nectar to sweeten them, and the flavors are delicious! I enjoy Double Chocolate Chunk and Chocolate Chip Cherry the best. I’ve made these into ice cream cookie sandwiches and they’re amazing with some vanilla ice cream!

Ingredients from Double Chocolate Chunk
Coconut Bliss Dairy-Free Frozen Dessert Madagascar Vanilla Bean

Speaking of ice cream cookie sandwiches… Coconut Bliss recently came out with several flavors that are sweetened with agave and have extremely simple ingredients. They’re very creamy, and do not have a coconut taste like many of their ice creams have in the past. I love classic vanilla, but there are many to choose from. Some are sweetened with sugar so if this matters to you, make sure to check the flavors you’re interested in before purchasing.

Ingredients from Madagascar Vanilla Bean
Lesser Evil Paleo Puffs “No Cheese” Cheesiness

These are classic. For anyone who loves Cheetos… just pick these up. Warning: they are very addicting!

Plant Snacks Vegan Cheddar Cassava Root Chips

On that note… do you love Cheez-its? Try these. They’re not quite as cheesy, but delicious and much more crispy.

Sweet Earth Big Sur Breakfast Burrito

For the last couple of junk food suggestions I thought I would include grab and go options. I love these when I’m running errands on my day off. I can pop them in the microwave and be on my way in a few minutes.

Right Foods Vegan Ramen Chicken Flavor

Sometimes you just want a good old Cup O’ Noodles that is ready quickly. My best friend introduced me to these and I recently picked some up at my local COOP. Quick, easy, and delicious on cold, rainy days! Also, these have much cleaner ingredients than traditional prepackaged ramen, and there are several vegan options to choose from.

Ingredients from Vegan Ramen Chicken Flavor

All of the options listed today I am able to find locally at our Eureka / Arcata COOP stores and Eureka Natural Foods grocery stores. However, they are also available to purchase directly. Please see links below for reference and happy snacking!

https://sietefoods.com

https://www.empoweredcookie.com

https://coconutbliss.com

https://lesserevil.com

https://plantsnacks.com

https://www.goodnes.com/sweet-earth/

https://rightfoods.com/shop/

Fitness Update

Fitness and healthy eating has remained a huge part of my daily life, but I haven’t posted about it recently. Over the last six years I’ve worked hard to reach numerous fitness goals, have challenged myself with various changes in my diet, taken supplements, taken classes, worked closely with a personal trainer, and finally I’ve ended up here. Happy. And at a mentally stable place with my eating and exercise habits. So that’s why I haven’t been writing about it. I just feel good and normal, with nothing to report.

Then I saw that picture. The one posted up there at the header. My personal trainer snapped it of me a couple weeks ago and posted it to social media. I literally clicked on the tagged post and for a few seconds didn’t understand why she tagged me. Sure, I have a mask and hat on. But that’s no excuse to not recognize yourself. Once I realized it was me I still had a hard time believing that was my actual body. In my own mind, the only way I could convince myself was by verifying my outfit. Adidas NMDs, check. Engagement ring, check.

Seriously. In my mind, I’m still in the “before” picture body.

Most of us spend a fair amount of time taking pictures of ourselves. Those of us on a “fitness journey” may take more than most. I used to take pictures all the time. Usually ones I would never share. In a bikini, same light, same posture, hopefully thinner here. Thicker there. But living in your own body on a daily basis distorts your view. And some things you see, but I’m convinced that most details are lost. Until you literally do not recognize yourself. For better or for worse.

I’m sharing this with you because my goals have evolved from weight loss, to toning, to endurance, and landed solidly about five years ago at muscle building and strength. I’ve been putting in the daily work for YEARS, yet I was still unwilling to give myself and my body any recognition for it. Whether consciously or unconsciously, I just couldn’t see the changes. Like, really see them. I stopped craving the physical validation, but in doing so I forgot to see my progress. I stopped beating myself up (yay!) but forgot to give myself the gold stars I earned.

What’s funny about that is I’m not unhappy about it. I am actually the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m 32 years old and finally comfortable in my body. I’m strong, capable, my hip dips only go away when I drop to an unhealthy weight I will not sustain, and I’ve accepted that as okay. Do I love them and call them beautiful on a daily basis? Nope. But do I actively curse them every time I get dressed in the morning? Not anymore. I happily wear leggings to work when I’m bloated, and if something is too tight I don’t take it personally. I don’t count calories or macros. I don’t own a scale and haven’t weighed myself in years. I don’t feel guilt associated with food, and most of the time I happily enjoy working out. The only time I get angry with clothes is when the arms are too short. And that, while annoying, is not something I take personal responsibility for. It seems silly to me now, that I used to make things like my feet being a size 9 (“too big”) and the unflattering nature of low rise jeans on my body MY problem. As if societal standards of beauty are my body’s responsibility to uphold and low rise jeans are a reason to beat myself up. Yet we all let ourselves take those things personally. Fuck that.

It’s taken me a long time to get here. I’m not perfect and things will still bother me from time to time, but I practice active resistance. It’s the bra’s problem, not my breasts’ problem. You know what I mean? I think that’s the key to finding your strength. Recognizing that those norms are all made up. Probably by some guy in a board room filled with mostly a bunch of other guys. And then let it go because it’s not our responsibility to fit our boob into the cup they gave us. (I’m being funny, but seriously.) I’m making my own cup. And filling it however I see fit.

I’m lifting more weight every week. I’ve officially gone up an entire jean size in the last six months, and that photo made me realize I’m doing it. I’m getting stronger every day. I just didn’t realize how much.

BEFORE I started strength training / living an entirely plant-based lifestyle.
Almost 5 years of strength training and living an entirely plant-based lifestyle.

So, now for the details.

Out of respect for my amazing trainer and nutrition coach Katie, owner of Rebel Strength & Wellness (who I’ve been working with this entire time), I will not post exact workouts. But here is the routine I’m currently on:

Workout 5 Days / Week

Day 1: Personal Training: Heavy Lower Body Hack Squat / Leg Press, 50 Min

Day 2: At Home: Heavy Upper Body Bench / Misc, 1 Hour

Day 3: At Home: Heavy Lower Body Deadlift / Misc, 1 Hour

Day 4: At Home: HIIT Style Booty / Legs with body weight and resistance bands, 1 Hour

Day 5: At Home: Heavy Lower Body Squat / RDL, 1 Hour

The other two days of the week I give myself the option to rest, or do something easy and relaxing, like going on a walk. Because of the pandemic I have not been going to Pilates or Yoga, but hope to add those back in as soon as possible. They help with flexibility, core strength, and form.

The other important piece of my current fitness routine is my nutrition. As I said earlier, I intuitively eat all vegan / plant-based foods. To supplement that, I take a multivitamin, vegan BCAA, B12, B6, Magnesium, Zinc, Cranberry, and CBD. I no longer use protein powder or other supplements. Also, the fact that I quit drinking alcohol and eating refined sugars about two and a half years ago cannot be left out. Those have been game changers.

Stay tuned for a detailed “What I Eat in a Week” post. Coming soon.

Trainer / Nutrition Coach: https://instagram.com/rebel_strengthandwellness?igshid=eyp25nciwhom