Monthly Resource Collection: April 2021

I haven’t felt creative lately. I’ve had little motivation to write or explore new topics, and my attention span seems to have shrunk substantially. January and February I felt like myself. March and April have been harder to navigate. Creativity and my desire to learn ebb and flow, and I’m trying to remember that. Every time I stray from my routines and rituals I feel like I spiral away from the things that truly ground me, like writing. Like reading and learning – sharing what I’ve found with you.

The good news is that I’m working on it. I think that this world is beautiful, but full of dark things. For those of us that recognize it is in fact our individual responsibility to help make the world a more equitable place for everyone, the task is daunting. But underlying our criticism and incessant desire for change, is hope. The belief that the future can and will be better.

Living my life consciously on this level can be mentally and emotionally draining, and without proper introspection, reflection, and care for myself the fight for what’s better becomes destructive. I start to burnout and become ineffective and unhappy. No one can fight all the time.

How do I practice self care in ways that are genuine and kind? What exactly is self care and how do I redefine it to be inclusive and align with my values? Why has the health and wellness community become so toxic and how can my own practices help to change that? Who has access to self care and who has been systematically or intentionally excluded from the health and wellness conversation? How do we resist while resting? Is it manifestation or is it my privilege?

Currently these are the questions I’m trying to answer. As part of the “self care” and “health and wellness” communities, but also just as a person. I want to identify the inherently problematic nature of the popular self care community and actively construct a practice that is aware and looking to change that. So we can keep doing the work.

Until then, enjoy the few resources I was able to make it through this month. Next month I hope to have more than ever to share as I delve into this big topic.

Books:

Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America, Maria Hinojosa

As a Mexican / American woman with a journalism degree, I LOVED reading Maria Hinojosa’s memoir. Hinojosa was born in Mexico City and moved to Chicago with her parents in 1962. She is the anchor and executive producer for NPR’s Latino USA, and has does extensive reporting with a focus on Latinx issues for PBS, CNN, and CBS. This wonderfully written account of her life (so far) critically examines what it takes to “succeed” in a media career where Latinx and female-identifying individuals are vastly underrepresented, and where the stories of people from similar backgrounds are also consequently ignored or invisibilized. Her feminist and intersectional approach to journalism and storytelling is refreshing and imminently relevant.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.

This book is literally for anyone and everyone who wants to better understand their own brain and body after experiencing any type of trauma, or who wants to better understand the trauma and behavior of others. Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. explains the physical, chemical changes the brain undergoes due to trauma and how this translates into behavior and physical ailments. Then gives practical solutions on how to move forward and heal.

Podcasts:

I listed to A TON of Code Switch by NPR this month. I will list the episodes I found particularly relevant and notable below.

On xenophobia, anti-Asian & Asian American hate, and racism:

-Episode 7/26/16 A Letter From Young Asian Americans, To Their Parents About Black Lives Matter https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000373164987

-Episode 3/3/20 When Fear of the Coronavirus Turns into Racism and Xenophobia https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000467407698

-Episode 3/23/21 Screams and Silence https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000514178489

On the disparities Covid-19 has exposed:

Episode 4/6/21 Spit a Verse, Drop Some Knowledge https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000516081462

-Episode 1/26/21 Stepping Out of the Shadow of ‘Killer King” https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000506707487

-Episode 2/23/21 A Shot in the Dark https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000510423251

On Reparations:

-Episode 2/2/21 Who’s ‘Black Enough’ For Reparations? https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000507523031

-Episode 2/25/21 Payback’s A B**** https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000510715382

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.

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