I Learned It From My Momma

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This is an excerpt from a longer piece that I submitted to be added to an anthology about Latina vegans. Fingers crossed that it gets chosen. But either way, enjoy!

My family has always supported my choices in life, especially my mom. She’s never been one to say estas loca, except maybe once or twice, but always with a big, bright smile on her face. She smiled when I brought home a small black kitty who I found wandering the streets when I was young. She smiled when I told her that I was going to stop eating animals and she smiled when I told her that I was taking the plunge and going to be vegan. She was always supportive of my profound and infinite compassion. She should be, she’s the one who taught me.

I remember when I was little, my mom would always tell my brother and me that everything had feelings, even inanimate objects like chairs and walls. She would tell us to never hit anything because it would hurt them and she would say, “porque le vas a pegar. No te hiso nada”. I think she mostly said it because she didn’t want us to kick chairs when we got angry and break one or walk through the grass in our front yard because she liked a green landscape. But growing up, learning and being told that everything has feelings, had a profound impact on the way that I see the world. I still apologize to grass as I walk across it!

With these small lessons, I feel everything very deeply and my compassion feels unlimited. Even as a 31-year-old Latina, I feel that living out my values is important and knowing deep in mi corazon that my actions can make a difference. My mother taught me that, she’s really the one who taught me the true meaning of compassion, which is what motivated me to be vegan.

Being vegan, to me, is to live a life of profound compassion; a compassion so deep que lo sientes en los huesos. I wouldn’t have this level of compassion without the guidance of my mother. She taught me to be kind, generous and loving, all traits that I find I can live out further by being vegan. She taught me all of this through her words and her actions. My mother is a caretaker for children who are gravely ill, children who can’t walk or speak. She takes care of these children when their parents can’t come to the hospital and keeps them safe throughout the night. She guards these children from the bad of this world. She treats them as she would treat my brother and I. She has undying love and compassion for the sick and innocent. I remember asking her what her favorite part of her job was. She said that is was being there for someone that, at that moment, needed someone on their side, to fight for them and to comfort them. She liked being there for someone at their worst and at their best. My mother taught me to be strong, to fight for justice, and to never let the world harden my heart.

I became vegan because I felt like it would help me live out my values and my truth. I had been vegetarian for almost 10 years and in the last 5, I wanted to take it a step further and switch to veganism.  I don’t have all the answers nor do I think I ever will which made it difficult for me to transition. A little backstory on this: I’m a biologist by trade, I guess. I say I guess because I got my degree in biology but I don’t really use it besides when something happens and I try to explain it to someone scientifically. But I love science and have loved science since I was a child. I got a microscope for Christmas when I was 10, which my mom bought me because she supported my love of science. I love science because you can open a book and find the answer to a problem. With a little, or a lot, of research almost any answer can be found. Because of this, I want to have all the answers; I want to be able to open a couple of books and get an answer to my questions. But being vegan isn’t really like that, just like most of the social justice world. There isn’t a book with all the answers and so becoming vegan seemed daunting. And then add the intersections of being a Latina! Ay no! I felt like it would be too much. That feeling stayed with me until this year, when the feeling of being a phony became more overwhelming than becoming vegan.

Feeling phony was my own thing, no one made me feel that way but it came from not doing as much as I possibly could to live out my values, which is what my mom taught me. She is my biggest fan and my toughest critic. I knew she would ask why didn’t I just do it if I knew that I wanted to and knew that I could. And it was true. I knew could give up cheese, milk and eggs but I just didn’t. I hardly ate these things in the first place, especially dairy-based milk, which I haven’t drank in years but I didn’t. I didn’t until I realized why.

Being a Latina is hard when living in a country where being white is the standard. I can’t hide being Latina; my skin and eyes are brown and my hair is curly. I could straighten my hair, and I used to, but I can’t whiten my skin and can’t lighten my eyes nor do I want to. I love being me but being a vegan Latina seemed like I was pushing myself farther into the margin, into a smaller part of a small minority. Why would I want to do that, I thought. I also found that vegan spaces weren’t very welcoming. I felt out of place and isolated. Most didn’t have Latinos as part of their membership nor did they intentionally outreach in Latino spaces, or even POC spaces. Being the only Latina in a room full of white folks took me back to being a child and always feeling super different, never feeling like I fit in and I just didn’t want to feel that way. I thought about creating my own space for Latina/o vegans but I didn’t know where to go and how to do it. To be honest, I just wanted to be able to pop into an already created community of POC vegans. I wasn’t that invested yet to create my own space. Plus, and this is the biggie, I didn’t want to lose the friends that I already had, to burden my partner who is a meat-eater and burden my family when I come to visit. I didn’t want to make their lives harder because of a choice that I made. And so I didn’t. I lived with the feeling of being a phony until I couldn’t anymore; until I became a vegan.