Running while being a womxn: My reflections after a scary run

So, I was going to write about tips and tricks on transitioning to veganism, and I will, but I had to get something off my chest.

Fuck. The. Patriarchy.

Obviously these words shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that follows this blog, or follows me on Instagram or I’m friends with on Facebook but I felt I needed to state that just right off the bat, just in case anyone had any doubts.

I’m writing this because I had a clear reminder that as a womxn, particularly a womxn of color, I am not safe in this world. I’m not safe because of the color of my skin. And I’m not safe because of the gender that I present myself as and I identify with.

I am a runner. I love to run. I don’t always like it but I always love it. Right now I’m training to run my first full marathon; 26.2 miles of hard work and sweat. So to get to that amount of running at one time, I have to train a lot. And most of those training runs I do on my own in the morning before work.

On one of these runs earlier this week was when I had that moment of clarity; that fuck the patriarchy moment. I run up this big hill by my house to get in the practice of having to run up a hill. And on this run, I ran next to a car that had it’s door open. I ran a little away from the open door with caution and then went on my way. I then see the same car drive up the hill. I think nothing of it because it’s a pretty busy street as it leads to a freeway. But I then see that the car has pulled over and is idling. I freak out a bit and stop. I pretend that I’ve reached my goal and am just resting while I look at the car through my peripheral vision. But the car doesn’t leave. It’s just there idling on the side of the road. Finally, after about a minute or so, like the driver can tell that I’m not going any farther, it speeds off.

I start to run down the hill with tears streaming down my face. I’m frightened and I look over my shoulder every few seconds or so just to make sure that the car is not following. To some, this might feel like an overreaction. Like what if the guy was checking his phone? Or thought he forgot something and puled over? That could have been the case. But in my mind, this guy is following me. Plus, I’m not taking nay chances. I’d rather be wrong and offend this guy than be right and be in a bad, or even fatal, situation.

As I get down to about the middle of the hill, I start to get angry. I’m angry at the whole fucking situation. I’m angry that this fear even exists. I’m angry that I do so many things to keep myself safe and yet I’m never safe. I list out in my mind all the things that I do in my life every day to avoid dangerous situations:

I don’t run when its too dark so either too early in the morning or too late in the evening

I only run with one earbud in or my music extra low

I don’t walk or run on empty streets

I run against traffic so that a car can’t sneak up behind me

I don’t park next to vans or large trucks

I walk to my car with my keys in my hand

I walk alert and not on my phone

I know where all the exits are in a room

I make sure to look people in the eye and try to memorize something about them that is distinguishable

And then I start to think of all the things that I’ve heard other women do to keep themselves safe.

They take self-defense courses

They carry pepper spray

They carry tasers

They carry whistles

We know not to yell “help” but to yell “fire” to make sure that people will actually come help you.

We go out in groups and go to the bathroom in groups

And yet, we’re attacked, raped, hurt or killed. We try to avoid bad situations and yet we still hear attacks on womxn happening every day.

But the worse part of it all is when a womxn is attacked she is asked questions like:

what were you wearing?

how much did you drink? were you drunk?

well, were you by yourself? why didn’t you go with a friend?

were you alert?

why didn’t you get a taser? or learn self-defense? or learn to shoot a gun?

We are usually blamed for the attack. We didn’t take care of ourselves, is the thinking. We know what the world is like. Why didn’t we just take care of ourselves?

It’s like fuck! Let me just not step out of the fucking house ever. Oh wait! That won’t help either because a majority of attacks are done by people womxn know so even your house may not be safe because it could be someone you live with or your related to. Or someone could break into your house and attack you in your home. So shit, I guess no where is safe.

I thought about all of this as I continued to run home, tears streaming down my face. I felt so angry. So humiliated, at first. Like I had done something wrong. Like I should know better than to be by myself. And then, I got angry for blaming myself. Because it wasn’t my fault. I had done everything I could do to “keep myself safe” but there will always be people out there determined to hurt you. They will be bigger and stronger. They’ll have a gun or a knife or be trained in multiple types of martial arts. They will get you if they want you.

if-i-had-a-hammer-id-smash-patriarchyI don’t say this to scare womxn. I say this to make my first point. Fuck the patriarchy. Rape and sexual attacks are not the fault of the womxn attacked. It is society who is at fault. The attacks on womxn are a symptom of a much bigger issue that we have to deal with as a society: sexism. Womxn have been objectified and sexualized for who knows how long. We’ve been made into things, not people. This is the problem we need to fix. We don’t need to keep womxn wrapped up in bubble wrap, hidden away so that we are safe. We need to change the way that womxn are seen in society. We need to stop blaming womxn for being attacked and start blaming the attackers and society for attacking.

When I got home from my run, after feeling all sorts of emotions, The Boo asked me how my run was. For a split second I debated about whether or not I would tell him. For 2 reasons, one because I didn’t want him to have to worry about me and two, because I didn’t know what his reaction would be. But I decided to trust him and so I told him. He came over and said that he was sorry. He was sorry that the world was so unfair and that I couldn’t even go for a run without feeling fear. That we would make a plan about how to make me feel safer. But he said, for now he’d come on my runs until I told him I felt better. And that’s what we’ve done for the last week. And we’ll continue to do for a bit. At least when I run in my neighborhood.

flat,800x800,075,f.u4What I got the most from was his reaction. It gave me a sense of safety but also hope. Hope in that if we as womxn continue to tell the men in our lives what we really endure every day for being womxn, then maybe we can start changing things because honestly, we can’t wait for men to get their shit together and change it. We need to do it, force the change, demand it. And not to feel shame for wanting a better, safer world for womxn. For me, it’s not about blaming men. It’s about dialogue around the real issues and working to change them. It’s about destroying the patriarchal society that we live in. That allows men to hurt womxn and have no consequences. It’s society that allows rape to endure, attacks on the right for womxn to choose. It about taking apart the society and building one that’s more inclusive. It’s not just about equal pay for equal work or breaking the glass ceiling. Its about changing or destroying the structures as we know it that hold womxn down or blame us for the violence that we endure.

it’s about smashing the patriarchy!

I’m sharing with all the men in my life about what it’s like to be me and a womxn in this country. Some may not want to hear it or deny that there’s a problem but that’s ok. Because it’s about transforming myself just as much as it is about destroying the system.

How will you work to smash the patriarchy? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

p.s. I didn’t get into the intersection of being a womxn of color within this or gender identity which exacerbates the violence. This was just based on my own experience within this one incident.  Maybe I’ll write something more “academic” or researched. 🙂

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Brown, Fierce and (a little bit) Scared: from fear to fuck it.

 

I teared up as I saw a man and womyn selling oranges on a corner by my house. I wondered what they were thinking. I wondered if they worked for themselves or worked for someone else. I teared up because I wondered if they were afraid. If they had anyone to turn to to explain to them about what’s happening. I wondered if it impacted them at all. I wondered why Trump hated them so much, why he hated me so much.

I teared up because, for the first time since Jan. 20th, I allowed myself to feel scared.

Like really scared; scared for myself, for my family, for my community. It was in that moment that I really, truly felt unsafe. And that I never really have been.

I’m a brown womyn who thinks water should be clean and accessible, animals have a right to live and  who believes that Socialism is a humane way to run a country. I voice my opinions loudly and without remorse. But for some goddamn reason, I felt secure in my thinking that some laws protected me. That even if something happened, I had some protection. I forgot that laws are changeable things that dance to the music of the drummer in charge. Laws change at the whim of those in power. And I was naive to think anything different, even if just for one second.

That’s how it works, isn’t it? They make you think that if you work hard, go to college, become someone, you’re safe, no matter how dark your skin or how accented your speech. They make you strive for whiteness as protection, knowing that you’ll never get there. But you’ll never be safe under white supremacy.

And at that realization you move from wanting to be white to really wanting to stay out in the sun without sunblock so that your skin became as dark as a night sky. All you want is to speak two languages without remorse or shame; to let the words roll off your tongue, switching from English to Spanish and back to English without a flicker of notice. To love brown boys who love your curves and your curls.

That all you want is to love yourself for the beautiful brown honey that you always knew you were but were told that you could never be.

This realization happened to me in college. I moved from striving for whiteness to loving myself and the culture that I grew up in. But still, deep down, I believed that I was safe. And now I know that I’m not. No diploma or perfect English will keep me safe in a country that hates me just because I don’t look like what an “American” looks like or because my history in this country doesn’t start on a fucking boat called the Mayflower.

So as I drove past that couple selling naranjas I yelled “fuck it!” in my car as loud as I could.  I gave myself the room to be scared but to not live in that fear. I told myself that I would be courageous no matter what came. I told myself that I would see my privileges and use them to support those without them. I told myself that I would allow myself mistakes and not dwell on my imperfections but to rely on what I know. I told myself that I would use my will and determination to make changes to continue to fuel my courage. I told myself that I would take up space where I needed to take it and to step back when I needed to take less.

I told myself that I am a fierce-ass warrior goddess and that I’m going to help tear this motherfucker down.

 

 

Family Love: a vegan latina in a meat-eating family

 

The Boo and I went to visit my family a couple of weekends ago. Well, we went to Harry Potter Land aka Universal Studios and also visited my family! A two birds, one crumb kind of situation which always works out great. Universal was not very vegan-friendly, I should write them about that, but my family on the other hand, had prepared a entire vegan brunch for me and The Boo! It was awesome. And this wasn’t no toast and coffee continental breakfast, this was a full on delectable menu: vegan quiche, zucchini pancakes, fresh fruit and of course, mimosas!

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Vegan breakfast courtesy of my godmother, my sista and my Tia!

As I started to think about my next post, my mind immediately went to the kindness and acceptance of my family and how I wanted to share that with others. For me, one of the major reasons that I was hesitant to go vegan was because of the people around me; my social circle. And no matter how far I may live, that will always include my family. And so when I went vegetarian, I got some shit from my family, and still do, but they were accepting. My Tia always making me special dishes without meat and saying “Esto es para la Minina!” and shooing others away who were trying to eat my specially-made dish. My mom stocking her fridge full of veggie treats so that I always had something to eat. At those moments, I felt like my decision was not making me isolated but making me feel more loved by the people that I love most in the world. Through food, they showed me that no matter how out of their comfort zone my decisions were, they would always support me in the ways that they could. And becoming vegan was no different. It took some time to adjust because, like me, it was new to them. But they tried and succeeded at making a delicious vegan meal. I’m part of a family of over-achievers. We don’t do anything at less than 100% and the menu above proves that. They really went above and beyond to make me and The Boo feel at home and loved through what they served us. No judgements and not as an after-thought but as the center of our gathering. It was beautiful and reassuring that my decision was not going to isolate me but bring me closer to those that I love.

I wondered if others were so lucky to have a family who supports your decisions or if I was one of the few.

STORIES OF TRANSITION

Earlier this year, I interviewed some amazing Latina vegans for a blog series, that I hope to finally put up this coming month, and one of the questions I asked was related to this topic: how did your family feel or react to your decision? And to my greatest surprise, all 3 of them said that their families were supportive. Some maybe more than others or supportive in their own ways but none said that their experience was overly negative. I was excited to know that most other folks had had similar experiences to mine, accepting families even at their most uncomfortable. It gave me comfort that brown families were accepting of values different than the ones they grew up with.

But then I had the thought that maybe it was just us 4 but i was wrong because The Boo’s family has been super supportive of his transition into veganism as well. His mom always makes us vegan Mexican dishes like ceviche de tofu, taquitos de papa and even for his birthday that just passed, his sister made him a vegan cheesecake! A vegan cheesecake! She’s a great baker and it was delicious.

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Vegan blueberry cheesecake. YUM!

So I started thinking about how we got so lucky to have families that were so willing to bend over backwards to make sure that we’re being included. And to be honest, I still don’t know. But there are a few things that I have noticed over the years that i think helped with making life transitions easier on ourselves and those we love.

TAKING IT SERIOUSLY

Sometimes I let things slide. Like I’ll eat something even though milk is an ingredient or I wasn’t able to find out if something was made using eggs or milk, just out of either laziness or feeling tired. And what I mean by that is a tiredness of having to say yes or no to something because it may or may not be vegan or honestly sometimes feeling left out of the mix. But those moments are now fewer and farther between because I told myself that if I wanted people to take my new lifestyle seriously, I had to take it seriously. Simple concept, I know, but sometimes common sense isn’t so common. And so when I started taking it more seriously, asking if it was vegan or if there was going to be vegan food, others around me started to take me seriously. At work, for instance, they’ll try and let me know if something isn’t vegan. Same with my friends about something they’ve made because it might have milk or cheese or even whey,  Thanks Boo Boo! So I’ve learned that the stronger you are about asking and saying no when something isn’t vegan, the more likely others will also take a stronger stance on your behalf.

Of course, that’s not a universal thing. There will always be those that like to make fun of you or trick you into eating something that isn’t vegan, yes even in your own family, but I’ve found that those people are rare. And it’s usually about them and not you or your new found way of life.

LATINX FAMILIES!

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me, The Boo and the rest of the fam!

I’m a Latina! Besides being lucky in my good looks and charm, I’m also blessed of having been born in a latinx family. If you can’t tell, I LOVE BEING LATINA! I don’t know about any other families from other backgrounds but Latinx families are super accommodating when it comes to food. In my family, we aren’t happy if everyone isn’t eating or drinking something as soon as they walk in the door. The first thing they say is “que flaca estas. Ahorita te hago algo para comer” and before you can say your not hungry, el pancito is in the toaster and the gallo pinto is in the pan.

My family shows love through food and I feel loved when I’m sitting around the table with my cousins and tias talking politics, literature and the funniest meme they saw on Facebook that morning, it’s not all serious talk, with a plate overflowing with something delicious that my Tia made.  My tia is the cook of the family. She’s even opening her own restaurant, WITH VEGGIE OPTIONS! YAY!

And the same was the case with this last trip back down to SoCal. We weren’t planning on heading to brunch at my godmother’s house but she invited us when she found out we were going to be in town and remembered and planned for  what was one of the best brunches I’ve had in a while because everything was vegan! I felt loved knowing that she, and others, went through the trouble of making something that was out of their comfort but were doing it so that The Boo and I had something to eat. So if you’re reading this, thank you! I appreciate  the support that you all give me so much even when you may think that it’s a little extreme. I feel like having a close family like mine and The Boo’s helped in having made the transition much easier; made the transition not just bearable but joyful. I was able to still partake in one of my greatest joys, eating, while living out my truth: that non-human animals shouldn’t suffer just so that we can eat them.

I tried to find some other stories of people who maybe didn’t have the greatest experience with their families but I couldn’t seem to find them, which may be is a good thing? But what was your vegan transition story like? Or if you’re thinking about living a vegan lifestyle, did this touch on some of your fears? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

#I’MNOTWITHHER: Why I still don’t want to vote for Hillary

I don’t like being told what to do. Ask my Boo. It makes me want to do the opposite of what you’re telling me to do just to spite you. Childish? Maybe. But I’m just trying to keep it 100.

This dislike of being told what to do extends to all aspects of my life. I’ve always been this stubborn, ask my mom. I’m like 100% sure I get it from her. But this dislike even extends to the political sphere and right now, the people living in this sphere keep trying to tell me what do: they keep telling me that I have to vote for Hillary Clinton for president.

But I don’t want to.

Why I’m Not With Her

I know what’s going on in the politics right now is scary. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee and what he stands for is bigotry. It scares me to think of the possibility of someone like him running this country. But that fear still doesn’t govern my thought process in who to vote for because, honestly, Hillary scares me too. She isn’t innocent and has blood on her hands. She too has said some harmful and problematic things about communities that I care about. She’s flip-flopped on important issues from immigration to LGBTQ issues.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people evolving, their beliefs changing with the times and as they learn more about other communities. I’ve evolved into a more progressive womyn myself, learning about the struggles of people who have lived different lives and I’m a better person for it but once I learn, I take it in, deep into my bones and it lives inside me forever. I don’t go back and forth, changing my mind because of what the political landscape looks like, whether we’re for or against immigrants, whether we’re for or against black folks, whether for or against poor people. I keep moving forward, hoping not to make a mistake and being genuine in my apologies when I do.

But she hasn’t done that. 2 years ago when unaccompanied youth were fleeing violence that the US helped foster in Central America was one of those moments I wish we could go back to and get an apology from her.

The stories that I read and heard from these youth, not just the violence they saw in their home countries, but also the violence they faced on their journey here to the US were horrific. I couldn’t imagine the desperation of their families to make that decision. And what the presidential nominee said was SEND THEM BACK. She said to send them back in order to send a message to the families that if they send their kids, they won’t be able to stay. Firstly, it’s actually illegal to just send them back. They have due process if they are from Central America and have the right to apply for asylum. Secondly, nothing to do with laws, is the lack of humanity as she said those words, knowing that her decisions and the foreign policy of this country have driven the violence and poverty in Central America, specifically the Northern Triangle, where these children are coming from.

But to send them back just to send a “message”, send them back to their potential deaths, is cruel. I don’t want a leader who just makes decisions without a sense of humanity. The destabilization of Central America, particularly Honduras where a majority of these young people are coming from, is due to the backing of a coup d’etat by the US, on the advice from  Hillary when she was Secretary of State.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The Latina Part of Me

intersectionalfeminsim

I’m not down with White Feminism. And before everyone gets in a tiffy about race-baiting or whatever so-called liberals and conservatives want to call it, White Feminism refers to the lack of intersectionality of certain feminists; the lack of race critiques to the oppressive structure. Race matters when talking about gender equity.

All that to say, Hillary is a white feminist. Her lack of a racial justice perspective in her feminism is alarming to me as a brown womyn, whose loved ones are also brown people. Her lack of intersectionality in thinking that reproductive rights and justice doesn’t include the mothers of the black men and womyn being killed at the hands of the police. It doesn’t include the mothers of the brown children being sent to the US from Central America and Mexico. When she so casually said to send them back on national TV, she was not thinking of the brown mothers. When she called black folks “super predators” she was not thinking of black womyn, black mothers. When she thinks about feminism, she thinks about white womyn, white mothers, middle class white womyn. And that scares me. My community will be forced out or forgotten no matter who wins the election.

The Vegan Part of Me

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I’m pretty sure I’ve discussed, or at least brought up, my distaste for capitalism. It exploits poor, working class folks, particularly people of color and especially undocumented folks. It uses their desperation to survive to its advantage. It over works them and under pays them. It sees them as dollar signs. It does the same to non-human animals as it does to human animals. It commodifies them so that it can make money.

Hillary is a part of capitalism.

She got her campaign money from millionaire capitalists that exploit the poor to get richer. She’s friends with these same capitalists that have put profit over people. And when she wins, she will owe these capitalists favors as a return in their investment to her election. Business people don’t invest in something that they don’t think will benefit them in the long run. Having a friend in the president is a worthwhile investment.

The exploitation of non-human animals is huge business. And if any campaign money came from big Ag, you better believe that our animal friends will not be thought about in the slightest when new protections need to be put in place to make more money. And neither will our beautiful planet. The only green that these folks want to see are dollar bills.

But She’s Making History!

I don’t care. Honestly, I really don’t. Because if you think about it globally, we are far behind on this front. There have been plenty of female leaders of other nations. Even my little Nicaragua had a female president in like the 90s! I’m pretty sure her politics weren’t that great but that’s neither here nor there. The point is we’re behind!

Plus, since she’s a white feminist, and as I am a brown womyn, I will not benefit from her success. Her lack of intersectionality again erases my very existence and my struggle as a latina women. And just like having a black president didn’t suddenly bring black folks out from under the thumb of oppression, neither will having a female president bring women out of the thumb of oppression, especially POC womyn.

To Vote For Her or Not To Vote for Her, That is the Question.

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I still don’t want to. It took me about 2 weeks to finish writing this and I’m still not convinced nor do I think I will ever really be convinced. I don’t like to do things that go against my beliefs and particularly my conscience. It makes me feel uneasy and guilty about my decision. That feeling is what made me go vegan in the first place.

I keep seeing people saying that we have to support her so that Trump doesn’t become president, that she’s better than Trump. What I’m not hearing, which I think is telling,  is that we should vote for her because she would be a good leader. That she would be good for the country. Maybe if someone laid it out that way, laid out what kind of president she would be beyond just that she is better than Trump, maybe it would make a difference to those of us who are disenchanted with this two-party system. Those of us who are tired of voting for the lesser of 2 evils.

But even with all that, I may vote for her but I will do it with my head hung low, and with shame in my heart. I will not do it joyfully but under the pretense that without my vote, Trump will win and my community will be at risk. I will vote for her without joy because I’m being forced to vote for her; because I didn’t have a choice. My choice for president wasn’t given a fair shake and now those of us at the bottom will suffer for it. And those around the globe will also suffer.

I know that at the end of the day, the power lies with the people. We just have to show others that too so that the next election, we have an actual choice, not just someone who is slightly better than the other. That the Bernies and Jill Steins of this country actually have a fighting chance of becoming the leaders that this country needs; that they don’t have the political party system against them, rigging the game, giving an unfair advantage to the leader that they want in power because then, our votes don’t matter. Our voices will not be heard.

So who knows who I’ll vote for. I’m still not sure. All I know is no matter who wins, I’m going to keep fighting. I’m not moving to Mexico or Nicaragua. I’m staying right here because the work isn’t done, not even close. No matter who wins, the work continues.

Womyn’s Month: stories from latina vegans

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Cover of Viva Vegan! cookbook 

I was hoping to get this post up for International Womyn’s Day, but alas, my schedule got the best of me, along with my bouts of not wanting to do anything that I have to use brain power. But I figured that I’m not a ruler follower and I want to celebrate womyn every day. So here I am not on my original timeline but excited to be writing.

In this series, I interviewed 3 latina womyn that have been vegan, asked them why and how its been since they became vegan, some have been vegan for decades! I am excited to share their thoughts and advice on their experiences of being latina vegans and some of the resources that helped them continue on this journey. They also discussed how their identity as vegans intersects with their identities as womyn of color.

But before the series gets published, I want to set the stage for vegans and latina vegans first.

The Numbers: how many of us are there?

I started doing some research because I was interested in how many vegans there actually are in the US and within that small community, how many were latin@. I couldn’t find anything super recent but I did get excited to see the numbers.

So from a couple of studies and articles that I read, it was pretty clear that in the US, 5% of the population identify as vegetarian, that’s 16 million!, and half of that, so 2.5%, identify as vegan. This was up from 2.3% of people who identify as vegetarian. That means that in the last 10 years, the vegetarian community has doubled, which also means that the vegan community has also grown tremendously!! This is pretty exciting news.

Now because my series is on self-identified womyn, I thought I should include numbers by gender breakdown, gender in this write-up will be in the binary because that’s what is given but if there is any other studies out of the binary, please link them in the comments. In the study done, 79% of self identified vegans were womyn! 79%! And though I know that has a lot to do with the issue of masculinity and how its tied with meat consumption, the whole “real men eat meat” bull, I was really surprised at how high the difference was. But this is just for veganism. For vegetarianism, there is a more equal breakdon between the 2 genders studied.

Something that I found interesting as well is that people who identify as Latin@,  I have an inssue with the identification of Hispanic and so will use Latin@ but I just wanted to say something because that’s what they use in the study. The study shows that 8% of vegetarians/vegans identify as Latin@! 8%! I was pretty excited about that because it means that there are roughly 600,000 of us out there, eating veggie meals and living veggie lives! And I’m sure that number has grown in line with how big the vegan community has grown in the last couple of years. This percentage is actually the highest in ethnic breakdown with white folks only making up 3% of those that participated in the study. I thought that this was super interesting because we always see this as a white person thing, or at least I did. I’d love to read more on the study and a follow up study on the complexities of these questions, because household income was all over the place with folks on the lower end of income and middle of the road income at the same percentage. Does this mean that not eating animals was a chioce or was it because of lack of income to buy meat? 

In finding the study and articles, I was so excited to move forward with my series and get them out into the world to be shared and contemplated.

So keep an eye out for my Latina Vegan series coming to a computer, phone or tablet near you!

<3,

Ivy

 

Citations:

Here’s where I found all these numbers! Take a look!

Vegetarian/Vegan 2012 numbers

Vegetarian/Vegan 2006 numbers

 

 

Latina, vegan and Buddhist?: my journey into Buddhism

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Lotus

I was raised Baptist. It was an interesting upbringing, now that I look back on that time in my childhood. People waiting for the Holy Spirit to enter them, others speaking in Tongues and me, with my little yellow tambourine, grooving to the praise music. I loved going, mostly because of the tambourine and praise music. I loved to sing, I still do, and so I always wished that there was no sermon but just a couple of hours of singing. I enjoyed church as much as any child would.

And then, as I got older, I realized that going to church just wasn’t as fulfilling as it used to be. I had never felt the Holy Spirit, I never spoke in Tongues and God never answered any of my prayers. By the time I was in high school, I really fell off the Christian bandwagon and tried to stop going to church. That was difficult since my mom was devoutly Christian and went to church every Sunday. So I kept going and still enjoyed the community that I had built in my time there, the friends that I had made and even the idea of being Christian; the compassionate, non-judgmental aspect of being Christian. But I wasn’t seeing that being put into practice. Granted, I was a teenager at this point and I think that most teenagers are judgmental so looking back, I’m not sure what I expected. But none the less, I was turned even more off to the idea of Christianity. But the major turning point was actually my brother.

My brother, during this time, had started getting into trouble, skipping school and not coming home for days on end. I saw how much my mother suffered during that time, praying to God that He would help my brother. Her prayers weren’t answered. I saw the powerlessness of my mother during that time, the lack of help from the church and just a sense of hopelessness that nothing could save my brother. I never wanted to feel that way, waiting for some invisible being to come save me from whatever fate had in store for me. I wanted to be in control of my life, not wait for destiny to take what it wanted from me. That’s when I started looking into other schools of faith and I came across Buddhism.

On a side note: My brother is great now! He has 3 of the cutest kids that have ever lived, a wonderful partner and 2 smart and beautiful step-children.

Dipping My Toe in the Buddhist Pool

I actually don’t quite remember when I first heard about Buddhism. I always remember it being in a world religions course that I took one of my first couple of semesters in community college, but I honestly don’t know. But I do remember buying a Buddhism for Dummies book which was totally confusing, overwhelming, and so different than my Christian upbringing that I totally thought that it was Satan pushing me toward this pagan belief system and God testing my faith, that’s how deep I had internalized that evangelical crap. So I closed that book and went Godless for a couple of years. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in a high power, I so wanted there to be someone all-powerful looking out for me, this little gal in this big, scary world. But I didn’t believe that He was this vengeful, punishing God that rained down brimstone and fire if you had questions or even doubts. I just believed in Him without going to church. I stayed that way until I moved to San Francisco when I was 24.

Going Back to Old Habits

When I moved to San Francisco in 2008, I didn’t know a soul. I moved up to the Bay Area from Fontana, CA to go to school. And I wanted to get away and experience something new without having to move too far away from my comfort zone. But moving where you don’t know anyone is tough and so you fall back into habits to find people that you can connect with and a group to belong to. My fall back was religion, specifically Christianity. So I found a group on campus that not only spoke in a language that I was familiar with, Christ, but also did community work and volunteering, which was super important to me. I enjoyed the community of people, as people. I enjoyed the already built community of people that it gave me but honestly, the Christian part of it was really unfulfilling. It could have been the same group of people coming together to talk about sandwich-making techniques and I would have enjoyed it just as much.

It was in this moment that I realized that I was looking for community and not faith. So, I started volunteering and getting to know the people in my classes and towards the end of my college years, I had made a great group of friends. People that I connected with, whose company I enjoyed and just people who I had a good time with, even when most of that time was spent going over Organic Chemistry notes at midnight in a 24 hour Starbucks. I still talk to some of those folks and some are even followers of this blog (Hi Friends!). And I felt fulfilled…until I didn’t.

Jumping Head First into the Buddhist Pool

Fast forward to Thanksgiving of 2015, when that feeling of unfulfillment started creeping back in. I wasn’t sure what it was. I had, and still have, a wonderful partner, a supportive family and a job that was helping me fulfill my want to create a more just world. And yet, there was a something off. Granted, I was going through a time of transition, and still am, and so that had me in a bit of a limbo and I hate being in limbo. Limbo is not my friend. It makes me feel out of control and I don’t like that feeling. So when I feel out of control, I like to try to take extra control over other parts of my life. I started focusing on my vegan diet, cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. I took extra control of my work, holding myself extra accountable and making sure to hit every goal, no matter how minute. That never really works for me because I end up being more about the details and details are never ending. Everything can be made more perfect. And so because of all the obsession with control, I was losing more control. This is usually when I start going back to church, start reaching out to God again and yet, I already knew what the results would be. Fake faith, unfulfilled needs in the long-term. So I decided to follow a different path. The worst thing that could happen is I ended up where I always did: short-term fulfillment until the next rocky path.

I reached out to a friend, who I knew was a practicing Buddhist. Actually, she’s the only person I knew at the time that was. She was kind enough to chat with me and connect me with folks from a local Buddhist community here in Oakland. I should also state that this was not the first time I had contacted this friend about her practice. We’d talked before but again, that Baptist indoctrination really scared me and I didn’t  follow through. Within a couple of hours, I was chatting with a person from the local community center and setting up a time to meet with her and talk  more about the Buddhist practice.

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What Nichiren Buddhists chant, morning and evening.

Getting Down With Buddhism as a Former Baptist

I started learning more about the Nichiren sect of Buddhism and I liked what I learned. I started chanting and building community; all of the things that I used to do when I was Christian with one difference: I felt fulfilled. I felt that this particular belief system aligned with my ideological beliefs as well. That it takes faith and action to create change, not only in your life but also in the world. And people didn’t look at me weird when I said that I was vegan. They understood because part of the belief is that suffering should not be tolerated and that to make another suffer is against the belief of world peace.

The other thing that I liked about my experience was that a lot of folks came from different backgrounds. There was a diverse group of black folks, latinos, white, trans, queer, jewish, baptist, catholic. It was wonderful to see the different kinds of folks, all in one room, building community together in the name of world peace. The latina side of me was ecstatic. Lots of POC to build a Buddhist community with. I felt like I had found a place to belong. Where I didn’t have to hide my social justice side from my faith side and from my scientific side. They all came together, in harmony, in this place called Buddhism.

I’ve been attending meetings, I’ve been chanting and learning since my first meeting back in November 2015, and up until the point I have only seen positive changes in my attitude, my confidence and in the direction of my life. Even though I’m still in a state of limbo, I feel more in control of my life. My circumstances haven’t changed but my perspective has. I see the light at the end of the limbo tunnel and I’m actually looking forward to what it holds. I look forward to building more community, chanting my worries away and enjoying more of what makes life worthwhile.

For more on Nichiren Buddhism visit: http://www.sgi-usa.org

P.S. There are some folks who call the SGI, or Nichiren Buddhism, a cult. It scared me at first but honestly, I’ve only met wonderfully supportive people and have felt no cult-ish vibe. Though I think a lot of religions feel cult-ish at times. BUT if you see me about to drink the Kool-Aid, slap it out of my hand.

Latina Vegan Hugs Trees: discussion on climate change

 

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Me in Big Sur hugging a beautiful Sequoia, I think.

I’d like to say that I’m a pretty outdoorsy person. I enjoy being in the open air, feeling the breeze against my face; hearing the birds chirp, even though I’m scared of birds, weird I know. But my favorite, absolute favorite, thing to do: HUG TREES!

I love trees. They are fascinating! They survive under even extreme conditions, they live hundreds of years, oh the stories they could tell, and die nobly and become nutrients in the earth to continue to help their tree friends and family. THEY. ARE. AWESOME and I love hugging them. I just get the overwhelming feeling to hug a tree and I go for it. I’ve crossed barriers in Muir Woods to hug a giant Redwood, I almost spilt my coffee to hug one. I go wild over trees. My goal for 2016 is to become an amateur Arborist, or the more scientific term Dendrologist.

So as you can tell from my love of trees, and all living beings, why I would want to discuss CLIMATE CHANGE.

Yes my friends, it’s true. The climate is changing and not the normal changes that happen over decades and centuries. This is person-made and person-maintained and person-evolved climate change. Yikes! And anyone that tries to argue otherwise is just trying to live up to the “ignorance is bliss” saying. But like someone I know who used to say “just because you don’t believe in the devil, doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe in you”, so just because you don’t believe in climate change, doesn’t mean that it’s not real. I don’t believe in the devil, to each their own, but I do believe in climate change because there is evidence of its existence. It’s real and it’s here. And this is not one situation of “to each their own” because people believing in the devil doesn’t hurt me but people not believing in climate change hurts me and every other living being on this planet. And I got a problem with that. So, I wanted to write about and discuss the environment and share my thoughts.

Killing our planet, I don’t think so.

I think it’s so interesting when folks say that we’re killing the planet. I actually disagree. The reason? Homeostasis.

Homeostasis is a scientific term for keeping everything in balance. Our bodies do this through different mechanisms constantly to make sure that our bodies are running optimally. For instance when we eat something with sugar in it, our livers secrete insulin to store the sugar for later use because having too much sugar in the blood causes a lot of complications and not having enough is dangerous too so it stores it for when you need it. But when your liver doesn’t produce enough insulin, or any at all, it can’t store the sugar and so the sugar in the blood is off balance and is the cause of diabetes. And so our bodies like everything in moderation, to keep everything in balance.

Like our bodies, the planet is an organism, albeit a big organism but none the less an organism, and it wants to keep the balance. That’s why we’re seeing these changes in weather and temperature; the earth is trying to keep everything balanced, balance the pollution and the warming atmosphere. At least, that’s my theory and to go with that theory, our high rate of polluting the air and water, cutting down my beloved trees, and digging for oil on land and in the sea is not killing this planet. Oh no, it’s killing US. We are going to go extinct waaaay before this planet will die. This beautiful planet that we call home will kill us before we kill it. How do you think it has survived for millennia? Survival of the fittest, right. Well, the planet can definitely live without us, it might actually be better off, but we sure can’t live without it.

What’s vegan gotta do with it? 

Welp, my friends, being vegan helps not only our bodies and the animals but it also helps the planet. I watched a movie on Netflix a while back called Cowspiracy. Maybe you’ve watched. If you haven’t, please do, it was really good. It gave me the last push I needed to become vegan. But what I like about the film is that it’s not meant for you to become vegan/vegetarian but it’s meant to show the impacts of our agricultural system on our planet and how this one major contributor to climate change is never discussed. The main guy starts the film with trying to find the main contributing factors to climate change and finds that our animals agriculture system is helping to kill us in more ways than just our health. And so to find out more on the subject he  calls on major environmental groups around the world to ask them about the impact of agriculture and no one has a clue or they choose not to answer the question. There was nothing on their websites or social media pages that even hints at the fact the agriculture is the main contributor to climate change, THE main contributor. More so than fracking, car usage etc.

I don’t want to spoil the film if you haven’t seen it but let’s just say that being vegan, or even just lowing your intake of meat, helps sustain our planet.

It’s always about race. Always.

Race always has a role to play in the injustices happening in our community and the environment is no different. The bias that is internalized against people of color allows for injustice to go unchecked but I didn’t understand how race played a role in the environment before and so caring about the environment didn’t really cross my mind. Honestly, I used to see caring about the environment as white people shit. To me, they had nothing else happening to them besides the killing of our planet. I saw too many folks deported, killed, jailed in my community to think about saving the environment. But honestly, just like everything, people of color are hit hardest, even environmental injustice.

 

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Photo taken from ACLU

Flint, Michigan is a current example of this. About 60% of the population of Flint is POC and about 50% are living below the poverty line, according to Census data. So majority poor, POC (mostly black folks) are being hurt by this crisis. So the polluting of a water source has impacted a black, poor community more than any other. Plus, if the only way to get clean water is to buy it, who do you think will ahve unlimited access to clean water? Rich folks. Poor folks will be limited in how much water they can drink, cook with, bath in etc.

But we can bring this closer to my home in the Bay Area: the Chevron refinery in Richmond, CA. That plant spews all of its crap into the air and those that live nearest, within 1 mile of the refinery, are 80% people of color, according to an Al-Jazeera American report on the refinery. Also stated in that report, a quarter of the folks that live in that area are living under the poverty line. So again, poor, people of color are being impacted the most by environmental pollution. For this example, it includes, high rate of asthma, cancer and polluting of natural resources. This in the world of organizing is called Environmental Racism because the impacts of the pollution are felt disproportionately by poor people of color. SO, people of color, including myself, should and NEED to care about the environment because just like anything else, we are the community that are most impacted by pollution. 

 

We’re screwed, aren’t we? 

I hope not! Though I’m no environmental scientist. But what I’ve heard is that there is still time to maintain where we’re at. There’s no going back to where we were but we can stop from going forward and that has to be the goal. Though I just read an article about how Stephen Hawking said that the only way to save our species is to start colonizing another planet. I think that’s just running away from the problem we made and start to destroy another planet in our galaxy but that’s neither here or there.

What I do want is to know that I’m contributing as much as I can and even going beyond my own comfortability in making sure that we can save ourselves from ourselves. So luckily, I’ve already gone vegan for the animals, for my health and now for the environment. I’ll also continue to educate myself on other ways to make change, like ride my bike more and walk when I can, recycle and compost, and buy local as much as possible. These are small when looking at the big picture; a tree in a large forest. But isn’t it better to start saving trees, one by one, then to do nothing at all?

How are you contributing already or what are ways that you want to start?