Like many Latinos, I grew up raised between two cultures. My mom was straight up Mexicana hailing from Chihuahua and my dad nació in a small dusty town in New Mexico. My pops grew up in a Mexican-American home, more American than Mexican. His parents refused to teach him and his siblings Spanish because of the Mexican segregation his parents had endured growing up. Schools did not become integrated until around the 1950’s. Sadly, this is a piece of history that is often overlooked and rarely spoken of. Moms crossed the border and found my pops at a “dance” bar. They hooked up, got married & soon my ass was born. I’m not ashamed of it but my mom was a stripper like most non-Inglés speaking mujeres in El Paso because that’s the only job she could get.
Unfortunately, mi mamá died before her 30th birthday from pinche cancer. After her death, my pop’s mom took us in so we moved to a small town in southwest New Mexico. We went from Spanish speaking to straight up English. There were no La Virgens or candles up in this joint. However, my grandpops loved to watch his telenovelas & Sábado Gigante while going to Sunday Mass. He was the closest to Mexican that we got.
We rarely spent time outdoors unless we were picking piñons in the forest, 45 miles north of where we lived. It was too freakin’ hot and boring. Plus, we were scared of the chupacabra, cucuy & La Llorna (though there was no water near us). When my little sister and I played in the backyard, with few trees, but mostly dirt, we had to watch out for rattlesnakes and scorpions. As we got older we would explore abandoned mine shafts or go hell riding at the “end of the road.”
While weight was never an issue for me personally, the idolized version of beauty was in place. We were highly active in sports but ate tortillas & tacos like nobody’s business. It just seemed normal in our world. It was easy for me to reject traditional standards of beauty because I wasn’t vying for attention. Even when my tios were tan borracho, they’d always say “Mija don’t change for nobody. You’re beautiful just the way you are.” Sure…bet you say that to everyone. But in reality, women in general tended to be the harshest by constantly telling their girls, “stop eating, you’re gonna get fat” or wished their female enemies got super fat. Ah childhood.
Shoot, I don’t think I even noticed how much the Mexican culture was heavily influenced by American mainstream until I got older. Aye, watch Telemundo o Univision ahora and you’ll see how the mujeres have their chi-chis busting out of those tiny dresses, their colas lifted and skin whitened. Why couldn’t Betty be La Bonita instead of La Fea? Why were people distinguished by body type like El Gordo y La Flaca? Even when my prima from Mexico would visit, she would be obsessed with skin bleaching, face waxing and being skinny. This is the mundo we live in.
When did we, Mexicans, become ashamed of our brown skin, our curly/thick hair and plump bodies? I know I did, but that’s because society made me feel like I needed to present as white to live in this country. I left behind the language, the culture & a big part of who I am.
After college, I put on the pounds and moved to a city where body image was everything. I worked hard to lose that panza and religiously waxed my lip. I drank a lot and never ate. I was slowly becoming depressed and hated myself. I was becoming that person so obsessed with body image that I didn’t even know it. I picked up hiking and that became my form of therapy.
I now reside in the “Whitest City” in America. The culture I once rejected, I now yearn for again. It’s hard being brown in this city but it’s even harder being brown on a trail. An outdoor culture primarily dedicated to thin white folks, I stick out like a sore thumb. But I’m not going to let that stop me. Nature is my physical and mental therapy. There are times I want to quit. My motivation is knowing that once I reach the top, I’m one step closer to Heaven para habla con mi mamá. I hope she’s proud of me.
La verdad es, this land doesn’t belong to just white folks. Our Native brothers and sisters long inhabited the area before they were forced off of it. For that I give thanks to those who saw the beauty that was before them. And to our Mexican ancestors who cultivated the land. And to future generations that continue to do so.
Ahora es el momento de recuperar nuestra cultura, nuestro orgullo y nuestro cuerpos mientras que la Madre Tierra de amor.
~Lezley, co-founder of Fat Girls Hiking