For Afro-Latinas, The Whitewashed Wellness Movement Often Feels Unhealthy — Even Harmful

credit: Instagram / iamhealthyfit / Christopher Jason Studios

While Black Latina women have long practiced ancient traditions in medicine and healing, these spaces, at least the dominant whitewashed movement taking place in the U.S., is unwelcoming, even harmful, to most of us. As a wellness advocate, I would know.

I entered the wellness space by accident.

After graduating from college in 2010, with two bachelor’s degrees but no job to show for it, depression got the better side of me. Before I knew it, my favorite jeans were collecting dust in the closet, and I realized that I ran to food whenever I felt stressed or not in control. After gaining 25 pounds, I no longer felt like myself — and I didn’t like that.

My cousins, a nutritionist and a professional athlete, saw the change in my body and spirit and offered me help. Through them, I learned that exercising did not translate to being healthy or losing weight. Instead, they told me, I should focus on consuming nutritious foods and, equally important, leading a happier life.

I did.

I began exercising six times a week for 30 minutes, walking until I was strong enough to run. Then I changed how I ate. I focused on eating unprocessed foods at least 80 percent of the time, stopped frying and began baking or steaming, and replaced white rice and bleached flour with brown rice and other whole grains like quinoa. Next, I tackled alcohol, going from drinking three-to-four times a week to drinking once a week, or even every two weeks. I also replaced all soda and juice with water. Still, the most critical change wasn’t about food or exercising; it was documenting. Through progress photos and journaling, I was able to recognize my growth, and this helped me overall.

They lied to you. All those people that told you, you have to spend hundreds of dollars to eat healthier. The truth is? That's simply not the case. I recently had the opportunity to debunk this theory on Good Morning Washington (my first TV appearance!), where I shared  How to Meal Prep for a Week Under $50 without feeling overwhelmed or deprived. Today I am sharing all the secrets in this post. Good Morning Washington: Meal Prep for a Week Under $50. In this post, you'll learn: The number one thing you need to do to save money. How to pick the best ingredients to help you save money without feeling overwhelmed or deprived. How to keep your meals exciting to avoid wasting food…. and more! Check out the full post the blog – LINK IS IN THE BIO! . . . #iamhealthyfit

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After seeing my transformation, family and friends asked me to share the secrets and help them take control of their health. Almost a decade later, I’ve dedicated my life to this work, planting seeds of love into everyone I meet in hopes that they, too, make their health a priority.

I didn’t ask to become a wellness advocate; the universe did that. But now that I’m here, I can see how the space of health and wellness can actually be one that’s unhealthy, even detrimental, to Garifuna and Afro-Latina women like me.

While I’ve met fellow women of color eager to work together and amplify our voices, I often don’t feel seen or heard. I attend conferences, buy books and listen to podcasts, but rarely do I walk away saying, “Yeah, they get me.” Instead, I usually feel a sense of erasure, since the issues impacting me as an Afro-Latina are not addressed.

Instead, these issues, like discrimination and colorism, are reproduced in these allegedly wellness spaces. When looking at lineups of speakers at industry conferences, for instance, it is rare to see panels full of dark Black women, let alone Afro-Latinas. There might be some here and there, but never enough to make you feel like the sole speaker isn’t being tokenized. It’s obvious that the color of your skin still determines where you’re invited to speak, how much money you make and how seriously people take your issues.

The dearth of Black women leading discussions at these events has a direct impact on the experience of women of color in attendance. Even though Afro-Latinas are in these spaces, and have been doing the work for years, without us in positions of power, our voices go unheard and stories untold. We attend conferences, looking for our tribe — women who might relate to our experience enough to make us feel at home — but topics that specifically address the implications of our blackness and offer strategies to achieve some level of peace of mind are rarely on the agenda.

I've missed you. Took a break from posting because I'm planting seeds of love in my life. There's a lot of negativity, pain, suffering, and unhappiness in the world. And, I've been asking myself how can I help? Praying to the Orishas, my Ancestors and the Universe to guide me. To move my steps in the direction of love, deep love. I've learned that to help others, I have to process those emotions in my own life. Process my own pain, my insecurities, my suffering, my unhappiness. That's the only way to have real empathy, and begin to understand what others deal with. Being a source of true love goes against everything we've been taught, everything we believe, and questions a lot of our identity. I've come to terms with some facts about me: I have a huge ego. I'm always thiking about myself. I like to help, but I like being thanked more. I like to feel needed, even when I'm not. I listen to reply more than I listen to understand. And a few more that I rather keep in my journal for now. The best part of this realization, is that if I have learned to be this way, I can unlearn it. And that's where I am. Ready to unlearn. At the very least, I'm ready to try. I want you to know that I see you, I see your suffering and I want to understand. . . . #iamhealthyfit #growth #garifuna #afrolatinx #afrolatina #healthconscious #love #selflove #selfawareness #sunshineshere

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The truth is, most of these spaces focus on whitewashed conversations, stemming from a privileged mindset that rarely aligns with the challenges women of color, particularly Afro-Latinas, face every day.

For example, while conversations around access to healthy practices are brought up, they aren’t addressed with race in mind. I’ve heard experts talk about the importance of eating organic and not consuming processed foods who ignore the fact that most people of color aren’t in a position to do this. It’s difficult to live healthy, which tends to be pricey, when you’re in survival mode. These are the discussions that impact communities of color and conversations that desperately need to be had.

Instead, we watch as women who don’t look like us share their expertise on practices rooted in indigenous traditions that are unique to our ancestors, like the use of Palo Santo and sage. We witness the blatant appropriation of our traditions, while asking for the opportunity to share our point of view and facing the reality that we do not control our narrative.

I’m tired. The whole process is draining AF. Not only do we have to advocate for the health of our people, while they’re convinced everything is OK, but we must also do it while protecting our sanity as we are kept out of conversations that directly impact us and our traditions.

But this is also why Afro-Latinas are so essential in this space. It’s critical to our survival. We deserve to be here, and we need to keep fighting. If people won’t give us a seat at their table, it’s time we make our own and bring all the tambores and maracas until folks start listening — because we’re not going anywhere.

GARIFUNA. This photo was taken at my traditional engagement party that turned out to be my traditional wedding. Thanks for telling me a year later mom????????… Mother and I are wearing Balerias. Traditional Garifuna dresses. The three colors represent the colors of our Garifuna flag. Black, White and Yellow. The color Black represents the black ancestry of Garifuna people. The color Yellow represents the second half of our ancestry. The Amerindians or Yellow Caribs as they were referred to by Europeans. The color White symbolizes the peace that has eluded the Garifuna people for most of their turbulent history. Some say its also a reminder of the role of the white man (European) in the history of our people. But, I'm not sure. Balerias are worned for every day use, but there are special versions made for special occasions. Like weddings, church, other dress up events. . . . #iamhealthyfit #garifuna #balerias #garinagu #honduras #settlementday #garifunasettlementday #blackcaribs #arawak #stvincent #ancestors

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I did this by creating iAmHealthyFit and The Health Conscious Podcast, resources for women of color in wellness, but in the near-decade I’ve been doing this work, I’ve also learned some things, made some mistakes and managed to remain standing. Here’s how I keep my sanity and how you can do the same.

1. Make your self-care a priority.

Ironically, many women in the wellness space struggle a lot when it comes to caring for themselves. Do not forget that you cannot give others what you don’t have, and you can’t pour into people if your cup is empty.

Iyanla Vanzant once said, “what comes out of the cup is for you and what’s in the cup is for me.” Having a cup half-way full is not enough. Take care of yourself, share your challenges with your tribe, ask for help and take time to listen to your body and your inner spirit. When you need a break, take it and enjoy it.

2. Connect with other amazing Afro-Latinas doing the work.

Community, particularly sisterhood, is essential to our healing and flourishing because there’s power in numbers. Afro-Latinas embody the diversity and beauty of the diaspora. We come in all shapes, shades, sizes and curl patterns, and when we work together, we learn from our mistakes, we empower one another and we pull up chairs for each other to join the conversation. The best part: we learn to embrace the many layers of the brokenness of our communities and become better at healing ourselves and our people.

These are some of the people in my tribe. Meet them, befriend them and flourish with them: Ysanet BatistaJoanna CastroKaliYes Baby I Like It Raw, Masiel Encarnación, We Come From Queens, The Café Sin Leche Show and Josie Rosario. 

3. Don’t stop fighting.

During your journey, you will feel discouraged, defeated and at times you’ll want to quit. I get it because I’ve been there, more times than I care to admit. But when you get to that point, remind yourself of why you do this work.

Every day, set time aside to think about why you stay in this space. Think about your little sister, niece, cousin and all the young queens who need to know they belong. Hold on to the strength of your ancestors and use it to persevere when you forget who you are and where you come from.

They’re warriors, survivors, royalty, and they’re always with you.

Read: How Taking Care Of My Houseplants Taught Me To Take Better Care Of Myself

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