Breaking Cultural Molds

Posted on August 31, 2010


“Bad habits are like chains too light to feel until they are too heavy to carry.”

-Warren Buffet

I was having a conversation with my sister about the influences our environment and Mexican culture have on our lives.  It came up when we were talking about our exercise habits or lack of them.  The sad truth is that, with few exceptions, Mexicans aren’t exactly known for their athleticism.  It is not in our culture to include a workout regiment in our work week.  That is not to say that we are not athletic in our younger years.  Most of my peers participated in team sports from youth leagues into high school.  A few participated in college and, even now, some of them get together for pick up games of basketball or football on the weekends.  I can only think of a handful that workout regularly.  I told my sister that none of my friends are endurance athletes and it made it difficult for me when I began participating in distance running two years ago.  I never had a running partner and I never had anyone waiting for me at the finish line after a race.  I often felt like quitting and finding something new, but I really enjoyed it.  I have convinced a few friends to run the shorter 5k races with me and it has helped a bit.  I am hoping that my peers are motivated by me instead of me being demotivated by them.

Life happens.  I get it.  We become older and time does not seem to have that mellow pace of a childhood summer anymore.  It becomes very easy to prioritize our careers over our health.  Fast food convenience overcomes the patience and discipline of a healthier meal and we begin to feel our bad habits on our bodies when we expand a few sizes.  As this becomes the normal routine for our peers as well, it is easier to accept that we are past our prime and we eventually become OK with it.  Our adult lives turn into a mundane routine that gets the bills paid, but makes us look and feel haggard.  The interesting part is that it is widely accepted.

Mexican food is delicious and I have been blessed with a Mexican mother that can cook masterfully.  The portions are enormous and delightful.  This is my beloved culture.  This is also a big reason that I have been heavy most of my life.  In frustration, I once asked my mother why she always fed me so much and also told her that I felt that her habits of doing so are the reason I have been overweight most of my life.  I never had a clue what a normal food serving looked like because my plates were always full.  She sat me down and told me that she has been serving big portions since she was a child in Mexico.  Being the oldest female amongst her siblings, she was in charge of helping her mother cook and serve the food.  My mother was raised in a small ranch town named Estación Joaquin (literally meaning Joaquin Station because it was not much more than a train stop) in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico.  My grandparents had a farm with animals and fields which provided food for the family.  They did not have much money, but they did have plenty of food.  Often, they would have farm laborers stopping by the house after a day of working the fields or just visitors from the nearby ranches.  My mother got in the habit of piling up the food on their plates because the farmers were too humble to ask for seconds.  She wanted them to eat well, but they never asked for a second plate.  It is a practice that she continues to this day.

My mother’s habit of over-serving came out of her caring for the poor and hungry.  She has an enormous heart and has set many examples of kindness towards humanity for me.  Knowing her story removed the frustrations I had with my upbringing.  I know that as an adult I have the choice to change my own eating habits and I have been working on it a lot in the last few years.  My environment as a child molded me into a respectful, family-oriented, bilingual, and resilient kid and I am grateful for that exposure because I feel completely connected to my Mexican roots.  So what if I ate more than normal?  Those days are gone and I am now in charge of my own transformation.  I cannot let those old habits drag me down and I will continue improving as an endurance athlete even if my peers never understand my joy of distance running.  I’ve had to detach myself from what is normal for a Hispanic Male (according to my dad, I should be married with kids by now) in order to find what is normal for myself as a human being.  I’m good with that.

Me crossing the finish line at the 2010 La Jolla Half Marathon