There is a sort of divine spark within each of us that constantly follows us through life wherever we go. Some people call it a vibe, an energy, a wisdom that keeps pulling us towards what some say is our true calling.
I started writing at age 10, right around the same time I first saw the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie “Bloodsport.” My dad loved his movies for the kicking, the punching and the blood. I loved them for… well, obvious reasons. His splits, stretching between two chairs, helped me realize I was gay—Van DAMN! I wrote my first poem for a fourth-grade Spanish class back in my hometown of Corozal, Puerto Rico. It was supposed to be a simple writing exercise, but my teacher submitted the poems for a district competition. I unexpectedly won first place. Was it a sign? Inspired by the validation from teachers and my parents, I kept on writing. After a failed attempt at a career in architecture right after graduating high school, I ended up enrolling in one of the several Catholic colleges in San Juan, hoping to become a journalist. Maybe the Latino Anderson Cooper, amirite?!
Fun fact: As an aspiring on-screen reporter during my late teens, and throughout most of my younger life, I knew I wasn’t going to get ahead based on looks. I lost most of my hair when I was 21. Being brought up in a rural and mountainous region in central Puerto Rico, I indulged myself at the altar of carbs and cholesterol. Imagine rice, beans, tostones and fried everything.
I was bald with stretch marks, paunchy and insecure. I wasn’t exactly a perfect match for radio either, much less TV, since I was mocked at a very early age for having too sharp of a voice for a boy. I was bullied at school for my feminine voice and mannerisms. But like the duality that many eastern spiritual traditions say exist in everything around us, I learned that with every adversity comes a hidden lesson.
Fortunately, contrary to most of my bullies at school, I’ve always relied heavily on my large vocabulary. Large enough that it afforded me the opportunity in 2003 to intern in Washington, D.C. for a semester where I worked for a congresswoman from California, whose name I only learned during the first day on the job. I was given the task of maintaining Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s website, as well as proofreading and translating her statements, speeches and documents into Spanish for the Democratic Leadership Office.
Coming from a U.S. territory with very different political parties and ideologies than those here on the mainland, I didn’t fully understand the difference between red and blue. All I knew was that Nancy was always flawless and on point with her words. Being bald, paunchy, insecure and four-eyed didn’t matter. I was being appreciated for my talents. Not for my pretty smile … though honestly, I’ve always relied on my pearly whites a little (wink, wink!).
My aspirations to be on TV did not stop there. I eventually moved to Mexico City where I became a news writer for a couple of nationally renowned TV giants, hoping for some airtime. The problem was … well, Mexican food. This beautiful country I used to call home gave me life, and tacos, chistorra, gaoneras and tortas ahogadas, as well as an insatiable appetite. My love handles were safe and secure. But that divine spark from within, pulling me to write and be on TV, slowly diminished over time.
Here we are now, years later, and Watermark has given me this incredible opportunity to write a Viewpoint column and asked me to come up with a cute name for it. As I recently put on my running shoes for an afternoon jog, I started reminiscing about what my journey has been and how I was able to shed my weight almost a decade ago. My journey of becoming more aware of my nutrition and health and of helping others take care of themselves from the inside out. I have shared the experience of my travels, adventures and lessons in the classroom as a teacher, workplace and social scene; so why not use this new platform to continue helping the people in Orlando I have come to love so much?
As sweat ran down my forehead, I saw a shirtless man jogging in front of me, swiftly parading his pair of love handles with pride and joy. It reminded me of a familiar reflection, where I still see my stretch marks and the remnants of another pair of love handles which serve as a reminder that the most powerful validation of our own worth comes from within. This column stems from that divine spark that’s rekindling within me to give you my two cents on what it takes to love, accept, respect and free yourself completely, blissfully and unapologetically.
The relationship you have with your own world begins with how crystal clear that reflection of yourself is in your heart. So let’s look ourselves in the mirror and start #LoveHandlin’ together.