Yoga teacher Rina Jakubowicz shares her experience making lifestyle choices not understood by her community and offers some tips for owning them.
I’m a Latin woman. I am vegan. And teaching yoga is my full-time career and lifestyle. I’m an anomaly to my culture, yet I fully embrace it—I am uniquely me!
How I’ve Explained Yoga Culture to My Latin Community
It was challenging to convince my family and community that choosing yoga as a lifestyle and full-time profession was a smart move; both financially and spiritually. But once they saw my professionalism, success, and self-sufficiency they started to take it seriously too.
Generally, Hispanics love their church, and it’s their spiritual place of God. So it’s not surprising that I had a few confrontations with people who made claims that yoga was satan’s work. I didn’t try to convince them otherwise. All I said was that yoga wasn’t a religion and that it was good for their bodies. I never try to change people’s minds about yoga especially when they are passionate about their beliefs—right or wrong.
My immediate family and friends aren’t religious, though. I never went to church and personally always had a hard time believing in God. When I first started yoga, my mat became my spiritual place and through the years, I learned that my place of God is not a place at all but lies within me.
I absolutely love being Hispanic. I love our culture with its music, dancing, passion, and of course, its focus on family. One part I don’t love is the food—mostly because it’s so animal-driven. Between the Cuban “Caja China” and the Argentinian asados, I’m all meated-out. Growing up it felt as if food wasn’t food without having some animal involved. The main phrase thrown around was “eso es lo que se come” meaning “that’s what we eat.” No one paused to think about what and why they were eating it.
Why I Decided to Become a Vegan
I was vegetarian for seven years before I became a vegan in 2013. I saw how my decision to eat meat and dairy supported a brutal act of violence toward animals and my conscience couldn’t live with that anymore. I had to admit that my habits were fully selfish (a 3-second enjoyment of taste on my tongue) and able to be changed if I had the will to change them. It was an ethical and empowering decision for me.
A great side effect to becoming vegan was that I lost some weight and my body feels healthier. I have more energy and better digestion—a win-win situation.
The Challenges I’ve Faced as a Misunderstood Vegan
My culturally untraditional choices have made it difficult for my family and friends to understand me. And although many accept me for who I am, lack of education on veganism has created some funny challenges along the way.
Like the first time my husband (also vegan) and I ate at my parent’s house after I made the switch, my mom placed a full block of plain tofu on a plate in the center of the table. I asked her, “What is this?” “Tofu!” she said proudly, thinking tofu was eaten like cheese—as is, instead of with spices and sauces. We all had a nice laugh.
When I go to restaurants with my family, the conversation quickly turns to, “So what are you going to eat Rina?” I usually tell them not to worry, that I’ll figure it out. Unfortunately, they do worry and stress about it. I only get stressed that they are stressed for no reason! Because going out to dinner with them has a whole new flavor now, I have to make sure that we can bond on other matters besides our food choices.
And then there are holidays. My dad’s side of the family is Argentinean and Jewish and for traditional holidays we go to my aunt’s house for dinner. I was asked to call her in advance and explain what I could eat. I gave her some pointers but something got lost in translation and I was stuck with just potatoes because the vegetables were made with butter. After a few similar experiences visiting family and friends, I learned to make sure I eat prior to any dinner engagements.
Traveling, as a vegan is also hard, especially when I visit Central and South America where the choices are limited. My favorite comment when I say I don’t eat meat is, “So how about some fish?” I laugh and explain I don’t eat anything that has eyes or comes from something that has eyes. They usually have the follow up question of “but why would you do that to yourself?” Therefore, I tend to travel with snacks and vegan alternatives. I’m happy to see more vegan restaurants popping up in these areas, though.
These lifestyle decisions have kept me going on my path to self-realization. My conviction keeps me focused. I embrace my strong Hispanic cultural roots, as well as my roots as a compassionate, conscious being. I merge the two by teaching Spanish yoga classes and teacher trainings in Latin communities in order to show that we can connect on deeper grounds and share a bond that can go beyond what’s on our plates.
4 Tips for Owning Your Veganism
1. Eat and let eat.
Owning your veganism means you don’t need to make anyone else own it. Your action is enough. Don’t preach it to others. If they ask you questions, only give minimal information and let them explore more on their own. Just suggest a few movies to watch and they will see why you became vegan (Cowspiracy, Earthlings, Vegucated, etc.). Vegans have a bad rep already from angry vegans imposing their “superior” beliefs on nonvegans. Those vegans are not acting vegan at all because they are violent toward humans who happen to eat differently from them. Us, happy and friendly vegans need to show that not all vegans are crazy, opinionated, annoying eaters. Otherwise, we won’t be invited to meals anymore. As yogis, we live and let live—and eat and let eat. If you can adopt this philosophy, you’ll show your growth and people might be more intrigued by veganism through your example.
2. Plan ahead.
Check menus prior to going to restaurants with nonvegans in order to see what you can eat. As you already know, your choices will be slim but make the best of it. Call the restaurant in advance and ask if there’s a special vegan menu or options you hadn’t considered from the menu. That way when the waiter comes to you, you’re ready and don’t create an ordeal about it. In my experience, this is the moment the family goes, “Oh! What are you going to eat?” and add their own opinionated comments. This way, you beat ’em to the punch—nonviolently of course. If the restaurant doesn’t have anything you can eat, eat prior to going to the restaurant and engage in great conversation in order to stay connected.
3. Don’t break.
If you must break your veganism, do it consciously and only for good reason. Don’t let peer or family pressure sway you. The desire to break because I want to eat something tasty is no longer part of my vocabulary. Some legit reasons might include travel, health, and sometimes ignorance of the actual ingredients. Become informed and stick with your truth!
4. Be informed.
Understand all the more hidden angles of being vegan like clothing, bedding, honey, car seats, palm oil, etc. Once you become aware of something being nonvegan, rise up, drop it, and find a vegan alternative. Nowadays, there are so many more options for us vegans. Let’s keep being part of the cure and not the cause!
About Our Expert
Rina Jakubowicz is a world-renowned international bilingual yoga teacher of teachers, Reiki practitioner, motivational speaker, and author. Learn more at rinayoga.com and on Instagram @rinayoga