Entry #2- “The Gift of Me: Experimentation”

Maven Viesha “Vi” Andrews (they/them) is an alumnx of our inaugural Maven Leadership Cohort. Born and raised in Miami, Vi Andrews is a community builder, marketing professional, producer and photographer. After losing 200 pounds and transforming their life through health and fitness, they are committed to inspiring others through their own journey of self acceptance and making the most out of life every day. They are most passionate about seeking Black queer liberation through storytelling and supporting storytellers to help get their work to the audiences that need to see it. Vi now calls Miami, Atlanta and Mexico City home.

This is the second entry in a four-part series where Maven Viesha “Vi” Andrews shares their personal journey and the growing insight that has accompanied it through a written narrative and images from their emerging lens-based practice.

A few years ago, I picked up running. My brother and I decided to train for the Miami Half Marathon in an effort to remain active despite our busy lives. Training for a half marathon was a humbling, yet satisfying experience. I spent 16 months starting and stopping my training before even reaching the start line. The hardest lesson I learned was embracing the “warm up”.

At the start of every run there is the “warm up”, a 15-20 minute window where I question if I’m able to endure my run. My legs feel like concrete cylinders struggling to create a steady rhythm with the ground, my breathing is inconsistent, and my mind hasn’t adjusted to the fact that I’m running…for fun. When I first started running, a guided-audio running coach encouraged me to fight the internal feeling that I should be going faster. He’d emphasize the importance of using the first few minutes to focus on my breathing, check in with my body, and set an intention. Reluctantly, I’d followed the checklist, and to my surprise and seemingly out of nowhere my full presence would come back to my body. I’d realize that my mind, body, and spirit are in alignment and my feet are now lifting off the floor, (somewhat) effortlessly. The “warm up” would suddenly end, and I’d enter the “coasting”.

The saying “life is a marathon, not a sprint”, became very real for me when I arrived in Mexico City. 2,000 miles away from Miami, I landed ready to hit the ground running–eager to experience ease, happiness, growth, and freedom in ways that I never had before. What I received instead was an abrupt reality check. To be honest, when I first arrived, I was lost. I struggled with internal challenges, culture shock, and navigating language barriers. On top of this, I had no answers to my family at home, and their questions about safety, my return, and my purpose there.

So, I decided to borrow from the lessons I learned during a guided 8-mile long run, and reluctantly submitted to the “warm up”, adjusting to life in Mexico City. In the early days, solitude brought many hidden feelings to the surface and the slower pace of life created room to question things I’d been ignoring—my feelings around people-pleasing, what happiness actually meant to me, and what I was willing to let go of in the pursuit of happiness. It felt like sitting in an interrogation room with myself; the current me was the suspect and my subconscious was the irritated lead investigator, beating me down to solve the crimes of self-neglect I had gotten away with for so long.

When I left the U.S., I didn’t expect the internal challenge of what it felt like to “be seen” as a Black, queer, masculine-presenting woman in Mexico. When I first started walking around the city, I stood out like a sore thumb and received a lot of inquisitive stares. I had to decide whether to shrink or shine. Initially, I shrank. I’d purposely avoided eye contact in the train and walked around the city with my head down. Coming from the U.S. during an especially contentious time, I carried around a lot of fear and shame. I was hyper-vigilant of being perceived as a threat or being threatened myself. I couldn’t really communicate, my loose grasp of the Spanish language was mostly a linguistic mix of Cuban, Dominican and Venezuelan phrases that I had absorbed during my upbringing in Miami. Even though I wanted to connect deeply to the environment and people around me, I subconsciously built up walls separating them and me. I was frustrated, and I knew that I didn’t travel 2,000+ miles from home, miles into my healing journey in search of a fuller life, to end up shrinking. I had to work through this feeling.

I had to remind myself that I was no longer in America. I asked myself, what would happen if I let the guards I’d acquired down? If I lovingly and shamelessly decided to show up as my fullest self and allow others to do the same? That’s how, in an environment full of strangers, I began experimenting with my gender presentation and embracing my masculine style. I put my queries to the test on an afternoon subway ride when I boarded the “women’s only” car for the first time. Meant to provide safety for women against assault during usually very crowded commutes, all eyes were on me from the moment I got on the train; standing slightly taller than the majority of women on board, rocking a short fade and wearing a boxy, button-up shirt. Feeling the glaring looks of the other passengers, I began to feel like I had made a mistake and questioned getting off at the next stop but I stayed on. Later in the ride, an older woman tapped me on the shoulder and told me that this train was just for women and men had to ride in the others. I had already subconsciously prepared myself for this moment and quickly showed her my ID card which read “femenino”. I softly told the woman “Está bien, soy una mujer. sólo me parezco un poco diferente.” which translates to: “It’s okay, I am a woman. I just look a little different.” She smiled, apologized a few times, and we kept riding along. After this ride, I decided to lower my guard further by simply saying “hola” to strangers on the street, a small decision that transformed streets full of inquisitive looks into streets full of welcoming smiles.

Overcoming some of my deepest internal challenges opened the door for me to fully embrace the offerings of living in Mexico. During these early days, I discovered that pleasure is my birthright and life is meant to be celebrated. I saw new experiences as opportunities to learn about myself and others. As I connected deeper within myself and the city, I started to see abundance all around and began indulging in the riches and small joys of daily life. The beautiful canopy of a tree-lined street, the deep notes of cocoa from freshly brewed Oaxacan coffee. I slowly released my preconceived notions of self, which granted me the freedom to explore who I really was and who I could be in this new city.

Oh, and in January 2023, I completed the Miami Half Marathon. Since then, I’ve maintained running as a hobby, running 3-5 times a week, all across Mexico and the U.S. These days, I’m not set on a specific goal or training plan. I use the activity as a way to come back to my mind and body daily. The warm-up period of every run never goes away. But now, I approach each starting line acknowledging that the “warm up” and “coasting” both await me.