Entry #3- “The Gift of Me: Exploration”

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 third 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.

When was the last time you did something for the first time? What did it teach you about yourself? Fresh off of a few months of deep healing upon my arrival in Mexico City, I realized that I could be and do more. I had lost 200 pounds and gained trust in my physical body, I was confronting more truths about myself and who I really am. I was determined to explore more of my capabilities: life had opened up in front of me and I didn’t want to waste any more time.

I am an “all or nothing” type of person. So when I choose to do something, I dive head first…and that is how I ended up sleeping in the middle of the Mexican mountains.

In Mexico, I fell in love with yoga. Yoga became my “thing”, a daily practice of exploring the limits of my body and mind. I found pleasure in the frustrations of trying and eventually succeeding at challenging poses. It wasn’t long before I connected with a group that hosted yoga retreats and eagerly signed up for a weekend-long yoga retreat in the mountains of Puebla, Mexico.

It wasn’t until after we had driven high into the mountains, 5 hours from Mexico City, that I realized the weekend would be way more than I expected. Disembarking our truck, our instructors told us that in order to reach the retreat, we’d be carrying all of our belongings on our backs and hiking 90 minutes. I was the only one who brought a rolling suitcase. Spending the majority of my life in big cities and heavily reliant on technology, I had very little experience being outdoors and had never hiked before. As I shoved whatever I could fit from my rolling carry-on suitcase into a small backpack, so many questions filled my mind: “what TF are you doing out here?” “If you get lost (or worse), how will your mom find you?” I texted my location and retreat contact info to my folks, said a quick prayer, and trailed the rest of the group to begin my first ever hike.

Looking back, I’m sure it was a beautiful hike, but in the moment, every single muddy step up the slippery mountain felt like a step further away from the comfort of the SUV that could have easily taken me back to the city. But, I kept going. I’d put one foot in front of the other, praying that the next one would be the last one before arriving at our campsite. Little by little, with each step (and even a few slips), I grew more proud and trusting of myself. Eventually, we stopped at a beautiful forest oasis named La Cueva (translation: “the cave”). That’s right, after accomplishing one of the most unexpectedly terrifying, yet satisfying moments of my life, I found out I was about to spend the next three days living in a cave. Pre-hike, city-dwelling version of me would have opted out from this detail alone, but the adrenaline rush and payoff of the hike had lessened my fear. The three days spent in Puebla put me through more eye-opening and WTF moments than I’d experienced in all of my 27 years leading up to that point. Diving into freezing waterfalls, navigating more unexpectedly difficult hikes, and using “dry toilets” are just a few things that I experienced. My time in the mountains stretched my perceived limits of myself. There were many moments where I’d asked myself “wtf are you doing out here??”, but at the end of each challenge was a rewarding outcome. Luxury was redefined for me during this trip. I discovered and saw the richness in being content with complete disconnection from daily devices, having all essentials within reach, and relishing in fresh fruits. But I also learned that when I fully let go, even in the face of adversity, the universe will find a way and see me through.

My weekend in Puebla fueled my confidence and desire to do further exploration in Mexico. A few months after my retreat, I backpacked around Central Mexico for four months. Traversing across some of Mexico’s most historic cities, I saw beautiful art and architecture in Queretaro; learned about the history and economy of tequila in Guadalajara; kayaked across crystal blue waters in the Huasteca region of San Luis Potosi; and had the best “pan de muerto” during Dia De Los Muertos in Michoacan. I accessed a deeper sense of connection with the local community through language learning. I began to feel at home in a foreign land within myself.

I decided to share this sense of homefinding with my family, hoping that through sharing my experience in Mexico they’d better understand why I chose to stay, a decision they struggled with for a long time. I wanted to convey to them what I was doing and how this journey was transforming me. I shared an altar for my late aunt and grandfather that I had created during a Dia de Los Muertos celebration through photos and videos. At first, I hesitated sharing, worried that this gesture would clash with my family’s traditionally Southern Baptist customs. I’m glad I shared it though, because my grandmother called me after seeing the altar, full of inquisitive and loving questions about the experience. Not only was she able to see me more clearly, but I was able to understand that my family was open to learning about my experiences, even if it was non-traditional. That choice has become a cherished moment for me–it was the start of a deeper relationship with my grandmother. So much deeper, that a few months after this experience, I felt brave and trusting enough to finally come out to her.

The Gift of Belonging

While traversing central Mexico was fun and rewarding in many ways, I felt lonelier than ever after this solo journey. Years of social anxiety, self-isolation, and performing for others left me feeling lonely in many parts of my life, despite my growing comfort with myself. Deep down, I yearned for a community of like-minded, supportive peers. I wanted to connect deeply with others and begin creating lifelong memories together.

Fed up with not establishing genuine connections, I decided to make myself more available in spaces that interested me, including museums, galleries, music events, and cultural spaces. Over time, I formed a community of Black and QTPOC individuals, both expats and locals, bonded by our desire to live more freely, abundantly, and connected. Together, we create experiences, art, and memories. In a world where we were told our dreams were too big, too loud, or too radical, we see and affirm each other’s wildest aspirations.

They inspire me and show me that so much is possible. This project that you’re reading wouldn’t be what it is without the QTPOC creators I’ve met across Mexico—like local artists who use their work to narrate stories of resistance and Black and queer artists denied opportunities to showcase their work in the states finally being heard in Mexico—their creative expression and commitment to pursuing their dreams inspired me to finally pick up a camera in 2023, tapping into my long held dream to tell stories through photography.