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I’m Fat, Latina, and a Phantom in Mainstream Culture

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I don’t see me. For who can find a phantom? I am nothing. I am hollow. I am dust.

I’m fat and Latina. I belong to a phantom culture; a society that solely exists as a result of colonialism and where women were born in their mother’s beds to midwives. I grew up in an underrepresented and underserved socioeconomic neighborhood where the crack epidemic came tumbling through like Winnie-the-Pooh’s little black rain cloud. I made it out.

But, that didn’t solve the problems. It left me more lost. It’s especially difficult if you already live as a first generation bi-cultural paradox that grew up in the ghetto and now belongs to the list of women behind the glass case who gained upward mobility. It’s like Donald Glover says, “…it’s weird. You’d think they’d be proud of him, but when you leave the hood they think that you look down on them.”

tasting table

Whenever I open a magazine or my social media accounts, I never see me. Why not? Social media photos of large groups hanging out in a California metropolis and not a single black or latino person in sight. I work as a Web Editor for a fairly well known entity in San Francisco. I have an education. I had a catered wedding in an historical building. I’m a classically trained cook. I believe in the preservation of traditional and regional Puerto Rican cuisine. I socialize with people that look like those people in the magazines. I like sitting at long tables adorned with wildflowers, candles and consuming family style meals under the stars with a restored barn in the background. 

My motherland has been sold to PROMESA; colonialism by consent. My nation is drawing lines in the sand and forcing us to choose sides. Eric Ripert included three episodes in Puerto Rico for his Avec Eric show, the last episode was a party in Puerto Rico where everyone is drinking and eating…ain’t one dark Puerto Rican in sight.

My white husband makes nearly a six digit salary working at an advertising firm in San Francisco. We’re DINKS (double income no kids). His family helped build San Francisco and he is a descendant of the Rice-A-Roni/Ghirardelli empire (something he never talks about because how déclassé). We go to the ballet and opera. We’ve eaten at the quintessential fine dining establishments of the Bay Area. Do I not see me because my husband can trace his family roots back to the 1700s on a genealogy website within a single day, and I can’t even find my mother’s name? His roots dig deep and tie up in a neat little package. There’s no paperwork for my family. The roots are above ground, wildly grasping for any piece of foundation they can find. The colonialism permanently emblazoned on the ids of my ancestors. But, I know they’re there. It’s in the food I cook, the only way that I can connect to my ancestors…cooking their food. The recipes of phantoms.


When the women in my social groups complain about the lack of women making an appearance on the cover of food periodicals, that doesn’t bother me as much as seeing the first and only black chef to finally be included on the roster of Best New Chef in the history of that food periodical. And don’t say it’s because we’re not out there. And don’t say “If we had more people of color coming in with the skills…” It’s all bullshit. An easy cop-out to try and remove yourself for being responsible for imagining a world where the food industry is 57% Latino, all of them invisible, could be 57% Latino and publicly known for their craft. Instead, you choose to repurpose, repackage and resell our own culture back to us and pretend like you discovered it yourself. Just like you’ve been doing, oh, I don’t know…the entire length of history?!


And if I had to wait this long for Edourado Jordan to be on the cover of Food and Wine Magazine, can you imagine how long it’ll be until a Fat Latina is on the cover? I never thought about women’s issues. I never thought about Feminism. Feminism is about equal rights; men and women should be paid the same for the same job. Even if that ever happens, it won’t apply to me or women who look like me. If I can find them. The system is stacked against us. Feminism didn’t do anything for my mom or my grandma. They were in the workforce long before women took to the streets and burned their bras, they were in the workforce long after. Still toiling, still picking, still raising someone else’s children while their children watched themselves.

I’m often villainized. So much so that whenever I offer up suggestions and observations, I’m careful to include one hundred apologies and two hundred it’s-not-your-faults following the observation. I approach the situation with my head hung like an abused dog for fear I’ll come off as the angry woman of color. It doesn’t matter if I’m the uncensored and radical girl living in the underserved community or the diplomatic Web Editor living in a middle class suburb…I don’t see me. I’ll never see me. Which means I don’t see my mom or my grandma. I don’t see the women that toiled and picked and raised someone else’s children, meanwhile never being able to spend time with their own children. My grandma who married a man she didn’t love because it was her way out. My mom who worked in the factory, had a daughter, had the father bail and went back to school to get a certificate to work at the hospital because it was her way out. But, it doesn’t matter. They are merely wisps of smoke.

Where am I? If don’t see me, do I even exist? I am a phantom. I challenge you, open that magazine or those highly stylized lifestyle social media photos and point me out like Waldo. I won’t be there. I belong to a phantom culture; a society that solely exists as a result of colonialism “For who can find a phantom? I am nothing. I am hollow. I am dust.

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  1. Eli Med
    August 26, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    For a phantom you’re quite sassy and loud; and a drama queen. And seem to have sharp, shiny chip on your shoulder. And I… LOVE… YOU, as such is my story, as well. Well, not exactly, but (somewhat) close: I am overweight in my community. I am ancient. I am not your Aberchrombie and Fitch white boy fantasy boytoy. I am poor. Etc. || Thanks for this dramatic shit. It tickled me. It provoked me. It made me want to go to the ballet and opera with you. But don’t be a phantom at the ballet because we will look fabulous, and I want us to be seen.

    • illyannam
      September 4, 2016 at 6:49 pm

      Am I sassy and loud? Haha. I’ve tried to curb a lot of that and hold my tongue in light of so many life events where I was punished for being vocal. It took me a really long time to find a voice and I guess I’m trying to make up for lost time. Yes! Let’s go to the opera and the ballet. You’re such a drama queen. Yay!