As a kid, Saturday mornings meant cleaning the entire house — from hand-washing dishes in the sink, to scrubbing the toilets, to mopping the floor with the classic lavender-scented Fabuloso. Without fail, the sound of Maná’s Revolución de Amor blasted from the house speaker we used for parties and weekend cleaning. My immigrant mom, who woke up at 7 a.m. and already made breakfast and scrubbed the kitchen, would intermittently holler at my siblings and me to get up, giving us a few chances to finally roll out of bed. By the time “Mariposa Traicionera” blared through the sound system and the competing whirr of the vacuum became all-consuming, we knew it was now or never: We had to get up or we’d never hear the end of it. It didn't matter that it was the weekend.
Rituals like this one instilled in me a strong desire to do nothing, but it was impossible to complain. My dad and mom had gotten up early after a physically demanding workweek. They labored long hours as a truck driver and a factory worker, respectively, and still had energy for housework. Throughout my life, I have seen my Mexican mother and Guatemalan father, who came to the U.S. for the same reason many do — in search of opportunity for a better life — relentlessly pursue their version of the American Dream without the rest they need and deserve. It often left me wondering if they weren’t tired, if immigrants and their descendants could afford the luxury of rest and leisure.
As an adult, I’ve found myself emulating their behavior, not because I have to but rather because I feel guilty for relaxing, even when I’m tired or depressed. It feels wrong to obtain a life of abundance and comfort at a much lower cost to my well-being and to still need to rest. If they could do so much more and not press snooze on their alarms or unwind on the sofa during weekends, then why would I need, or deserve, to do that?
It was only when I moved to Los Angeles, my dream city, in 2021 and lived alone for the first time that I started to reckon with these notions of centering “self-care” and “putting oneself first” as necessary ways of life. But it has been a constant struggle. At 22 years old, I live what feels like an incredibly bougie lifestyle for someone like me, someone from an underserved, low-income community in Phoenix, Arizona. Growing up, I lacked privileges and luxuries that are now, fortunately, within hand’s reach, but it feels unsettling to live in abundance — mentally, socially, and physically — when the same is not true for my parents and folks with similar stories. I didn’t know how to grapple with this new reality and the emotions that came with it.
"It feels unsettling to live in abundance — mentally, socially, and physically — when the same is not true for my parents and folks with similar stories."
Irene Franco Rubio
Instead of listening to my body or trying to make sense of my guilt around rest, I worked, worked, and worked. And then I experienced burnout. I constantly overworked myself because I believed I needed to put in more and more work to maintain the advantages I had acquired and that so many like us cannot obtain. After an exhausting week of responsibilities as a full-time college student, community organizer, activist, scholar, and freelance writer, among other jobs and roles, I was tired. On top of that, I still felt pressured to do more — to produce, to go places, to think about what I would do next.
I’d sleep in on the weekends and feel remorseful. Lazy. I couldn’t even enjoy hanging out on the couch, watching movies, writing, taking naps, reading for pleasure, or any other small engagement that could have helped my mental health. The guilt exacerbated my anxiety, which made me believe I didn’t deserve to relax in the ways in which I wanted. My life was ruled by the fear of scarcity, uncertainty in my long-term economic status, and what issues would arise if I didn’t take preventative money measures.
I juggled all of these feelings while also pushing myself toward my purpose: advocating for historically marginalized folks like my parents. In my mind, I had to pursue this goal by any means necessary, even if that meant sacrificing my health. The injustice and ongoing oppressive ideologies that disproportionately affect people of color were the blazing fire that ignited me.
But eventually, it all caught up to me. I found myself incapable of completing all I set out to do. I was stressed. And I got sick often, likely because I wasn’t eating well or sleeping enough. When my body forced me to stop, I finally realized what the late Audre Lorde meant in her famously quoted thoughts on self-care: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I can’t carry out my fierce pursuit of justice if I don't sleep enough, eat sufficiently, or take time to rest in the way I now know is necessary. I cannot tend to the needs of my community if I'm not also tending to my own needs.
"The ways we judge and perceive productivity in Latine culture is a result of the lasting effects of settler colonialism and the capitalist culture ingrained in us."
Irene Franco Rubio
The ways we judge and perceive productivity in Latine culture is a result of the lasting effects of settler colonialism and the capitalist culture ingrained in us. The bedrock of the U.S. capitalist system has forced us to believe that productivity is the ultimate goal. As our ability to produce opens doors — even if it’s just ajar — for immigrants and their families in the U.S., productivity has come to represent hope and a brighter future. So rest becomes a counterintuitive notion as our very presence and existence is contingent on our willingness — or rather need — to work. It forces us to work past our limits and believe that time spent recharging is time wasted.
Unlearning this is how I’m, slowly, feeling less guilt for slowing down and taking moments to pause, reflect, and rejuvenate.
While challenging the existing structure of power requires a herculean effort, we can start achieving this, at the very base level, by recognizing how our collective self-preservation is foundational to generating a sustainable movement for change. It’s about each of us doing the work — internally and externally — on a daily basis by organizing in community and centering our well-being.
For me, doing the work includes unwinding in my sacred space by watching sitcoms, having a great vegan meal, and enjoying the company of those I love. Productivity won’t save me — but rest can.