how It started

I never do interviews. Whenever someone contacted VeganMoni for an interview my response was always the same..."not interested in exposure." I am always asked how VeganMoni started and I wish I had some awesome story that starts with..."I had a dream.." but that would be false. Unless my dream was to eat and pay bills, then yes, I had a dream-to survive. I have never dreamt of owning a restaurant or being a chef, although I grew up in a kitchen. My mom has been a cook for 40 years at the same place she started in the 70's. She is a natural cook as was my grandmother and great-grandmother. My great-grandmother was a baker and my grandmother created a cenaduria in her car port where she sold food to help make a living. I grew up with my mother taking tamale orders for xmas, going to tupperware meetings and  trying to sell Shakley door to door. My mom would also buy clothes, sandals, lipsticks and fashion jewelry from the callejones and would sell merchandise out of her car during lunch to the girls from work. When she wasn't hustling selling food and clothes she would sell fresh squeezed jugos during breakfast and sell sodas at lunch. I come from a long line of hustlers. 

VeganMoni will turn six this year and although this story is not about following a dream as it is about surviving, its my story and I won't be ashamed of it. We don't all have the same opportunities and we all make different decision that shape our outcome. I never expected to take VeganMoni on this journey. This journey was not made for us. I never thought of this as a business or as a movement, I simply needed money. I had no clue how to market VeganMoni. I, like most of the people in my neighborhood, sold food out of necessity. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I lost everything. I lost my job. I lost my relationship. I lost all my savings and I lost my dreams.

For a whole year, while I suffered excruciating pain due to my surgeries, I remained stagnant. I allowed this process to occur without self love and I was hopeless. I was forced to apply for government assistance and I would be lying if I said that there was no humiliation attached to that. I had no choice. I started receiving about $400 a month in foodstamps. That first month, I remember, I received more than I did the rest of the months. Thats when I had an idea. I didn't have money, but I had food stamps and survival skills. So, I spread the word and began cooking at pop-ups. It was a success. People respond very well to this whole no meat, no cheese approach to cooking. No meat and no cheese simply meant less money for me to spend on dishes. I had also taken on this new vegan diet, so it perfect. I was doing me. I had come up with a way to make money and also take care of myself in the process. I began to do workshops and delivering meals. I was making ends meet all by myself. Well, with the help of my food stamps. These few hundred dollars a month allowed me to flip my money. I was out of the hole I had been in a few months earlier. With every extra dollar I made a saved a few more to buy equipment. I started buying big pots and pans and replacing all my $.99 plastic containers with BPA free containers. I was so happy. A few months later, I stopped receiving food stamps.

During this time, people would contact me to do interviews. I was super surprised... like..."why me." First of all, I am not doing anything different than the lady on 4th St. is. Second, unless they were also gonna interview all the tamale ladies- I was out. And third, but most important, I refused to get any attention just because I was vocal and kinda well known. CHALE. I knew my food was top-notch, but I also had no interest in climbing any social latter. I just don't have enough fake smiles to pass out.  So, I never did an interview.  Partly because no one who approached me that made me feel comfortable enough to tell my story, but also I didn't want them to turn VeganMoni into a hip piece about veganism and some revolutionary movement attached to it. I have worked hard. My movement has been about surviving with the deck of cards I had been dealt with. It has been about reaching deep into the roots that have been embedded in me in order to move forward. It was about rising from the fukn ashes when something or someone tries to burn you down. 

what cancer stole

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When i was first diagnosed with cancer, Sierra was only 10 years old. The only time she had ever seen me in the hospital was when Lali was born. Her dad was no longer living with us and a new dad had entered the picture. It was very hard for her to accept this change even though her father was very active in her life. She had been our baby for 6 years before a new baby sister came into the picture. She suffered from middle child syndrome at a very early age. I don’t remember much about how I broke the news (about my cancer) to the girls back then, but I clearly remember a shift in all our lives. Sierras shift was the hardest to understand and process. Those years past me by so quick, that before I knew it, I was having a fist fight with my 14 year old daughter. I tried to hang on. Cancer does not discriminate and it also doesn't shield you from any reality. I was now in remission and everything between Sierra and I had grown so far apart, I could no longer grasp it. She seemed to be floating in another dimension even when she was 5 feet away. The look of innocence had her left her and her glances were filled with confusion and restlessness. She was angry at me and I was angrier at myself. I was never myself after cancer. I had become bitter and angry and dressed it up as bravery and courage.

I let her go. I listened to my mother plead with me, but I still let her go. 

Sierra moved to Las Vegas with her father. For many years, she had begged me to let her go live with him. She had always been closer to him and I knew she missed him. I knew that holidays and summers where not enough for her. She always returned home heartbroken and It made me so sad. I could not begin to fathom being so far away from her, but our relationship had gotten so bad, that I decided to let her go. I hoped that our relationship would mend and that she would return home.

Things seemed great and then she got pregnant.

Shit hit the fan. Not once, but twice. These times made me feel hopeless again. I was confused as to why another obstacle. Cancer would have sufficed. I was lost. This was one of my hardest times for me.  I remained isolated, with the exception of a few friends that listened. I tried to remain positive, but I couldn’t even begin to see the other side of this. I too, imagined something different for my daughter. Something I believed to be successful, less cruel and empowering. I begged Sierra to return home, but she didn't. Our relationship was still very rocky and we both knew it.  I had known the consequences of being young, confused and alone. I too believed that i would find solstice in my creations. But as quickly as those familiar thoughts ran through my body, they also escaped me. I knew absolutely nothing about what she was going through. In no way could I compare myself to her. I have never questioned my mothers time on earth. It never crossed my mind that I could lose my mother sooner than later, and surely not at the age of ten. Sierra had endured so much heartache that all this weighed heavy on me. I knew that none of this was her fault and yet she was the one suffering the most. I quickly moved passed the anger and tried to understand from a place of love. I took responsibility for my absence and she for her temper.

Cancer has taken not only time from me but also from my children. It stole a childhood that neither time nor I could never replace. Sierra was forced to view life under different spectacles. She was forced to combine and deal with feelings of death, adolescence and abandonment all at the same time. What I would give to turn back time. But it has been exactly that, that has contributed to our healing. Sierra is definitely not the same person anymore and neither am I. We have a better line of communication and are learning how to be better versions of ourselves everyday. 

Her son Kingston is now two and Peyton is one. They are my heart and the light in her life.