I don't know anything about being small. I grew four inches in one year in seventh grade and the excruciating pain made it difficult for me to walk for most of that year. My father would carry me to the bathroom and back to bed when the pain in my Achilles tendon and knees would overwhelm me. When it was all over, I stood at 5'10'' tall in a classroom of students (and sometimes teachers) who barely made it to my shoulder. I left my own parents behind and I now stood taller than my 5'8'' tall dad -- a man known in Cuba as the "Beast" because of his buff and "bralic" physique.
No woman in my family had ever been this tall, and I wasn't prepared to live life as a tall Latina. My mother told me to stand out in life and avoid just being one more in the crowd. So I did what she said, and I put on my new size 11 shoes for the first time with a smile. But her advice was easier said than done.
I struggled to find jobs in my community and always had to leave the area to find work because being such a tall Latina was such an anomaly that the owner couldn't entertain the idea of hiring me. I also could never find shoes, clothes or anything I needed in my town.
At parties, the boys would usually choose the shorter girls for salsa partners. And I didn't want to dance with any of them anyway because they were too short for me. When they did choose me, I was so used to being powerful and independent at this point that I would try to lead. I could feel them getting agitated with me, so I would stop dancing, put my heels back on (which I had taken off to be closer in height to my partner) and just leave.
Basketball saved me. A coach spotted me extending my long arms for a teacher who needed things added to the very top of a bulletin board. I could feel the coach staring at me with the same look Indiana Jones had when he finally got his hands on the lost ark. It wasn't long before I was permanently placed underneath the basketball rim with my long arms extended in the air waiting for my next screaming order from my new coach. Summers were filled with basketball camps, and I met tall girls across the state of NJ. I lived and breathed basketball every waking minute of my life, and people were celebrating my long arms and physical abilities all the time. I finally found the one place where being short was seen as a disadvantage.
Off the court things got a little bit trickier. I could never look to stars like Selena or Jennifer Lopez because I didn't see myself in any of them. So I found a role model in Shaquille O'Neal. A life-sized poster of him was taped to the wall in my bedroom. I found comfort in stories about his head sticking out of his favorite convertible and his struggles to find shoes.
My first boyfriend (and every boyfriend after that) was a football player who was as big as a house. And while he never made me feel badly about my height, all of his friend's girlfriends were docile and meek and would share clothing with each other all the time, which had a way of making me feel insecure.
It's with all this going through my head that I decided that I would aim to be small. I just wanted to blend in. So I ate less, worked out more and made it down to a size two in skirts. My shoe size actually went down a size because my feet got so thin. I didn't have the energy to do anything, and all the stronger girls started pushing me around on the court. But I finally got my wish: I was small.
After a year of being weak and finally feeling small, I realized that I couldn't sustain this for very long. Plus being small wasn't what I thought it would be. No one was celebrating me for anything, and I had lost my loyal fans of coaches, athletes and friends on the bleachers. As my high school years came to a close, I decided to be whatever I was going to be and embrace who I am.
I stand at 6'2'' in heels, and when I run down the basketball court and aim for the hoop my long arms look beautiful as I extend them in the air. I can take a charge from an athlete running at full speed, fall on the ground and get right back up. And I can beat huge men in games of one-on-one. If that doesn't make a girl feel powerful, what else will? I'm strong, and I decided a long time ago that I would never hide that part of me or be small again. I will not take my shoes off to dance with anyone or make myself shrink in any way again.