There are countless other so-called health hacks ingrained in immigrant families’ history; influencers just haven’t “discovered” them yet.
Growing up, my parents, two siblings, and I dressed up to walk laps around our neighborhood every night after dinner. There was nothing to see and nowhere to go, at least not on foot: just half-dead grass and other people’s houses in a nondescript, suburban part of Texas. After a few yards in either direction, the sidewalk would end and we’d have to keep going on someone’s driveway or the side of a busy road, or simply do another lap around our sleepy block. Our world was not designed for walking — and still, we had a conviction to walk.
Late last year, I came across the “hot girl walk” trend: Influencers swore by the practice of walking without a destination in mind, either alone or with a workout buddy, to achieve myriad benefits, from reducing anxiety to easing back pain. What distinguishes a hot girl walk from any other walk, according to Mia, the TikToker who started the trend, is the mindset in which you embark on one: You’re supposed to focus on the things you’re grateful for, your goals, and most importantly, how hot you are.
My immediate thought when initially watching these videos was that I should probably start going on hot girl walks. That was quickly followed by a slight pang of annoyance; were influencers really trying to sell the act of walking aimlessly to me, a child of immigrants whose upbringing was defined by what were essentially unglorified hot girl walks?
Our world was not designed for walking — and still, we had a conviction to walk.
Growing up, I remember feeling that our daily walks were part of what differentiated us from our neighbors, who would drive past my family and stare out their windows, probably confused as to why we weren’t inside our own car. Even though my parents come from two distinct cultures — my dad is Mexican and my mom Chinese — their dedication to taking walks in our decidedly unwalkable part of the world aligned. Sometimes, they said it was to help us digest our food; other times, to help with our blood circulation and improve our state of mind. More often, they gave no reason at all. We simply understood that it was part of our daily routine and that our lives were better for it.
We dressed up for our hot girl walks as best as we could, in our denim shorts and cotton shirts from Ross — and even though I understand now that we looked a mess, we felt undeniably hot. We’d bond and talk about things we were grateful for (like the new words we finally understood in English) and the funny characteristics we were learning about Americans (like the fact that many weren’t fans of bread crust — the best part of the slice, as far as we were concerned). The first time I almost came out of the closet was during a hot girl walk, when my dad pulled me aside and asked why I had Googled “hot boys kissing” on his computer. I was still exploring my sexuality and I told him it was a mistake; he pretended to believe me and we kept walking. But mostly, during our outings, we just walked in silence, glad to be in each other’s company. My most vivid childhood memories are of moments that happened during our walks.
Were influencers really trying to sell the act of walking aimlessly to me, a child of immigrants whose upbringing was defined by what were essentially unglorified hot girl walks?
While we may have seemed like an anomaly to our white neighbors — who, I took note of early on, didn’t go on walks unless there was a dog involved — we did encounter other immigrant families while out strolling. There was an Indian family, a Hispanic family, and another Chinese family, all of whose routes would occasionally coincide with our own. Sometimes, we’d wave at each other from across a road or a driveway; more often, we’d bow our heads and walk past them without a word. Maybe we felt slightly embarrassed by how similar we were to the other immigrant families — how we all similarly stuck out from the “norm,” or how, despite longing to be “more American” in every other way, we refused to assimilate in this particular way.
My family never openly discussed mental health, but like many other immigrant families, they understood something fundamental about happiness — and that manifested in these walks. They knew that they couldn’t let the structure of American neighborhoods, which were designed to maximize privacy and car use, stop them from partaking in an activity they considered to be a fundamental part of human existence. They understood that just because you could drive everywhere didn’t mean you should, and that any place in the world — even Plano, Texas — had things you could only see if you took the time to walk. On our route, those things included armadillos, fireflies, and once in a while, coyotes.
My immigrant family understood something fundamental about happiness. They knew that they couldn’t let the structure of American neighborhoods, which were designed to maximize privacy and car use, stop them from partaking in an activity they considered to be a fundamental part of human existence.
So when I first delved into the “hot girl walk” trend 13 years later and learned the purported health benefits are actually backed by scientific evidence, I couldn’t help but think about the ways in which I didn’t always take my immigrant parents’ unconventional wisdom about mental health — going on walks — seriously. I realized there are, in fact, many so-called health trends or hacks ingrained in my own family’s history; influencers just haven’t “discovered” them yet. It made me want to trust where I come from a little bit more.
A few years ago, my parents moved to California. Every time I visit them, we lace up our Brooks and Nike shoes after dinner and head out on the same route that winds down a hill — their new hot girl route — and I leave my phone in the house. It’s not exactly the same as those Plano evenings in 2008. Now, there are fit California people jogging, a roadrunner that swooshes into a hole anytime it sees us approaching, and yes, even some newly minted hot girl walkers. When we get to a lamppost at the end of a long street, we circle it and turn back around toward the house. The entire walk takes approximately one hour. In the midst of all the things that have changed in our lives since I left home nearly a decade ago, I’m grateful our hot girl walks have stayed. And now, I’m no longer afraid of people driving by and jeering at how stereotypically immigrant we are — they don’t know this yet, but we are light years ahead.