Growing up, people would always asked me about my hair, about my skin, about my eyes, about my mother, about my grandmother. Anti-blackness would prompt these questions to become inquiries, attempting to trace back lineage beyond dialogue, and into imaginary stories that may have been true or may have not. In their eyes, my hair symbolized something foreign, something dangerous, something that was not meant to survive, yet here I am loud, and no longer afraid.
Here I am, a survivor of a country in which not being afraid meant facing danger.
My hair has given me the gift of recognizing all the ways I’m proud to be Latinx. Here are seven of its most important daily lessons.
1. Take up space, in all of the loud ways.
My hair has always made me very visible, and so I have always been afraid of saying the wrong things, or being noticed for the wrong reasons. But in a world in which my voice is an act of defiance, my big curly hair continues to remind me to take up space in the presence of that which threatens me.
My unruly, unbendable hair reminds me to stand strong in the face of white power. My powerful and thick hair reminds me of my own power, of my own thickness, and of the power in my voice and actions.
2. Never apologize for your curves.
I love my curves. I love the way my belly balloons out of my tiny shirts, echoing the womb of my grandmother, reminding me of her apron wet from chopping and washing vegetables. She often smelled of potatoes, and fed us meals that smelled of the mountains and valleys we could all trace our bloodlines back to.
I remember as a child being ashamed of my legs, as a teenager knowing that tall boots would never zip, and now as a woman running my hands back and forth, a daily ritual and prayer. My legs tell stories of women who climb mountains, my calves are a testament of my own mountains and journeys, and these big hairy legs of mine, this big belly, my curvy body, echo the large mess that is my hair.
My hair is curly, and so am I. I am a big curvy wave of a mountain.
3. Bounce back.
When I was younger, I used to cry when my mom would brush my hair. She would pull out the tangles and knots, and though she would try to be gentle, I would always protest every single rubber band, braid, or ponytail. When I crossed the border and said goodbye to my mother, I threw my brush in the garbage, excited to start a life without hair pulling. Within a few months, my hair became so knotted that it became impossible to fix. I gave myself my very first American haircut at twelve years old, and have made it a tradition to cut my hair after every heartbreak.
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My mother tells me that she misses my long long hair, and so do I. But in this tradition I have taught myself to change my appearance to move past my pain. I no longer recognize the child who lost her mother. She looks nothing like me.
She looks exactly like me.
4. You don’t have to accommodate other people’s opinions.
Cutting my hair didn’t feel like enough, so I eventually managed to get my hands on a hair straightener. And though many people are empowered by self-made changes, these choices didn’t feel like they were made for me, but for other people’s idea of me.
My straight hair felt unnatural, and it was too much of a hassle to take care of. Like other aspects of my body that had dominated my body image for years, I eventually fell in love with what I had once found “ugly”. I stopped straightening my hair, as well as shaving and binge dieting, trading those out for midnight bicycle rides, long-distance kissing, and a new love for skirts.
Many people have tried to define not just my curls, but my identity as a Latinx person. And in trying to accommodate the opinion of others, I forgot that both of these things are tied to the nature of my ancestors as well as my body’s relationship to them. I am unapologetically Latinx, as I am curly, as I am messy, as I am loud. My hair is a reflection of my personality, as well as my inability to conform to a system that has tried to cage and erase my people for hundreds of years.
When I wear my hair out, and let it do its own half-fro half-fluff all-curl thang, I am a statement to the complexity of our survival, the beauty of our resilience, and the mescolanza of our people: we are a product of survival and unity; we are living proof that freedom is not a destination, but an ongoing process.
5. Resist always, break all combs (and borders!)
My hair is a destroyer of combs. Growing up, I assumed combs were sold broken, as this is all that existed in my house. My hair and my mother’s would fight any comb or hairbrush that dared to try to tame us. We would always win.
How powerful is it, that part of our nature is to break the unnatural and the plastic?
Like the dandelion that grows in the concrete, we have surpassed not just physical borders, but artificial ones as well. As Latinx and Indigenous people, we are a mixture of two worlds. Unruly and curly, we are alive in the truth that is our inability to sit down, shut up, and get a hold of ourselves. They cannot hold us, because they cannot reach us.
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We are that weed that grew in the face of the pavement questioning the existence of buildings, prisons, detention centers, borders and pipelines, money and greed. The fact that we took our lives, moved our houses, celebrated, and sang is proof that they can try to kill us in many ways, and through many means, but we will always somehow manage to survive.
“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
6. Stay close to nature, and your roots.
When I ask my mother why my hair is so curly, she answers: “Because it was made to mirror my own.” When I ask her why hers is curly, she laughs, and tells me that she doesn’t know. She recently visited my grandfather’s birthplace, a village near the outskirts of “La Selva”: the Peruvian rainforest that makes up half of my homeland. There she met my grandfather’s family. I lived this through her pictures, laughing at videos of the local parade and my aunties’ dancing.
If I am a mountain, my hair is a forest.
My people had babies whose feet were made to survive the harsh winter. Those babies had children who grew up speaking a language I only know ten words of. I am tied to my homeland by womb, yet separated from it by force; but by tying myself to this land that is not mine, I am fulfilling a prophecy.
Our unity with each other and with the land is so important. As Indigenous people, this land is not just our home, but our mother, and by connecting to it we are not just joining the fight for our freedom, but for our lives.
We cannot be alive without land, nor water.
7. You are your ancestors’ living image.
To be Latinx is to be a creator of a culture. We were stranded, lost in two cultures, mixed in three worlds, separated by borders. Our languages turned to slang which turned to code, a secret message that whispered of our survival. Our parties and dances are a mixture of tribal stories, runaway slave songs, and something new, as our ancestors learned to adapt to this old new world.
This world threatened to kill them, to kill us, but we’re here. And we are not sorry.
And why should you be? You have made it this far; your bones and your skin are products of both trauma and love. Your hair gives you trouble sometimes, impossible to control, just like you. You are the product of a new culture whose everyday fight is not just to belong, but to find a way home.
How lucky it is, to be us.
[Feature Image: On the left side of the photo is a person with curly long hair. They are wearing a black short-sleeved shirt and deep red lipstick. The background is black. Source: It’s Holly]