On being curly in the Dominican Republic
I didn’t always like my curly hair. I’m Dominican and curly hair is not really seen as pretty down here… they call it ‘pelo malo’ (bad hair), which I find disturbing as my hair didn’t do anything wrong. Straight or straighter hair is called ‘pelo bueno (good hair), and is desired by the great majority.
It was difficult growing up with curls. Kids had a million offensive names for curly hair, so school was quite the challenge at times. I ended up hating my hair and asking my mom to relax it. I thought it was the best thing I could do to look pretty… at the end of the day, ‘pelo bueno’ was THE THING, the goal. So, my mom took me to the salon where the hair dresser transformed my hair. What was once pelo was now bueno. When I got home, my sister looked at me and said, “I’m so sorry for you, you just damaged your hair “. But it wasn’t ‘till I turned 18 and entered college that I realized she was right.
I’ve always been a little “revolutionary”. I was the kid they took to the psychologist’s office because of my strange thoughts and ideas. I wasn’t a follower, at all, even in a private, catholic school (so you can imagine why nuns considered me as a hazard). I wrote papers and essays about racism and identity- – I was very uncomfortable with us Dominicans having identity problems, wanting to relate to Cristopher Columbus and trying to convince ourselves that we come from Spanish people, when the reality is more than 50% of our culture and looks were given by African slaves brought here to work on the land. I didn’t like the way they taught us from the beginning that it’s not good to be Black, because Black people “can’t think”, and aren’t as smart as withe people are, and how the society saw women with curly hair as sluts (yes, they tend to think that here).
I was talking to a friend one day about how we, coming from Black people, tend to be quite racist and ignorant (he, of course didn’t agree) until I realized there was something very important I wasn’t seeing. I had these same feelings toward myself, relaxing my hair and not embracing what I was born with… what God gave me. So I stopped relaxing it, and started growing my curls out. I admit, it was really difficult at first. But I said to myself that if I wanted society’s perspective to change, I had to take the first step and show people that I wasn’t afraid of my roots… that I was completely comfortable with who I was and where I came from. I didn’t do the big chop, because I’ve never liked short hair– I just started letting it grow and began slowly cutting off the relaxed ends, so here I am! My curls are hanging on my shoulders as I’m writing and I’m completely happy, all because I found people that share my point of view, read some stories, got all inspired and said “hey!! Why can’t I inspire someone too?”
Now when anyone dares to tell me “why don’t you go to the hair salon and get your hair straight? You look like a mad woman”, I tell them “todos tenemos el negro detrás de la oreja” (Dominican phrase, meaning we all come from Black, African people). I’m proud of my curly hair and I love the versatility. I promise when I have kids, if I have a girl, I’ll never, EVER, relax her hair and will teach her to love it the way it is.