This piece was written by my sister, Jennifer. She wrote this for an assignment she had in one of her classes. When she asked me to review her essay I was not expecting an opinion piece on her hair. Before finishing her piece, I had to ask if I could share it, she did not hesitate, so here we are!
While similar to my post “Pelo Malo”, this opinion piece divulges another point of view of the experience of having curly hair. I hope you all enjoy and connect to this piece as much as I did.
“¡Peinese ese cabello!” yelled a Dominican man as I walked down the street with my best friend. This translates as “Brush that hair!”, but to me it sounded more like “This is not okay!” or “Do something with that hair!” As if the hair that grows naturally out of my head is a threat to this man’s life and must be fixed at once. But he’s not the only Dominican who feels or thinks this way.
Once upon a time, I too believed that straight hair was the only hair. As I grew up, I learned about different types of hair, but still believed that my straight hair was superior to any other. But then I began to crave curly hair, I envied those who had it, and soon I began to realize that my way of thinking was no longer working for me. I stopped resisting only to find out that I did, in fact have it under all my straight chemically processed hair.
I have been growing out my natural hair for almost three years and the longer I have natural hair the less these kind of remarks seem to bother me. Hearing that the hair on my head is a problem and should be dealt with loses its meaning after a while. Not because of how numb you become to hearing the same thing over and over, but because you begin to tell yourself that they don’t know any better. I know because before I thought so as well.
People in Hispanic communities, such as the Dominican one, know little to nothing about naturally curly hair. From past encounters, some people cannot tell you the difference between “kinky” and “nappy”. I too had to learn that “kinky” refers to having curls in your hair and “nappy” is a belittling term given to make curly hair seem inferior or ugly. There are people in the Dominican community who truly believe that if your hair has not been straightened, it is not worthy of a compliment. I once believed this myself and hated the sight of my hair if it had not been “done” in a beauty salon.
Being a part of the Dominican community taught me that hair that is not straight looks too rough and is needs to be “done”. I would always hear from family members after a week of not going to the salon that it was about time “I did my hair”. As if hair could not be free and do as it pleases. It made me feel as if I had a job, an extra thing to worry about for other people.
To some people it is normal to say things such as “you have bad hair, let me fix it for you” or “are you sure you don’t want to relax it?”. These people have no idea that there is no such thing as “bad” hair. To them it exists as if there is “good” hair, or straight hair, resulting in the reality that there must be “bad” hair, or curly hair.
Unfortunately, this notion of what is “good” and “bad” hair in Dominican communities has persisted because of a larger issue beyond hair itself. Growing up in a Dominican household opened my eyes to how exactly Dominicans view natural hair. It is not just that natural hair is “bad” or “nappy”, it is the association that “bad” has with those with darker complexion.
Some who prefer straight hair have no clue that their preference comes trickling down from ancestors who were once brainwashed to believe that beautiful is “pelo lacio”, straight hair, and that beautiful is light, not black or dark.
It is not a coincidence that one of the worst things you can say to someone who is Dominican is that they are Black. Whether or not you say it because it is apparent in their skin tone or because Dominicans have a clear African ancestry. I have mostly received the same response. They will say “I’m not black, I’m Dominican”, as if us, Dominicans are all of European descent and not a single one of us could possibly be of African descent.
If I had a dollar for every single person who said this to me, I would probably not be a student debt.
-Jennifer L. Gomez