“I see you’re still not doing anything with Santana’s hair.”
I had to re-read the text.
Yeah I read it correctly.
It was a text from one of my “friends” after I posted a picture of my son on Facebook. What exactly was she trying to say? That my son has bad hair? However I wasn’t surprised, this wasn’t the first time she casually asked me what I was going to do with my son’s hair. My response was always the same. “Nothing.” She would always suggest that maybe I braid it or put it in little ponytails all over his head.
She wasn’t the only one though.
Friends and family members would always text or call me to ask about my son’s hair. I really don’t know why everyone felt so strongly about it. However it was starting to make me angry. People are always so obsessed with what is considered “good hair” they don’t ever think about what they are saying. Or even what kind of lasting effects it could have on a person’s self-esteem.
The other day my 7-year-old niece was face timing with my son. The first thing she always says when she sees him is “ugh what’s wrong with his hair?” It’s like she’s just waiting to say it. Instead of “accidentally” hanging up the call I decided to use this as a teaching moment. My response was, “there isn’t anything wrong with his hair. My son/your cousin is a handsome boy. Even though he may not say it, it’s very hurtful to talk about his hair like that.”
Straight hair is beautiful
When we were younger my mom didn’t really have to do very much to our hair. Sometimes we would wash our hair in the morning before school. At the bus stop kids would say we were going to get sick. I doubt it but okay. Throughout the day my hair had numerous hands in it, because that’s what people do. They grab your hair and tell you, “you got that good hair.” They weren’t being nice when they did it though. At one point my mom started using gel in our hair to give our curls more hold. Everyone started saying we had a “jheri curl.” It was horrible and I hated it. I got to a point where I hated my natural hair.
I wanted straight hair like all the other girls. “You don’t have hair like them” my mother would explain. I didn’t care. So she started straightening it with a curling iron. It wouldn’t last though because by the time I got outside my hair was a huge puff-ball of a mess. I couldn’t go back home to redo it so I had to wear it like that all day. I got made fun of even more. However I was still determined to have straight hair.
There is a term in Latin America called “pelo malo.” It means bad hair, but it’s very offensive. It’s usually used to describe people with kinky, curly hair. Usually black people, because the desirable hair was straight hair. Straight hair is associated with whiteness and euro-centric features. Media has often portrayed Latinas as light skinned with long straight hair. So Afro-Latinos such as myself are often not represented.
It is also no coincidence that a lot of books in Afro-Latino culture address bad hair and the ridicule some people experienced growing up.
I spent most of my youth and young adult life straightening my hair and wearing long straight extensions. It was beautiful. It would make me look beautiful. I wanted to look like everyone I saw on the TV. I rarely ever saw anyone wearing natural hair.
After I had my son I stopped. I knew I wanted to teach my son about our culture and that meant embracing and loving my natural curly hair. I want him to embrace and love everything about his self as well. To tell someone to “do something” with their hair because you don’t feel it meets your standards of what good hair is, is offensive. It used to hurt my feelings when people made comments about my son’s hair. Especially because it was coming from people close to me. Not anymore though. I’m using this as a learning and teaching moment.
“Mi hijo no tiene pelo malo.” My son doesn’t have bad hair.
My husband and I love it. It’s a beautiful mixture of both of us. When you talk about his hair you are disrespecting us as his parents. So you can leave my son’s hair alone now.