The first time I left my house without straightening or putting my hair up, I just wanted some food. It was a hot summer day with a small chance of rain and I was not about to stop myself from enjoying this summer because of my hair. I was not about to take 20 minutes of my life for a 5-minute trip to the bodega. Not again.
There were so many things I wanted to do, and could not because I was risking the chance that spirals would form from my once-straightened follicles. It wasn’t an act of rebellion. It wasn’t an act of reclaiming what’s mine. It was the complete opposite. It was an act of laziness.
It was the same act of rebellion as when some feminists refuse to wear heels or shave their armpits. The constant primping and poking at ourselves is not only unhealthy, but a waste of time. To think that the only time you are worthy of being viewed by the world is when you have fixed your hair, nails, put makeup on your face and have on the right outfit is unhealthy. Yet all a man has to do is wake up, throw some water on his face, put on shoes, a t-shirt and some pants and head out.
This summer I had press passes to both the Afro-Latino Festival and Curlfest in New York City. Attending the Afro-Latino Fest is always a magical experience because although the crowd is saturated with beauties and their natural hair, we are there to be reminded that it is not just about the hair. It is about self-acceptance of all that we are. The fact that our hair has spirals and kinks because of our beautiful, rich African and Taino background. The reminder that if we don’t accept and embrace ourselves and each other, we can’t expect anyone else to do the same. But also the reminder that we don’t need validation from a world that puts European ideals on a pedestal while putting our Afro Caribbean ideals down. With the embrace of the self, the rebellion from that which has been forced on us happens automatically. It is not just about the hair; it is about the art, the music, the culture. The hair is just a representation of that.
While the Afro-Latino Festival and Curlfest have a similar crowd, Curlfest is about learning the ways in which we can maintain what was given to us. For years I would shampoo my hair three times before conditioning. Leaving conditioner on my hair after a wash was a sin and on top of that I never used the right products. While curly hair becoming a trend is sad for those of us who struggled to be seen as beautiful when it wasn’t a movement, I am proud of how far we’ve come in educating one another on the maintenance of our crowns.
After more than a decade of facing the world as a naturalista, I know that I am not my hair. I have dreams of cutting it short, straightening it and dying it blue all the time. But from wearing my hair as the universe intended I also know now that although it is not what defines me, it is part of why I learned so much about where I come from and why I am here. In defending the follicles on my head I had to defend myself, in defending myself I had to defend those who look like me and in that I had to defend our past. Now there is not much defending to do, we have come a long way. Now we are building. Thank you Afro-Latino Festival and Curlfest for making sure that our community is growing, learning and distributing that knowledge.