In my baby pictures, I had curly, wavy ringlets of hair, always in disarray after I was done playing for the day. It never bothered me until I was consciously aware that what seemed like was okay to me, was dirty, and unkempt to others. It always felt like every time I tried to embrace my differences, someone or something would stop me from coming back to my roots. I come from a very ethnically diverse family, from my great-grandparents being Indian and Mayan to my own parents being Ecuadorian and Belizean/Mexican. The idea that my hair wasn’t going to be like other girls in the predominantly white neighborhood that I live in was obvious to everyone in my family, but me. Even in my own family, both my siblings that live with me are white-passing and have very slightly wavy hair. So most days, I could never feel like I would fit in.
When I first cut my hair, I realized when my hair was short, it became straighter. So I would grow out my hair to my waist, cut it and donate it, keeping up the cycle, slowly letting my curls go. My short hair was a sanctuary to me and having it shorter meant fitting into the norm that I saw around me. The idea solidified when I went to high school and learned about the uses of a straight iron for cheer competitions. It was a dream, a way to keep my hair long and straight. Consequently, everyone else around me thought it was more presentable too.
It wasn’t until my junior year when a freshman that I taught came up to me on a day I let my curls go and told me he thought I was born with straight hair because he had never seen my hair curly. He told me it looked great after and left. I will never forget that moment because I realized I had lost the only tie I knew to my family’s culture for other people’s beliefs. My hair represented to me the people in my family that I never had the chance to know, their lives and their history, and I had let that go because of the generalized idea that curly hair was not beautiful, a concept that had been instilled in me for so long.
Nowadays, I’m learning how to nurture my hair back to how it used to be and embrace the beauty that it still has, no matter how much heat damage I see. I will never know what it feels like to have pin-straight hair or 3c-4c curly type hair. I know my hair is the in-between, a mix of both sides of the spectrum, just like me, and I can accept that now and cherish that representation. I’ve realized my hair is an extension of who I am, and I have so many different options I can explore with it to finally express myself and my culture.