At 12, I hated myself. Yeah, I know it’s hard to hear, but I did. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be thin and pretty, why my hair couldn’t be straight, smooth, and luminous, or why my skin wasn’t white. I hated myself so much that I cried every time I had to do my hair or get new clothes (of course, I worried about other stuff, but hey, I was still a teen, my appearance mattered).
I spent my whole teenage years hearing things like “you should perm your hair” and “marry someone to improve the race” (hay que mejorar la raza, for the Spanish speaking). So I did what anyone would’ve done, straighten my hair to fit in (I couldn’t change my skin color, right?). I felt out of place and felt my skin as a stranger. Years went by of me trying to look as much as I could to the ideal woman, but oh God, how tired I was. At 16, I remember I came across the curly method, and I just thought to myself, huh, that looks like my hair. Suddenly I started taking care of my hair differently, how it was meant to be.
That was the first step I took in acknowledging my identity. I surrounded myself with light readings and black women just sharing tips for hair care. I realized that my hair made me special and unique. It was hard to start owning my skin, but it was way better than crying at the sight of my reflection.
Then I learned the term Afro-Latina and discovered my hair and skin color were the heritage that all our ancestors went through. Finally, things were starting to make sense, my features, hair, why I didn’t look like most famous Latinas. I had afro-blood, and it was proof of the diversity in our community. The words finally made me feel seen, and slowly but surely, I met people who had gone through the same experiences I had.
The word gave me a sense of belonging and showcased that our history is complex and intricate. It led me to start researching racism, colorism, and how my experience as a woman of color was different. My knowledge pushed me to build meaningful and deep relationships with people like me and give advice to those just starting to discover themselves.
It didn’t exactly mean that all those comments on my appearance were going to stop. After all, in college, I still got the “you look unprofessional” and the “why don’t you straighten your hair?” comments. But now, I understood that it didn’t mean I was horrible or I didn’t belong; they were just seeing me with a eurocentric eye. Racist comments will always be in my life, but I won’t let them shut me down.
I’m 23 now, I’m still discovering myself and my identity, but I’ve never felt more comfortable and proud of being who I am. I’m strong and opinionated, and happy to have the afro-blood of my ancestors flowing through me, and with me.
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