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The Tangled Journey of Embracing My Natural Hair as an Afro-Latina

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Despite the challenges and obstacles I have faced, my curly, tangled hair serves as a beautiful reminder of the ancestral gifts passed down from my family’s roots. It is a testament to the strength and resilience of my ancestors and a symbol of the rich cultural heritage that I carry with me today. 

Women of color often grow up being taught that straight, glossy hair is the only acceptable hairstyle. It’s not uncommon for the media to broadcast disturbing visual cues, for peers to utter hurtful words, or for family members to insist on chemically relaxing someone’s hair for aesthetic reasons. This already strained relationship with hair becomes even more complicated when multiracial and multicultural diversity is added to the mix. This experience is one that most Afro-Latine people share. Latine culture is full of colorful aspects, including our unapologetically vibrant approach to beauty. We come from generations of passed-down secrets and insider tips, but as the world changes, so does the way we view makeup, skincare, hair, and more. In an era when celebrating heritage and making our voices heard is more important than ever, BIPOC women are not only reconciling both sides of their identity but are also breaking down oppressive beauty standards.

Throughout my childhood and early twenties, I was the proud owner of a trusty hair straightener. I wielded it confidently and never once worried about the potential damage it could cause my hair. My sisters were constantly in awe of my sleek, straight locks, and I felt a sense of pride in my appearance. I can still remember the first time my sisters straightened my hair for me – I was completely flattered by the attention and compliments I received from others. 

As time passed, my addiction to the sleek look of my hair grew stronger. I couldn’t bear to have a single day go by without straightening it, even if the weather outside was less than ideal. I found myself spending longer and longer periods of time straightening my hair, and I even began to use dry shampoo to maintain the perfect look. Every day, without fail, I made sure that my hair was perfectly straight, shiny, and flat, regardless of my plans for the evening. This dedication to my appearance became a defining characteristic of mine, and I prided myself on the compliments and attention I received from others.

As time passed, my addiction to the sleek look of my hair grew stronger. I couldn’t bear to have a single day go by without straightening it, even if the weather outside was less than ideal. I found myself spending longer and longer periods of time straightening my hair, and I even began to use dry shampoo to maintain the perfect look. Every day, without fail, I made sure that my hair was perfectly straight, shiny, and flat, regardless of my plans for the evening. This dedication to my appearance became a defining characteristic of mine, and I prided myself on the compliments and attention I received from others.

As an individual of Afro-Latina descent, looking back on my hair journey, I have a complex array of emotions. It’s disheartening to realize that I was made to feel inadequate for embracing my natural hair. Both my Black and Latinx families played a role in perpetuating this negativity, even if it was unintentional, with their comments that constantly fueled my self-doubt. 

“It was Celia Cruz’s vibrant hair that made me think deeply about hair as a form of expression.”

My hair is a beautiful combination of my parents’ unique features. I inherited my dad’s curly hair from his Black American background, which has a rich history and culture. Additionally, I have my moms thick locs from her Mexican heritage, which is a blend of European and Indigenous ancestry. Trying to conform to societal norms and alter my hair to fit in has been a long and arduous journey, but I’ve come to appreciate and embrace its uniqueness. In doing so, I hope to inspire others to do the same and celebrate their natural beauty. 

As a female individual of Latin American descent, I have observed that mothers, in particular, bear the responsibility of enforcing beauty standards that are heavily influenced by traditional gender roles and Eurocentric ideals. My own beliefs regarding gender roles have been significantly influenced by my mother, whom I admire for both her insight on self-care and her perspectives on marriage. It is essential to acknowledge that these beliefs were passed down to her from her own experiences and social pressures.

Growing up in Southern California, where individuals of white Latinx descent hold significant power, and within my own family, I have frequently felt like an outsider due to my hair. My grandparents, specifically those on my mother’s side, played a significant role in my upbringing, but my relationship with my grandmother was strained due to her covertly offensive comments about my mixed heritage. She would often make comments such as “I love it when your hair is straight!” or “Don’t get too much sun, I hate it when she gets dark over the summer.” These comments made me realize how my mother internalized similar self-hatred remarks due to societal pressures. As a result, we both had to navigate feelings of isolation and the pressure to conform to societal norms.

“It is heartening to witness more representation of Afro-Latinas in the media, as it challenges harmful beauty standards and the prevalence of anti-Blackness.”

Upon being accepted to college in the Bay Area, my life took an exciting and transformative turn. As a student, I enrolled in several Black Studies classes, which introduced me to a range of inspiring figures such as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Celia Cruz. Although each of these figures significantly impacted me, it was Celia Cruz’s vibrant hair that made me think deeply about hair as a form of expression. As a result, I began to consider hair within the context of history and eventually decided to take the leap and do a big chop after my first two semesters in college. It was a moment of both liberation and a way to restore my hair from years of damage.

Despite the positive impact that my new hairstyle had on me, I encountered insensitive comments from my father, who felt that my box braids looked “too ethnic.” Nevertheless, I persevered on my healing journey and experimented with different protective hairstyles. Over time, my natural hair texture began to receive encouragement and praise from those around me, which was a welcome change. However, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy when family members told me that “curly hair is in style now.” It made me question whether my hair was only appreciated because it was deemed fashionable.

During the pandemic, I stopped using my flat iron and blow dryer, allowing my natural curl pattern to return. This process taught me to love and embrace my hair in its natural state.

As an individual of Afro-Latina descent, I have faced various obstacles in accepting and embracing my natural hair texture. Although I have occasionally straightened it for the sake of convenience, I have come a long way in recognizing the beauty and significance of my hair’s unique qualities. It is heartening to witness more representation of Afro-Latinas in the media, as it challenges harmful beauty standards and the prevalence of anti-Blackness.

As I continue on my journey of self-love and self-acceptance, I firmly believe in the importance of accountability and forgiveness. It is crucial to acknowledge the ways in which our society perpetuates harmful ideas about beauty and identity and to work towards dismantling these harmful beliefs. At the same time, I recognize that forgiveness and grace are key components of personal growth and healing.

Despite the challenges and obstacles I have faced, my curly, tangled hair serves as a beautiful reminder of the ancestral gifts passed down from my family’s roots. It is a testament to the strength and resilience of my ancestors and a symbol of the rich cultural heritage that I carry with me today. 


About the Author

Lauren Forte

Lauren Forte is an Afro-Latine writer based in Los Angeles who specializes in social justice writing and communications management. She’s passionate about amplifying the voices of underrepresented and oppressed communities through her writing. When she’s not busy crafting compelling content, she loves to explore the great outdoors, whip up delicious treats in the kitchen, and enjoy the company of her amigas.

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