Embracing my curls meant unlearning european beauty standards anti and black sentiments I was raised with. This was a step by step process and something looking back I have no realized was what was at play and part of a larger narrative of my ancestral land and the historical trauma that I along with many other diasporx are healing from . So ….
Historical Back Story
I am Guatemalan, a land that was colonized by the Spanish native to the Maya people. A land that is know for its beautiful Mayan culture , textiles, volcanoes and attracted many Europeans throughout the time.
As in most of Latin America, it has a romanticized past of Spanish colonization. Quickly drawing past the conquer and enslavement of native people and after declaring it was unjust to enslave indegenous people African slaves were brought over . Often we forget and deny even African descendants identity and space in Latin America despite the fact that 80% of Africans brought over to the Americas during the transatlantic slavetrade were brought to present day Latin America.
Yes, this was in the past but many of it lingers to this day including the lasting effect of the Casta System. A system of hierarchy designed to classify all of the inhabitants of Spanish colonies. With the Spanish born on top, native (indigenous) between, Africans at the bottom. The hierarchy essentially built on a color scale and giving access and privileges to the more white (Spanish) . Where mixing created in other identities, ie : mestizo – 1/2 Spanish 1/2 indegenous / mullato 1/2 white 1/2 African, among many countless others but these being the most common.
Essentially it created a game that we are subconsciously sill playing to this game. Where the prize was to reach the next level each generation, to “Mejorar la raza” to reach the highest status applicable in the new world being a Spanish (white) decentant in order to revive all the perks that come along with this – status , wealth, land , nobility . However this is a fools game that only offspring can win so the goal being to have less African in your blood line, less indegenous , and procreate with someone of a lighter , whiter, casta level than you.
Thus “washing out” genes of rough textured & curly hair , having lighter skin, and striving to have better features so that one did not appear indegenous .
Yes it’s the new millennia and we are in post colonization but growing up the subtle comments to straighten my hair , relax it, to tame it did not come from white Americans they come from my family. Theycame from fellow Latinos , they came from people darker than me and with curlier hair than me.
We were taught to hate the parts of ourselves that linked us to our roots , to our Brown and blacker sides of our lineage . I was raised with the mentality to try to marry a nice white American boy, reiterating the engrained notición we have in Guatemala to “mejor la raza” , to better our race and ensure a better more privileged future for our offspring .
So when I refuse to straighten my hair, for me it’s an act of self love . It’s an act of acceptance and it is embracing and discovering a part of myself that I did not know and is often kept quiet in our families. It is often the shame of our communities yet it is a part of me I want to revive and learn more of.
So For me it’s important because it connects me to everything I am and makes me up. My skin, hair , and features tell the story of my ancestors . My hair is not bad hair ,I grew up being told “que tenía pelo de negra” accepting my curls meant unlearning the antiblackness and erasure engrained in my own culture and embracing that I am a blend of european, indegenous, AND African as most of Latin America is and we often try to deny.
I may not know exactly where i inherited my curls from but I know that my curls are a part of me and not a part to be denied out of shame and fear of being labeled “morena” or “trigenita “. It is a way that I heal from our generational trauma due to colonization and take steps to unlearn.
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