Growing up to a beautiful Black mother who encompassed beauty and strength and melanin magic, she instilled all her resilience into me. My mom taught me how to love all of me from my skin to my hair and she always repeated to me every day, “Never allow anyone to make you feel bad about yourself because God created you and he never makes mistakes.” I was raised in a society that taught me to hate my hair and reminded me because I had coils and coarser hair, it will never be seen as good or beautiful. The term "Pelo Malo" is all that seemed to be attached to girls who had 4C and kinky hair. What was considered to be good hair, was defined as softer and straight hair. It was desired and manageable.
Younger me listened to Neo-Soul artists like India Arie, who reminded me I had to love myself unconditionally. It is essential that we redefine what it means to have beautiful hair, no matter how curly or how thick, all hair is “Pelo Bueno." As an Afro-Latina, part of my identity is reclaiming my Blackness and celebrating my afro-textured hair that is rooted in ancestors who braided their hair and treated it with love and respect. I learned how important representation is for women who look like me.
There were so many beautiful Afro-Latinas growing up who empowered me to step into my power and be unapologetic. Seeing Black and Brown women on the television screen wearing their natural texture encouraged me and others to do the same. I want to teach women that they shouldn't be ashamed of their hair and the stigma rooted in many of us should not be carried on. Just because your hair is curlier or coarser does not make it nappy. There are many ways to manage your hair and use the correct products to show it unconditional love. I appreciate the Afro-Latinas I saw in the mass media, who took risks to showcase how critical it is to break barriers, change the narrative, and embody their truth. From one Afro-Latina to another, you saved me from self-hate against my hair and have cultivated a space for all hair to be loved.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was one of the most iconic, Black Sitcoms which portrayed an elegant upper-class Black family in a positive light instead of the stigmas, stereotypes, and imageries society perceives of Black people. It was an important show that reshaped what it meant to be Black in America. It also taught so much about appreciation for the Black culture. It was Ashley Banks who inspired me and who I felt most connected to. Tatyana Ali, who played the character of Ashley Banks, is of Afro-Panamanian and Trinidadian descent. Her role meant so much to me because not only did she always wear her natural hair in the show, she was also an Afro-Latina like myself.
It wasn’t every day in the 90’s we saw Black actresses have the opportunity to wear their natural hair or had control of how they decided to style it. What made her portrayal was the diversity in hairstyles. Tatyana has opened up about how she felt alienated for having straighter hair and what many would see as “good hair”. There is a stigma within the Black community that having softer and straighter hair made it more beautiful and valued. But in contrast, within the Latinx community, having curly hair was not considered more beautiful and valued. This caused a separation and division within Black women on the standard of beauty which was very similar to the Latinx community who felt girls with curly hair were considered not attractive. It truly prompts what has been a generational cycle of women hating their hair. Watching Ashley Banks and seeing her proudly wear her thick, long and wavy hair, reminded me of my own and how much TLC it deserves.
Christina Millian played Paris Morgan in Love Don't Cost A Thing.
It was that moment seeing an Afro-Cuban wearing her curls, that made a young girl feel like she was more than enough. Although my pattern wasn’t the same as Christina’s, I had many friends and primitas whose hair was bouncy and curly and they would often straighten and relax it instead of embracing it. From a young age, many of us were forced to perm our own hair not knowing the unsafe products that were causing damage to it. This was a cycle that needed to be broken and the passion for healthy hair was most important. Christina always embraced her Afro-Latina identity and has used her platform to shed light on the community. Her conversations around Afro-Latinidad have always been that Latinos come in all shades and diversity and that also meant within our hair, whether kinky or curly.
Amara La Negra
It was the song “Ay” by Amara La Negra, that I discovered a darker-skinned Dominican woman wearing an Afro. This was something I have never seen especially within the Latino music industry. Latinas were often glamorized to wear straight hair and encompass the closest to Eurocentric beauty as possible. Afros were revolutionary, powerful and were a symbol that amplified what it meant to be a Black person in America. The beauty behind Afros has deep roots back to Africa and wearing an Afro helped pay homage to those who have fought hard for representation for Afro-descendants. Amara La Negra wholeheartedly made me proud to be a Black Latina who is chingona and I could be all that I wanted to be. Within her career, Amara has faced discrimination, racial comments against her hair, and often criticized for her choice in rocking an Afro. She broke barriers and spoke about how wearing her natural hair didn’t take away from her talents and her career. It wasn’t worth her being any different than who she was a Black Dominicana who loved her hair, unapologetically. On Love & Hip Hop Miami, you could not check her into a box or silence her about her Afro-Latinidad heritage. She used her voice to educate on the importance of self-love and women like her embracing their hair. Another cast member made comments comparing her hair to Macy Gray and encouraging her to look more like Beyonce. Amara still reclaimed her elegance and her Fro for the culture!
Gina Torres has been setting the tone and showing up for Afro-Latinas for a long time. She has always expressed and created conversations around the erasure of Afro-Latinidad which includes the journey of natural hair. In an interview with CNN, she has mentioned how she did not fit the ideal standards of what was considered beautiful in America for producers. She wasn’t Black enough and didn’t look Latino enough to play certain roles but Gina had enough of sacrificing her identity. Representation and inclusion within the media industry was something that needed to be brought to the forefront; especially allowing Black Latinas to rock their hair. This also meant showcasing the plethora of Latinas that existed and not just the ones that tv displayed, but more who looked like Gina Torres herself. Her advocacy on elevating her community's voice and culture was something that always inspired me. Whether it was Firefly, SUITS, Pearson, or Cleopatra, Gina has been influential, especially for women who looked like myself.
Amigas love your hair unconditionally and make sure you are pouring love just like you would to any other part of you!