Calladitas No More

It Wasn’t Until My Tia Put Relaxer In My Hair That I Learned To Love My Hair – And Not Because It Changed My Texture

Crackle. Pop. Sizzle.

Those are the sounds the hot comb made as my mother dragged its searing metal teeth through my roots – not once, but three times before sliding it down to the ends.

The crackle came from the hair grease on my scalp. The pop, shortly after the teeth made contact with my hair. And that sizzle was the cry I heard from my curls as their texture changed. My hair was scorching when it touched my back.

The heat from that comb was real. My mom was old school and used the hot comb that you had to heat on the stove. Never the electric version. She kept a wet rag nearby to clean it after every few strokes because the grease would pile up between the teeth. If you didn’t clean the teeth, hair could get stuck and be singed off. I was lucky that never have happened to me.

I suffered through the same process at least every two weeks as a little girl, and learned early on that if I didn’t want to get burned, I’d have to sit still and hold on tight to the towel I kept around my neck to protect my skin.

Coarse hair was not exactly on trend in the ’90s, especially in Latino households.

I had two choices: braids or straightening my hair with the hot comb. I hated the process of both.

The author, Saraciea Fennell. Photo credit: Brandon King

Getting my hair braided by my mother was just as bad, if not worse than the comb. My mom is heavy-handed when it comes to doing hair. I’m talking about a woman whose hands pulled my hair so tight I felt my insides burn. It was a slow burn, too. One that turned into the sensation to pee. While I never peed my pants, I did cry.

So yeah, I grew up hating my hair.

I hated everything about it – how thick it was, how long it took (2-3 hours) to get done. I wished my hair were like my mother’s, my sister’s, my cousins; like anyone else’s really.

We were all Latina, but we definitely weren’t the same. They damn sure didn’t have hair like mine.

My mom’s hair was thick with a soft curl. My sister’s was thin with a tight-ish curl. And my cousin! Oh, she had the best hair of all! Her hair went all the way down to her butt and it was all wavy goodness. Or at least that’s how I saw it.

None of them ever had to sit and get their hair torched or tugged. They got to get wash and sets, walking around with doobies straight out of the hair salon, preserving their fresh blowout. When they unpinned their hair I admired how it smoothly flowed down their backs.

Meanwhile, I wondered why my hair wasn’t like theirs. Why couldn’t I go with them to the hair salon and have someone scrub my scalp clean, put rollers in my hair and then read magazines while I sat under the hair dryer? To say I was jealous was an understatement. I tried not to let it show or get the best of me, but it was hard.

My prima would get her hair swooped up easily into a ponytail. Getting my hair in a ponytail, however, meant getting it yanked while someone combed and smoothed the knots. I’d wet the front part of my head, then slap Vaseline on it followed by gel. S curl spray was used on the ends and then they’d add anything else lying around to make my hair lie flat.

There was no time to be tender-headed. With every yank I told myself that famous quote: “beauty is pain.”

It wasn’t until I was about eight that my tia decided to put a relaxer in my hair. I had no idea what relaxer was or what it would do, but when she said I would look just like my cousin and the girl on the ‘Just for Me’ no-lye relaxer box, I jumped for joy.

I’m not sure if we got permission from my mom. I just remember sitting between someone’s legs on the floor while they parted my hair in four, greased my scalp, edges and kitchen (that’s what the lowest part of hairline near the neck is called), then applied the creamy stuff that would make my hair look amazing.

And if I’m being honest, it did. It was like experiencing a whole new head of straight, silky hair. I couldn’t stop running my fingers through it. I was living the dream, until high school.

I began to see girls rock their hair in different ways. There were Afro-Latinas with curly or straight natural hair and girls who wore protective styles like weaves, box braids and wigs. And some relaxed, permed, texturized and even wore extensions like gringas to elongate and add thickness.

It was then that I realized I wanted my natural hair back and what I truly longed for was versatility.

Saraciea with her cropped hair. Photo credit: Maegan Grayson

I never had a chance to really decide how I wanted my hair to look. I spent most of my adolescent years chemically straightening it because I’d been convinced that “straight hair” looked better than “curly hair.” That “good hair” wasn’t messy or frizzy –  it was shiny, straight and lush.

Society had told me and my family that thick, curly hair wasn’t the thing to have. These girls I became friends with were turning the tables.

I desperately wanted to go back and forth like them. But most importantly, I wanted my hair freedom.

There wasn’t an easy way to get it back though. Everyone told me I’d have to start from scratch, but I wasn’t having it. The process was long, and often painful. I did everything from grow out the relaxer, to regular wash and sets, to braids, to cutting my hair shoulder length, to chopping it all off to start from scratch.

Since then I have loved and nurtured my hair in more ways than I can count. I can’t help but wonder what my hair was actually like before I got my first relaxer. A part of me will always wonder and secretly keep trying to chase down that first curl pattern.

READ: Here’s How A Hair Tour Turned Emotional As Afro-Latinas Discussed Their Blackness

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10 Empowering Songs By Afro-Latinas About Loving Yourself


10 Empowering Songs By Afro-Latinas About Loving Yourself

It’s Black History Month, a time to uplift and celebrate the historic events and people of African descent who have contributed to culture, achieved excellence and sparked social and political change. But it’s also a moment for reflection, of honestly evaluating how much — and how little — has changed for the African diaspora throughout the US, Latin America and beyond.

Confronting the everyday violence, discrimination, disadvantages and inequality Black individuals have and continue to endure, while necessary, could be enraging and upsetting, and makes self-care practices all the more necessary.

This year, whether you’re celebrating the beauty, resilience and magia of blackness with a Black History Month party or well-deserved care day, music can always add to the occasion. Here, a mix of Spanish and English songs by Afro-Latinas and for Black women that unapologetically declare self-love and engage in self-worship to add to any Black joy playlist for the month of February and all the days that follow it.

1. Celebrate being a daughter of “La Diaspora” with Nitty Scott.

When the Afro-Boricua rapper dropped Creature in 2017, she gifted Black women, particularly Black Latinx femmes, with a full project that saw, understood and exalted their existence. None of the bangers on the LP did this as intentionally as the song and short film “La Diaspora.”

2. Make your voice and joy heard with Christina Milian’s “Say I”

When the cubana teamed with Young Jeezy to drop this 2009 bop, she encouraged women to “do what you want to do. Don’t let nobody tell you what you’re supposed to do.” And that’s some pretty liberating ishh.

3. Some might call you “CRZY,” but Kehlani wants you to embrace the term.

Confidently dancing to the beat of your own drum, especially as a woman of color, is neither expected nor welcomed, largely because it makes it more difficult for white supremacy to thrive. With “CRZY,” the part-Mexican R&B songstress encourages femmes to embrace and reclaim the slights people throw at you for being a radiant, go-getting mami.

4. And Calma Carmona’s “I Got Life” shows that there is so much to be joyous about.

In her Spanglish rendition of Nina Simone’s “I Ain’t Got No … I Got Life,” the Puerto Rican soul singer declares all the beauty she has, from her voice, to her hair, to her smile to her life, in a world that told her she has nothing.

5. Something else you have: “Tumbao.”

In la reina de salsa’s multi-generational hit “La Negra Tiene Tumbao,” the late cubana Celia Cruz reminds Black women of that unfading, indescribable, swing and swag that Black women carry with them in every space they occupy.

6. Prefer an English joint? Cardi B will also remind you how “Bad” you are.

With “She Bad,” featuring YG, the Dominican-Trinidadian rapper engages in self-worship and encourages other Black women to feel themselves and own their sexuality without apprehension or apologies.

7. ‘Cause Like Maluca told you, you’re “la mami del block.”

In the Dominican singer-rapper’s mega bop “El Tigeraso,” Maluca makes the indisputable claim that Afro-Latinas have it all: “tengo fly, tengo party, tengo una sabrosura.”

8. And like Farina says, not everyone is deserving of your greatness.

In “la nena fina’s” urbano-pop jam “Mucho Pa’ Ti,” the colombiana raps what everyone knows: She, and you, are too much — too poppin’, too powerful, too radiant — for the unworthy.

9. Now that you’re reminded of who you are, enter every space like Melii walked into the club in her music video for “Icey.”

With sparkly, high-heeled white boots, a laced v-neck bodysuit, some tiny red shades and confidence that entraps you, dominicana-cubana Melii knows her value — as a woman and an artist — and watching or listening to how self-assured she is will undoubtedly rub off on you.

10. ‘Cause at the end of the day, you’re a “Million Dollar Girl” like Trina.

Like the Dominican-Bahamian rapper, alongside Keri Hilson and Diddy, told you in 2010: “Baby if I want it, I got it / ‘Cause I’ll be gettin’ some more / ‘Cause I’m a million dollar girl, for sure.”

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A Latina High School Student Just Won A Massive Scholarship After Writing An Essay That Praised Celia Cruz For Being ‘Unapologetically Black’


A Latina High School Student Just Won A Massive Scholarship After Writing An Essay That Praised Celia Cruz For Being ‘Unapologetically Black’

Cuban singer and world-renowned Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz (RIP) has long been an inspiration to millions of men and women around the globe. Throughout her career and after her death, Celia’s fans have hailed her as a musical icon and a Cuban force of resistance. All of these years later, and Cruz who passed away in 2003, is still inspiring the generations that came decades after her.  In fact, in a bid to stake her claim in a college scholarship program, high school student  Genesis Diaz recently applied for and won a lucrative prize from Altice USA (the provider of Optimum and Suddenlink) all thanks to an essay she wrote about the late singer.

In her inspirational essay about the  Cuban singer, Diaz wrote about admiring Celia Cruz for being “unapologetically black.”

According to BKLYNER, Altice USA holds an essay contest in the fall to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (which runs from September 15 through October 15th). The prompt, which is given to middle and high school students, is to “name a Latino, past or present, with whom you would choose to spend a day and explain why.” The grand prize this year is a whopping $1,500 check which, if you remember college costs, can really help out any student eyeing higher education.

Diaz, a senior in James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York, won this year’s contest. Her essay was selected out of over 700 submissions from across the country, according to Jen Rivera from Altice USA, who spoke with BKLYNER.

In her powerful essay, Diaz wrote that she would want to spend the day with Celia Cruz because she exclusively surrounds herself with people who “radiate positive energy.”

“And who’s more positive than Celia Cruz?”, Diaz wrote.

But what she really captured in her essay on Cruz isn’t just her positive energy but rather the way that she was unapologetic about being Black and Cubana and how she used her African roots in her music. While writing about the artist’s accomplishments as well as her being Hispanic and Black, Diaz emphasized the effect that Cruz has had on the Latinx community throughout her life and beyond.

“Black has always been seen as a color of inferiority, which is why Celia Cruz’s early critics claimed that she did not have the right look,” she said in her essay. “She wasn’t an ideal artist simply because of her African descent.”

Diaz went onto say that Cruz “carried her African roots in her heart and through her lyrics… Celia told everyone, including me, how phenomenal and majestic it is to be unapologetically black.”

Diaz, who hopes to attend New York University and is anxiously awaiting her acceptance from the prestigious school, was celebrated last week by school officials, classmates, members of Altice USA and Council Member Chaim Deutsch

“I couldn’t believe I actually won!” Diaz said in her view.. “I was very proud and very emotional. I feel like people take entertainment figures for granted. What people don’t realize that these figures are activists also.”

Diaz’s description of Cruz as an activist and powerhouse, couldn’t be more accurate.  The Afro-Cubana proved herself to be an icon and hero in her time, when she rose to face as a salsa vocalist and eventually became the symbol and spirit of the Cuban expatriate community.

Celia Cruz has inspired countless amounts of people, including people like Amara La Negra.

“Growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me besides Celia Cruz. She was such a strong, powerful woman. She was a very inspirational person,” Amara La Negra told Latino USA about the late singer who considered her Blackness with a sense of pride that eventually turned songs like “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” into huge hits. “When Celia Cruz passed away, there was no one else to really look up to as an Afro-Latino or Afro-Latina on TV. So, I went and became a fan of Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Donna Summers, who are truly talented women and I truly admire them. But, as far as the Latin community, we really didn’t have anyone to look up to.”

For her part, Diaz, who her principal calls a “remarkable young woman,” has become her own source of inspiration. Not only did the award-winning student win the grand prize for her Celia Cruz essay but she has also started her own club “about Hispanic, Black and Carribean cultures,” according to BKLYNER. There, students can gather once a week to “discuss issues facing the school and the community as a whole.”

It’s extremely encouraging to see the younger generation fall in love (and be inspired by) Celia Cruz just as much as the rest of us were. Here’s hoping that Diaz, with her award-winning essay, continues to draw inspiration from the Cubana and that she herself embodies being “unapologetically black.”

Read: Meet Mona Marie, The Caribeña Helping Women Find Their Strength And Freedom Through Pole Dancing

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