El Amor

On Afro-Latina Hair Care: How My Dad Tossed Out My Understanding Of ‘Pelo Malo’ With The Stroke Of A Comb

Any Afro-Latina who has ever had the mass of curls on her head styled by someone else will likely recall the days in which their hair wasn’t totally their own. The days when styling their own hair was never an option because it was a territory their mothers, abuelas, or tías occupied and refused to share. From a young age we came to understand that washing and styling our hair was a serious business and as kids, it was way too complex for our little fingers to get involved in.

Besides the professional stylist who had worked to gain my mother’s trust, the only other person my mother allowed into the sacred ritual that involved doing my hair was my dad. It was during these occasions, sitting between my dad’s legs with a comb in his hand that my attitude towards my hair began to alter.

To my mother’s credit, she carried the responsibility and burdens of styling and caring for my hair on a regular basis.

She was the one who woke up early on Saturday mornings to haul my sister and me to salons. The one who, after hours of grueling work, would part our hair and knead oils and creams through it to ensure its health while we slept. Every morning before sending us off to school she was the one who would spend the 20 or more minutes (I swear it could have been two hours) needed to tussle with our hair and plait it. Still, despite all of my mother’s care and efforts, it was hard not to feel the burdensomeness of my hair with every painstaking tug and pull of her rat tail comb.

Despite the many (many, many) times, my mother praised the beauty of my mane, every styling session led by her or a professional’s hand was a reminder that my curls were wild and out of control. Every corrective yank that my head received acted as a reminder of how much of a pain in the neck it quite literally could be. While the end results always gave me relief, the process of doing my hair always made me resent it. It wasn’t attached to the alluring adjectives like “silky” “smooth,” and “straight” used to describe my friends’ hair. All I heard from stylists was that it was “poofy,” “nappy,” “frizzy,” and “tangled” all of which they said added up to “pelo malo” and my “tender headedness.”

When my father was the one with the comb in his hands, however, I thought of my hair in a completely different way.

At least until the next time, someone else dared to brawl with it. The smoothness of his hands carefully working through my coarse curls was a relief. There were no hot combs, no snatching, or lecturing. I could see why the girls at my predominantly white school enjoyed having braiding sessions on the playground (something my mother never allowed because it really would have turned into a disaster). Having my hair in my father’s hands would completely reset the complexity scale I measured my hair by. For him, it was a lot to work with, but it was fun and enjoyable too. There were no groans or huffs. Just him, a comb, patience, and me.

Of course, it’s not lost on me that the composure he held while doing my hair was in part because it was not a part of his daily routine. Or, in truth, that my appreciation for my father’s involvement in my hair care partially stemmed from a bit of sexism. At an early age, I was easily influenced by the gender roles that men and women are limited by. Back then I viewed things like hair cair as a mom job. Having a father who actively chose to do my hair made me feel that maybe my hair wasn’t quite as awful to style as I had been led to believe. After all, my father was someone whose experience with Black women’s hair had been limited to watching his sisters endure similar comb and detangling ceremonies. He was hardly an expert. Yet, with time, he learned to skillfully comb out and weave braids through my tangled hair all the same.

All expectations involving gender roles aside, having a father who chose to be involved with my hair taught me that it wasn’t something that needed to be gripped over in order to be maintained.

It’s been years since either of my parents have combed their fingers through my roots, but it’s easy for me to identify those moments of hair tugging and care as acts of love.

These days, my attitude towards my hair is a lot like my mother’s. I’m careful and picky about selecting my stylists and I have had my fair share of agitation when someone has the audacity to try to touch it as if it were some sideshow attraction. To this day, I do my best to protect my Black hair because it is one of my most favorite physical traits. There’s no doubting that the experiences of having a father who would do it for me as an expression of his love for me is a huge part of that.

Read: Lupita Nyong’o Brings The #BlackPantherChallenge To Her Hometown In Kenya

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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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