My mother has been a Dominican hairstylist since she was 12. That should tell you that my hair has spent a the majority of my life being unnatural--sleek and straight. Growing up my friends would often say I was lucky to have a mom that could straighten out my hair whenever I wanted. But in fact, deep down, I hardly appreciated it. My mom's art fed me, raised me, kept me from the worst kinds of economic difficulties, and I am grateful to it. But her art also kept me from loving my hair as it naturally is--curly and big.
It was at my 4th birthday party in Bonao that I realized that not following through with my Mami's hair orders was dangerous. On the late morning of my birthday party, I sat under a hair dryer and complained. After twisting out the front half of my hair and blow drying my bangs, Mami had left to go decorate for the party. Our next door neighbor and salon owner, Fifa, had soaked the back of my hair in gel and spray, wrapped it into rollers, and put me under the dryer. It was a new hairstyle that I could've appreciated, but the heat was unbearable in 90 degree Cibao weather. I was uncomfortable after an hour under the dryer. I complained. They got my moms from the house, she tried to talk to me into staying in for a few more minutes, but I whinned "No quiero, quitame los rolos!" I saw my mom bite here tongue. In my family, that's a gesture for women either witnessing an adorable subject, or a gesture towards I'm-about-to-fuck-shit-up. Her eyes told me it was the later. She threw up her arms and they landed on top of my rollos, she beat the pinchos, redesilla, and rollos out off my hair. No one stepped in, the entire salon continued as if it was normal--cause it was. Little girls have always complained about getting their hair done, and the saying always was: "El que quiero mono bonito aguanta jalones." She proceeded to drag me by the ear from the salon to my house. Before guests arrived, Mami managed to fix my curls into something that resembled whatever she envisioned. But my frustrations were already written on my face.
I don't know when she was taught that straight hair was best. In fact, the childhood stories I recall most from her are the ones in which she used sugary Coca-Cola to create chunky, big curls on my aunt, her younger sister. After that, her narrative with hair skips decades and lands here in states. In Dyckman--as I watch her straighten out hair from the seat of my stroller, as I watch her straighten my hair after she props my four year old body onto a booster chair, as I watch her inundate our home with clientele ready to forget the African that grows fresh, no matter what, from scalp.
I have always resisted. As a child, I was the tomboy for many reasons, but the first being: I didn't like to do my hair. In fact, I hated the process. I hated the thin comb teeth scrapping my scalp, hated the heat, I hated the entire process. And soon enough the process of straightening my hair simplified and turned into me hating my natural hair. The logic is simple: because my hair curls at the roots, meaning it's natural state is curly, my mom has to fix it on a weekly basis. You would think that watching my mom use hair dryer, relaxer, keratin treatments, and/ or blower to straighten out hundreds of manes would've changed my perspective. But no, contrary to my sister, I've resisted the idea of my hair having to be "fixed" from the start.
2009- 2011's Constant
Long, straight, sleek hair + extensions for volume aka MORE heat via flat iron
2011's "Curly Hair"
My hair would not curl at all at this point; wavy at best.
Cut my hair, and my curls were literally no where to be found.
I began flat ironing daily my self
Hair grew, and the question, "Y tu no te va hacer lo cabello?" was constant, and I was impatient, so I went back to straightening.
2013 Mami's Cut
I liked it, but I didn't really like the shape.
2013's Cut By Kimalisa
Loved the shape, and I tried to curl it; however, I often turned to blow drying it as I got used to having short hair.
It was in college, after a huge weight drop (these things were huge factors too, but I won't get into them now: dozens of heartbreaks, daily dealings with racism in higher education institutions, and the death of a child I helped raise) that I decided to do a big chop. My hair hadn't truly curled for years at this point, and it was becoming increasingly clear that if I did not cut the damaged hair for the sake of length, my curls were going to struggle to come through. My family and friends didn't take it well. In fact I was on the precipice of the Brown millenials going natural, so I shouldn't have let it affect me. But I am human, and I am me, so of course I did. In the early days of Summer 2013, I had convinced Mami to cut my hair into a bob. A few days later, I told her I wanted to go shorter. She yelled, "Ven que si lo que tu quiere e parecer una cocola, te voy a meter tijera." She cut it into something that resembled a mushroom, and I liked it for the most part. But as I sat in that chair I was pissed as hell. Unlike my sister, I hardly have ever asked my mom to do my hair, so it infuriated me that she was complaining about just cutting it. On top of it, the internal racist comment made me uncomfortable and forced me to question myself and my aesthetics. Weeks later, my highschool friend, who is a hairstylist, asked if I would be a hair model for a haircut. She gave me an extremely stylish and edgy cut using terms like horseshoe, and I felt like this pixie cut had been what I wanted. I wish I could say straightening my hair stopped there, but it didn't.
More in Part 2: For the Love of Hair