Let me start off with this...I am no expert on how to navigate the waters of conversations surrounding race but what I do know is that I am not afraid to have them, and you shouldn't be either.
Now more than ever, it is so important to be open to having these conversations, however difficult that might seem. What I find interesting and disturbing at the same time is the deeply rooted prejudices that are held even within my own community. I am a second generation Dominican American. My Abuela, like many others who traveled to this country, came here with the hopes of giving her family and legacy a chance at a better life. I am thankful beyond measure for being a first-generation college student.
I can already hear what some might say in response to my opinion on this. I wasn't born in the country, I don't speak the language perfectly, and what do I know, right? And maybe they're right, who am I to point out the very obvious prejudice many of my people hold? But I do acknowledge that it is generations of political and societal oppressions that have contributed to this distorted perception of what beauty in our Latinx community looks like.
I remember my first blowout and how excited everyone was to finally see my hair straight sleek and shiny. Every time I stepped into the salon with my tangled messy bun, or what we call a pajon, people would ask my mother how she managed my hair. She'd jokingly say that she doesn't and that we were there so they could fix it since it was just too much for her to handle.
By the end of those visits, my hair was pin straight and everyone would point out how beautiful the blanquita was and how blessed I was with that head of hair. I quickly associated my feeling beautiful with getting my hair straightened and for a long time hated my curly hair.
What really struck me though, was the difference in the way they approached my hair compared to my sister's. My sister is much darker than I am, and with curls that coil much more refined, was always told that she needed to relax her hair. They'd explain that she needed to come in at least once a month for treatments to make it more manageable. This bothered me because, as her older sister, she is my entire world. I never wanted her to feel as though she needed to change herself to feel beautiful.
I remember the first time we sat down and watched Black Girls Rock together because she cried seeing herself celebrated on tv. I created a playlist of music that was inspired by her beauty. On it, songs I have songs like Solange's 'Don't Touch My Hair', India Arie's 'I Am Not My Hair,' and 'Girl Can't Be Herself' by Alicia Keys. This was one of the first times that I realized and understood my role in her life not only as her sister but as a conscious human being.
I am a light skinned Latina, I have a privilege and a responsibility to celebrate Latinas that look like me, but more importantly the ones who don't.
To my family members darker than me, I have always been in awe of your radiance, beauty, and intellect. I want the world to celebrate you in the same ways I do, and I want to be a part of that change.
Till then, let's call each other out when people make comments about marrying lighter to "advance the race," and let's stop claiming that our hair is unmanageable when in its natural state, and let's instill a sense of pride in our younger generations so they grow up challenging the standard. Many in the latinx community don't like to identify as Afro-Latina/o/x, and they don't have, too but for those who do: I hope you stand proudly in your power.