Bagels and Locks

My mother taught me to hate my hair.

She learned this from her mother, who learned it from her mother before her. For generations, dominicana matriarchs with natural curls have forced themselves under a secadora de pelo, a bonnet-shaped hair dryer, to ensure every ringlet’s annihilation. When I was just a baby, Mami chemically straightened my hair. It fell out in clumps. She sent me to hairdressers. I cried when the heat burned my ears. I lived with the pain. By age 12, my mother still brushed my hair. I tried, but it was a lot of work, all that brushing and braiding, so I’d slack off. It looked awful. Giggling classmates passed me a note: “Your hair’s disgusting! Don’t you comb it?”

During high school, I awoke at dawn to work my hair. I gelled it. I imported products from the Dominican Republic. When I ran out, I tried Vaseline. The final straw: My crush, Pedro, watergunned my hair at school. It crinkled into frizzy tufts. I cried.

But soon, everything changed. I was sick of running for cover during rain showers. Sick of cramps in my arms. Sick of my “straight” hair. So I rebelled. I left it natural: a triangle-shaped mass of tight curls. Mami and Abuela hated it. At graduation, I resembled a street urchin, cloaked by foreboding curly locks. Horrified, I cut my hair off.

At 25, I grew it out again. My boyfriend, Martin, loved it. It was as if the worse it looked, the more he adored it, and finally started to see the beauty in it. I loved that if you pull my curls, they bounce back. I loved that my hair doesn’t grow down, it grows out. And I believe that accepting my hair was the first of many steps toward accepting myself.

As my hair grew bigger, taller, bolder, I told my stylist during a trim, “Cut it like the sun. Rays everywhere!” He snipped my hair bigger and better than before. When Martin saw me, his cheeks blushed. His eyes sparkled as he wrapped curls around his fingers. He proposed that day.

We had a big fat Jewish Dominican wedding. Under the chuppah, the ceremonial canopy, the rabbi asked me to bless my husband. I knew just what wish to say: “I wish you a bunch of beautiful, curly-haired babies!” The crowd roared.

Sorry, Mom! I broke with tradition. My husband had taught me to love my hair.
(Tags: Jewish, Dominican, Hair)

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