I’ve been twisting my hair a lot lately. I wait until my 7-month-old is asleep to wash, deep condition, and twist my curls. It’s a simple style and it allows me to go longer between washes than a wash and go.
Tonight, as I twisted my hair, a memory flashed through my mind. When I was a little girl, maybe 6 or 7, my mother said to me, “you should marry someone with nice hair, that way you don’t have a hard time dealing with your daughter’s hair.” There’s a lot within this one statement. First, it reinforces already low self-esteem around my own hair. Second, it reinforces the colorism that runs rampant in the Latinx community. Now, much to her credit, two Christmases ago she apologized for saying that; but, even if she hadn’t explicitly said anything, those messages are floating around everywhere, especially within our community.
It was only just a few years ago that I began receiving compliments for my curls during my visits to the Dominican Republic. Up until very recently, I would be one of the very few people on the street rocking their curls on an island full of curly headed people. The trend has been to chemically straighten, although there are incredible women like Miss Rizos and AfroMio that are doing work to reverse that trend. Nevertheless, growing up, this was one of the elements that furthered the “neither here nor there” feeling. It’s a second generation feel where you don’t quite fit in with either of your identities. I was born in the United States, yet I am consistently asked the classic, “where are you from? But where are you really from?” As if I couldn’t have been born here in Boston. At the same time, Dominicans are oh-so-quick to slap the gringa label across my forehead, drawing a clear line of separation between us.
It’s an exhausting and painful reality that most of us second generation Latinxs live with. As this year’s Latinx Heritage Month comes to an end in a few days, I think about the legacy I, as an Afro-Latina mother, want to ensure that I pass on to my Afro-Latina daughter.
To my tiny baby,
1. Love yourself
I spent a long, long time wishing my body looked different. I neither have the stereotypical, exoticized Latina shape that you see on television nor did I look like the other girls that were my peers in middle and high school. I started running 5 years ago because I felt so out of shape and like I needed to challenge myself and get back to my athletic roots. At the encouragement of my cousin, I started training for a 5K race. Just as she said, I got bit by the running bug and I haven’t looked back since.
The thing that has changed over the past 5 years is that running means so much more to me than just a way to stay in shape. I have made so many incredible friends and “sole-sisters” and I have run many races in different places. Now, as an ultramarathon runner, I have of course learned just how incredible all human bodies are. Training and racing have taught me discipline and organization. They’ve shown me just how much I am capable of, which has spread over every part of my life. Running has deepened and intensified how I love my body but especially how I carry myself. You don’t have to be a runner, but my wish for you is that you find whatever is your “thing” that gives you that same feeling.
2. Trust yourself
I once read on Tumblr, “you can lie down for people to walk on you and they will complain that you are not flat enough – live your life.” One thing that I was not prepared for stepping into motherhood was how difficult it would be to manage everyone and their opinions. I honestly thought that I would struggle more being a mother – don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely difficult! The sleep deprivation is so real, trying to make the right decisions, and generally how demanding it is. But, for now, I feel like I have a handle on that. It’s the catch-22 of everything that I wasn’t expecting.
No matter what I choose to do for you — breastfeeding, sleep training, developmental activities, clothing, where I take you, where I don’t take you, etc. — people inevitably say that I should be doing the complete opposite. Generally, they have good intentions but don’t understand that their unsolicited advice is not helpful and (usually) not welcome. Thankfully, I learned long ago to tune out the noise and trust my gut– this doesn’t make the situation any less annoying (LOL) but it makes the decision making easier. Any decision that I make, I’m the one that ultimately has to live with it. In respect to parenting, at this moment in time, there is no one in the world that knows you better than I do and therefore, no one that knows what’s best for you more than me. As women of Color, society would like us to doubt and question ourselves. When life hands you a moment like this, my wish for you is that you trust yourself enough to know you are making the right decision.
3. Be yourself
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
In my last job, I had these words from Audre Lorde pinned to my wall and they oftentimes ring through my head. I have been seeing a therapist for about 4 years now. I first found myself in her office at a particularly devastating time — I had just run the 2013 Boston Marathon where the bombing occurred, I was helping my sister deal with a major health issue, I had (FINALLY) left an emotionally abusive relationship a few months prior, and I had finished my master’s program and was transitioning into a new job, among other things.
The process of working through all of this has been illuminating to say the least and has pushed me to engage in deep parts of myself that were previously tightly compartmentalized. It has truly been a journey of incredible healing and as one of my friends said, unbecoming and becoming. We as humans are always works in progress but I’ve never been happier and more sure of who I am. My wish for you is that you never feel like you’re too much or not enough and that you are always unapologetically you.
These are my three genie-style wishes for you, my little one, and I’ll do my best to make them come true. But, most importantly, I’ll always be here, no matter what.