Navani knows How to Give Hairapy


I am still a rookie in my position as big cousin/ auntie to my cousin’s lil girls but I recently got my first assignment when Naomi, (nine), had a mini-breakdown. Naomi is a sweet natured, girlie girl. She loves the color pink, Hello Kitty, and accessories. She has a huge capacity for love, but with that, it is easy for her to have her feelings hurt. Which happened when kids at school made her feel self-conscious about her thick, curly, vivacious hair (courtesy of her Puerto Rican and African-American parents). Poor thing was crying and wishing her hair was different so her mom directed her to me – the curly-hair expert of the family. As I listened to her whimper on the phone I was enraged… it just bought me back to all my battles with my hair and self-acceptance and I wondered if it had started that early for myself. I mean nine and lil girls are already questioning themselves and trying to fit some mold that society tells us to? I guess I was overly optimistic to think things had changed since I was that age.

I remember wishing I had straight hair, even going so far as getting perms. I fretted whenever I had to go get a haircut cause no one in my suburban town knew what to do with my hair –  they could barely comb it out much less style it. It wasn’t until I was much older and discovered Dominican salons that I truly appreciated my hair. Then it became a part of my personality, and with it I had the best of both worlds: I can have it straight or curly at the drop of a dime. Now I stopped trying to fit other people’s standards of beauty, they have to fit to me. For example, I won’t date a guy that doesn’t love my natural curls as much as I do. I remember a guy in college asking, “is your hair straight today?” Meaning he’d prefer to see me only when I had straight hair. Was he crazy?

I tried to convey all of this in lament’s terms to my lil cousin. I reminded her how beautiful and special she is. To reiterate, I sent her this poem by one of my favorite poets, Mariposa:

Poem for My Grifa-Rican Sistah
Or Broken Ends Broken Promises

Braids twist and tie
constrain baby naps never to be free
braids twist and tie
contain / hold in the shame
of not havin’ long black silky strands
to run my fingers through.
Moños y bobby pins
twist and wrap
Please forgive me for the sin
Of not inheriting Papi’s “good hair”
moños y bobby pins
twist and wrap
restrain kinky naps
dying to be free
but not the pain
of not having a long black silky mane
to run my fingers through.

Clips and ribbons
to hold back and tie
oppressing baby naps
never to be free.

Clips and ribbons
to hold back and tie
imprisoning baby naps
never to have the dignity to me.

Chemical relaxers
broken ends / broken promises
activator and cream
mixed in with bitterness
mix well.
The ritual of combing / parting / sectioning
the greasing of the scalp / the neck
the forehead / the ears
the process / and then the burning / the burning
“It hurts to be beautiful”
my mother tells me
“¡Pero mami me PICA!”
and then the running / the running to water
to salvation / to neutralizer / to broken ends
and broken promises.
Graduating from Carefree Curl
to Kitty curl / to Revlon / to super duper Fabulaxer
different boxes offering us broken ends and broken promises.

“We’ve come a long way since Dixie Peach.”
My mother tells me as I sit at the kitchen table.

Chemical relaxers to melt away the shame
until new growth reminds us
that it is time once again
for the ritual and the fear of
scalp burns and hair loss
and the welcoming
of broken ends
and broken

Black hair is beautiful.
¡Que viva pelo libre!
¡Que viva!

We hung up, and I wondered if what I said helped Naomi at all. I got my answer last week when I went to visit her and she recited an original poem she was inspired to write:

My Hairby Naomi Otero-Phillips

Short, curly and brown
Wild as can be
In the morning it feels like a pillow
That is as soft as can be
It is really my hair so soft and divine
And that’s why I love my hair

Phew! Mission accomplished.

3 thoughts on “Navani knows How to Give Hairapy

  1. Pingback: Navani Knows Curly Girls! My Latina Magazine Video Shoot « Navani knows…

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