Bold Cuts - life experience story by Sylva
Trip to Puebla, Mexico, March 2001. I was disappointed. All the Mexicans were so, well, American. The clothes, music, Costco...my college experience abroad seemed like the stateside version, only dubbed over in Spanish.
While ruminating on alternative interpretations for ‘we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us’ it occurred to me that maybe I could benefit from some introspection. After all, who was I to judge when I was wearing shoulder length braids? I saw a golden opportunity to begin extricating myself from the obligations piled on to me by my family, race and culture.So, I cut my hair. I pulled out those braids and took to sporting the quintessential fade of black boys everywhere. Instantly, I was riveted by my face. What cheeks! My big eyes! My little ears! I didn’t have anything to hide behind. I was forced to face the world unapologetically. No more using my hair to make the appearance of my person less shocking or more palatable.
Going natural in another country was definitely eye-opening. When I was just black, everyone assumed I was easy; when they thought I was African, their ignorance became even more outrageous. People asked my white classmates if I was their maid and if I spoke English. At drum circles, the crowds eyed me expectantly like they were waiting for me to break out into dance. My mailman called me his ‘Jamaiquena’, his sly way of calling me African. The bright spot in all this was being approached by rural women who asked me to kisstheir babies. They told me that seeing a black person was lucky.
Once back home, my Dad schooled me on how to pick out my hair. I remember sitting in my grandma’s bathroom while he shaped it up for me. His strong hands were surprisingly gentle as he turned my head and inspected his work. There was a tenderness there that I hadn’t expected. I remember feeling grateful because I knew he feared for my future - he told me when I dumped my business major that I would be a pauper - and I could sense that he was hoping this would all be a phase. (Then I got a nose ring! Poor Pop.)
I broke so many picks trying to get my hair into a neat Afro! Even as I fought it, I was fascinated by its boisterousness. It grew in thick and kinky. It corkscrewed tightly and the kinks had this boiiing quality that was just too cute! I didn’t know my hair could do that! By fall 2002 it had started to loc up on its own. I marveled at how pieces seemed to bond together over night. My hair had a mind of its own!