Mis Raíces de Marrón Oscuro (My dark brown roots)

Rut Ortiz, Writer

When I was a kid I used to get picked on a lot because my hair was different. It’s kinky and unruly and it’s been a source of many tears, many times over.

This is not a piece to gain sympathy or indulge in self-pity. I want this to be more of a reflection of what it has been like being a Hispanic woman with Afro-Boricua features and how learning self-acceptance has brought me this far.

I will begin with this: being a kid is already an awkward experience. You don’t what’s happening to yourself and emotions are volatile. I was an awkward kid going through an already awkward experience .

My hair grows out in tight curls, and my curls grow in a zigzag pattern. My parents kept a short afro haircut on me so as to make it easier to get me ready every morning. As smart as that was, combing and detangling my hair hurt my head and it was so painful I would cry.

School was a completely different world than home. I was told I was ugly, and I didn’t really belong anywhere. Hispanic girls didn’t reach out to me and neither did anyone else, so I floated awkwardly to and from school every day, mostly keeping to myself and the books that I read. I felt like  the odd, ugly duckling for years.

It wasn’t until I was 10 years old when we had a verbal assignment in our fifth grade class, that I was fed up.

I don’t remember what the assignment was exactly, but I w

as telling the class about myself. When I said that I was a girl, kids started snickering. They laughed at me and said I was lying. They said I was a boy, because of my hair.

That moment was determinant of how I felt towards my dark, brown curly hair for the remainder of my grammar school years, my high school years and even all of my twenties.

I remember hating feeling different and hating my natural hair because it didn’t look like hair other Puerto-Rican girls had. I remember high school and the boys I dated asked me why I didn’t change my hair.

What were their reasons? They said it was because other girls had hair that was so much prettier than mine. I’m no longer dating them.

However, by the age of 16, I’d used a chemical straightening treatment on my hair for six years because I was fed up with being teased for it.

I wanted to be like “other,” “regular” or even “normal” girls.

I wanted to be beautiful.

During my twenties, I had “friends” who berated me for chemically treating my hair. If I missed a treatment for whatever reason, I also had “friends” who berated me for not doing anything with it.

I love how people feel the need to tell you how to handle something in your life when they have either never experienced it or have absolutely zero solutions for you.

I am no longer friends with these people.

I kept up the treatments to my hair until 11 months ago. Today, I am in my early thirties and about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree, but every so often I think back and I still feel like that awkward little girl with the afro.

The texture of my hair has changed because of everything I’ve put in it to achieve Kardashian-esque locks, and that is my own fault. It took me years to get to a place where I love myself for who I am rather than whom society wants me to be.

What did I do to get here?

I stopped caring about what other people think.

What saddens me the most is that I’ve arrived at this place of both self-awareness and self-acceptance but there are children and young adults everywhere who will feel that conforming to what the world wants is crucial to their self-identity.

That is simply not true.

There’s beauty hidden in this big, scary world. People will do and think what they like, however I believe every day is a chance to see beauty where others see flaw.

It may be tarnished but it’s there. As much as it has changed, my hair is still kinky and unruly but it’s no longer a source for my tears. It’s my own personal celebration.