by Cathy of YuccaRoots
Coined by the ever-so diverse Dominican community, the term “pelo malo,” translates into bad hair, kinky hair, unmanageable hair, or hair that does not resemble Barbie or Ken’s. Ever since I came out of my mother’s womb, I was destined to have pelo malo. When little girls have pelo malo, their hair does not grow fast. On the contrary, It sprouts gradually resembling a germinating pinto bean. At a young age, I did not fully understand the journey I was going to embark on. As I began to grow; my hair did too.
Back in the day when the mullet was popping and the Aqua Net was spraying, my “mami,” would style my hair using 3 techniques. “La cola,” or the tail was my mami’s favorite style for little me. She would use the hard bristled brush and really grip all the curls with it, so I would have one cola at the top and one cola at the bottom. Each cola or ponytail would have to be perfectly parallel to the other no matter what or my mom would start over. Sigh, because when I was young having my hair styled was painful; literally.
When my mami, wanted to change-up my top-bottom ponytail style, she would use the classic 80s side ponytail or the super-duper classic style with the 2 pigtails on each side. Each style was finished with a hair accessory that resembled a cake-top centerpiece. You know, like the one’s from Dominican weddings and baptisms. I had a hair bow in every color because they always had to match my outfit. My hair was never undone because Dominicans do not believe in having pelo malo. What would people say about you and your mom if your hair was not done? The “bochinche,” or the gossip would flood the entire Dominican occupied apartment building you and your family lived in.
Pelo Malo became part of me when I noticed that my sister and cousins, who are Dominican too, had “good hair,” or “pelo bueno.” In my little Dominican eyes, I perceived pelo bueno as hair that did not tangle when you got out of the shower or hair that did not look like you electrocuted yourself. It was then that I knew that my hair was different. I was 6 years old and I had to toughen up. My mami would always carry her “cepillo,” or brush in her purse to do my hair; in public! This would always embarrass me because it made me feel different. The worst days were picture days at school because they always looked so bad. The little black complimentary comb the photographers gave me never worked because of the obvious. I had nicknames in school and felt ugly because my pelo was malo.
It has been 3 months since I chopped off my heat damaged ends. My hair has not been as full and vivacious since before I had my two children. I am living a heat-free lifestyle, and I am embracing my natural texture for the world to see. At first, I thought about what people at my job would say, but I have been getting really great compliments from colleagues and family members. My confidence has increased substantially. Prior to my natural hair journey, I always worried about my hair and how I was perceived by others. I thought that after having a permanent straightener and occasional flat iron procedures, that my hair would always look dull and sad. Today, I feel alive and beautiful because my hair is full, healthy, and back to where it belongs; curly. Through media outlets, I share my stories, hair routines, and products that have saved my hair. My purpose is to embrace the naturally curly Latina within me, while exposing my experiences as a Dominican-American and the stereotypes that exist within my culture.