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The age of identity in the article hair is political by charles blow

Courtesy of Natasha Gordon-Chipembere Count Me In is a multi-part series that focuses on making visible the thriving natural hair movement among Afro-descended Costa Ricans within the context of the larger natural hair revolution occurring throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.

The decision to wear their hair natural is a reclaiming of culture and fighting back against centuries of erasure of Black identity. My mouth hung open when she exited her car and embraced me.

  • Xio was born in Guanacaste to a black, non-Tico father and a mother whose history included the first wave of African peoples in colonial Cartago, though unrecognized;
  • For special occasions, her grandmother would put braids in her hair, adorned with colorful barrettes;
  • She knew she was different;
  • Who would have known?
  • Upon acceptance into the group, I amazingly lifted a lid to reveal a vibrant natural hair movement in Costa Rica of over 500 Afro-Tica women and women in the Diaspora who had Afro-Tico parentage.

I was curious about what prompted such a radical transition after years of using braids with extensions and aliset chemicals for straightening hair. I have lived a fairly insulated life here where I do not engage with many Afro-Ticos beyond my own family on a daily basis.

The political and historical context of Black hair within the West is too long and complex for this column, but what is clear is that there is a long standing legacy, dating back from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, that stigmatizes the ways in which black men and women wear their natural hair.

Many enslaved Africans used elaborate cornrows as hairstyles to demarcate the path for the Underground Railroad in the southern parts of the U. Afro, tightly curled hair, symbolic of all things African, became the signifier of all things dirty, uncontrollable, unpresentable, savage.

Essentially, your hair became a constant reminder of your status as slave or having a slave past.

Count me in: the natural hair revolution among Afro-Ticas

The non-subtle public standards of beauty which bombard TV and social and print media do not use an Afro-centric phenotype as the epitome of beauty ideals. All of these resources promote emotional solidarity, hair care tips and political support for resisting age-old stereotypes of what natural African hair should look like.

After talking to Trisha, I was very interested in finding out how Afro-Ticas in particular were managing their hair in the daily society among a majority mestizo Tico population with straight hair. Upon acceptance into the group, I amazingly lifted a lid to reveal a vibrant natural hair movement in Costa Rica of over 500 Afro-Tica women and women in the Diaspora who had Afro-Tico parentage. Who would have known? I posted a request to interview women on their natural hair practices for this series.

Within 10 days, I spoke to 10 women around three specifically framed questions. The first two questions will be the focus of this piece. I have included pictures of the women who granted me permission to show them as they happily wear their natural, afro hair.

All of them went through an extensive hair journey that involved natural hair styles as a child to the pressure to fit in amongst peers by turning to chemically straightened hair. Finally, each of them returning to natural hair styles as a form of liberation and self-love.

This series intends to make visible the hair movement in Costa Rica in order to join the current conversations about the Afro-Latina natural hair movement which spans the Americans and Caribbean. As a child in Los Angeles, Aimee wore a small afro, braids with beads and cornrows all decorated with colorful hair clips. Her hair was blow dried straight for special occasions though she always wanted to fit in with her classmates who had straight hair. By the fourth grade, her grandmother was straightening her hair with a hot comb and finally a relaxer.

The message was clear: By high school, she began with an aliset to get straight hair. Stephannie said she never had an issue with her natural hair as a child though all her hair decisions were made by the adults around her. She began using an aliset when she was 15 which included blowing drying and rollers once a week. Courtesy of Natasha Gordon-Chipembere Scarlett. As a child, there were no other Afro-Tico children in her environment. Her curly hair and brown skin color made her stand out.

She hated the braids that her mother did for her, and by the age of six, she would cry nightly, begging to wake up white like the children around her. It was difficult to find any self-beauty, as she did not look like her mother, who was her primary caretaker. She knew she was different.

  • Frustrated by wanting to fit in and have the long, straight hair of her peers, Xio had her first aliset at the age of 12 because, she says, she could not take it anymore;
  • I have included pictures of the women who granted me permission to show them as they happily wear their natural, afro hair;
  • Courtesy of Natasha Gordon-Chipembere After wearing braids with extensions for some years, at the age of 12, Ichi had her first aliset.

For special occasions, her grandmother would put braids in her hair, adorned with colorful barrettes. She started wearing braids with extensions at 10. Shanil did not begin using an aliset for straightened hair until she was 15. As a child, her mother took care of her hair with weekly rituals of Saturday washing, oiling and braiding. Courtesy of Natasha Gordon-Chipembere After wearing braids with extensions for some years, at the age of 12, Ichi had her first aliset. It was at that moment, she says, that she changed her own perspective and started feeling beautiful with her brown skin.

For the first time among her classmates, she felt appreciated. Xio was born in Guanacaste to a black, non-Tico father and a mother whose history included the first wave of African peoples in colonial Cartago, though unrecognized. She knew as a child that she was visually different with her curly hair and brown skin. By the time she was 10, she became miserable in school as her peers pointed out her afro hair and her African features.

Other kids always would constantly touch her hair, making her feel like a petted dog, and it would make her really angry. Frustrated by wanting to fit in and have the long, straight hair of her peers, Xio had her first aliset at the age of 12 because, she says, she could not take it anymore.

  • All of these resources promote emotional solidarity, hair care tips and political support for resisting age-old stereotypes of what natural African hair should look like;
  • Essentially, your hair became a constant reminder of your status as slave or having a slave past;
  • It hurt to get her hair done.

It was her black aunt who would come over and take special care of her hair as a child, mostly braiding her hair to look presentable. Shannon did not notice her hair was really different until fourth grade, when her mother decided to put in an aliset so that she could have straight hair and fit in amongst her Tico peers. Courtesy of Natasha Gordon-Chipembere Ilinka. With three sisters, all with varying grades of thick afro-hair, Ilinka used to dread the detangling process of her hair.

It hurt to get her hair done. Ilinka had her first aliset in the sixth grade to celebrate her graduation.

The message was loud and clear: All these women attended Costa Rican private schools — with the exception of Aimee — in a familial culture that prioritized education and the need to speak English. Each journey was unique, yet so familiar. I could have been talking to a black woman in Brooklyn, Jamaica or South Africa. Read more from Natasha Gordon-Chipembere here.