By Alexa Nunez
I wanted to cover the topic of immigration through how I recently view my hair. I never paid much attention to the significance of my hair but I always felt like I looked like a minority to some because of the way my hair looked "indigenous". Thinking about this, I realized how sometimes our society tells us to change to look a certain way and to start speaking English and look as American as possible. And then we start to disregard the past we came from.
I want to honor my Peruvian roots by growing out my hair and to continue to spread awareness about the different problems immigrants face in this country, even if they are micro-issues.
When I look back at my memories as a child, I think about my hair. It used to be so long that would reach a little bit over my waist. A lot of people complimented my hair and how long and straight it was. How black it was that it was almost blue. My hair had the ability to shine in the sun so brightly to the point of heating up so quickly. My hair was a sign of my innocence as a child almost. Yet, by the time I reached high school, I had decided to cut it short. The first time I had done that, I had surprised the lady at the salon. Although it made my mother angry, I really did want to cut my hair so badly and see it fall to the ground.
I thought I looked like a “chola” with my long hair.
In Peru, cholo/a is considered to be someone who looks indigenous. Or just someone who seems outdated with the world. Therefore, when my relatives said I looked like a “cholita”, I did not think they meant it out of kindness. I was ashamed to not look a certain way like my peers. Especially those who hold fairer skin to me. I do not know why I started to compare myself or how it started. All I knew was that to cut my hair would mean I would cut some ties that I had to my Incan ancestry.
To me, the solution seemed simple. I did not want to look outdated or “indigenous”. I wanted to erase that part of myself.
When I was born into the world, I did not know how to use labels. But humans are really obsessed with putting names and labels on almost everything that I started to see the labels people put on me as a way to identify myself and disregarded further thought. I thought to myself, “I should try to fit in better”. It was painful to see how seriously I took people’s words, especially when it came to my appearance. I did not want to look like an immigrant, because I technically am not. I am a second-generation immigrant, yes, but I was born here and it had impacted the way I viewed Peru. The way I viewed my past, present, and future. I became more “individualistic” if anyone wants to put a label on it.
Recently, I have felt more loving of my appearance and what it tells about my past because of what my grandmother told me once. She might have forgotten she told me but it was that after a while my hair will never grow back and that I should grow it out. And that is when I realized something. My hair will never grow back at a certain point. This was something I had not thought of before. What did this phrase mean to me?
At some point, the hair I cut was lost because I was trying to escape from its past. And if I continue to run away to “assimilate” myself into a culture, I will never be able to understand that my hair is part of who I am as an individual. I love being Peruvian and I love being Hispanic.
But another reason I love my hair is that I look similar to some immigrants that have crossed the border. Like a young little Latina and I think to myself “I wonder if she loves her hair… and I wonder if she will try to escape her past like I almost did”. I do not want to cut my hair because I want to grow it out for a bit. I want to look like a Latina because that is who I am.
And I do not need to fit a certain standard. That day, that was my decision. I still like my hair short, but for now, I will embrace my long hair for a little while longer. I will hold on to that past to comfort me onto how far I have come in my life.