Race-work, Race-love

Posts Tagged ‘ecuador’

Quito, Day 2: Ecuadorian Higher Education Reform and its Discontents

In Uncategorized on June 16, 2013 at 5:40 pm

image copyAs luck would have it, I had a draft written out last night. In my blurry-eyed sleepiness, I must have pressed a button that caused for all my work to disappear.  Hence, the tardiness of this post.

The further removed you are from a memory, the more you forget.  So I will try to write this quickly.

We had four visits during Day 2, at three different institutions.

The first was with Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior, Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (SENSCYT), where we met with several people to discuss community colleges in Ecuador and history of the reform.image-2

The conversation began by providing a historical account of the higher education reform policy they are currently working under. Here are some facts: we were told that 30%  of the Ecuadorian population who are between  the ages 18 and 24 are in college and 38% of the Ecuadorian population who are over 18 are enrolled in some form of postsecondary education.

One presenter explained that in 2007 and 2008 there were various meetings to discuss changes in higher education policy that was in practice at that time. According to the constitution then, there existed two main tenets: the first was that everyone deserved a free public higher education.  Unfortunately, public higher education was only practiced in theory; students were charged different types of fees at different institutions, which the government wanted to curtail. Additionally, not all students actually were able to access higher education despite the low costs.  Secondly, the constitution also mandated assessment and evaluation of the higher education system which they were not conducting.

In 2009, reforming higher education in Ecuador was an agenda item for President Correa and his government.  According to our presenters, the reform was guided by the following principles:

1. In order to transform higher education, higher education needed to be recognized as a public good. In doing so, the government was able to gain authority over the higher education system. We were told that this does not mean control, this means “regulation and overseeing” not controlling.

2. Democratization of access. To ensure that everyone had access to public higher education, the government implemented a national exam in 2012, which they believe evaluates aptitude. Troya emphasized that this exam does not discriminate against students who attend poorly resourced high schools. They also found that the exam provides more access to indigenous and Afro Ecuadorian populations. In fact, Troya says that in addition to increasing those populations in higher education, the net enrollment rate of low income Ecuadorians in higher education is now boasts the highest enrollment of low-income people for all of Latin America. She credits these enrollment rates to the national entrance exam to access higher education.

3. Pertinence is another principle guiding this reform. In other words, the university must fulfill national needs and in this era, this means more specifically, the STEM fields.

This is all part of the a project called the “Good living ” – Buen Vivir  project, a plan that the government is currently implementing that specifies higher education must address the needs of Ecuadorian society. Part of these needs include a push for more students in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields.

How is this higher education reform currently being implemented?

One way they plan to implement all of this is by providing more scholarships to Ecuadorian students, more than any other government has in Ecuador. Scholarships are for students who earn a certain score on their national exam.  The score and these scholarships are supposed to guarantee a student’s acceptance into some of their top universities, private or public. In an effort to improve universities, the Ecuadorian government has closed down fourteen colleges and universities. We heard on Day 4 how this affected some students and will recount on the next post.

Another way the Ecuadorian government has implemented this new reform is by offering scholarship money for those who want to study abroad. The deal is that students who wish to study outside of the Ecuador must spend double the amount of time in Ecuador (after they graduate) as they spend abroad. They have a scholars network to keep these scholarship students connected to each other and by helping them find jobs after they come back. So far they have a 1000 graduates who have returned to Ecuador.

A third way the government is implementing this reform is by creating community colleges. Currently, the Ecuadorian government is engaged in a 308 million dollar project to build community colleges. These colleges are mainly geared in the STEM fields and are guided by the country’s needs.

Forty institutions will be converted into community colleges by 2016. The goal is to increase the number of community colleges from 12% to 25%. They are hoping to graduate 31, 000 students by 2017. The government wants to build community colleges that are major specific in areas of the country where there are no institutions of higher education. The philosophy for the students in these community colleges is that they will undergo a “dual formation” between an academic instruction and labor orientation.

All the professors, administrators, and students we heard from seem to question the implementation of this new reform.  Much of these plans sound great in theory but I did not hear how these plans are connected to theory, evaluation, or assessment. One example is the creation of major specific community colleges in areas where there is no postsecondary institution.  It is not quite sure how SENESCYT actually know that people living in these areas will actually want to attend these community colleges in their neighborhoods.  We were told that they have to work on changing the mentality and attitudes of the Ecuadorian people in order for these reforms to work but it is not certain how they plan to do this.  We were also told that if someone who wants to study a specific major not found at their local community colleges, they have to travel to one that does.  And to me, this defeats the purpose of the community college. Additionally, the reform states that all professors must hold PhDs in order to teach. In a country that only has 250 PhD holders, this seems like it will be an enormous feat to beat if they hope to build all these extra community colleges.

It is interesting to see how the government seems to be pushing very hard for vocational training while the professors we spoke with are not content with the brain drain, the lack of liberal arts training, and the lack of knowledge being produced and exported from Ecuador. The government seems to be working on these issues as well and I would have liked to have heard more about this. Also left unclear to me was how this reform will be studied or assessed.  I am not sure how they plan to gather professors, administrators, and students’ perceptions of these reforms.

Day two consisted of more meetings with administrators from an American high school in Quito and a visit with student affairs professionals in la Universidad de las Americas (the only one in Quito higher education and maybe even the country).  We also met with one of the only disabled professors in Quito higher education.  This professor helped transform the Universidad de las Americas by making the campus friendlier for physically disabled people by creating ramps and elevators for those individuals who are in wheel chairs.

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Day three and four were filled with narratives from Ecuadorian people who were or continue to be college students here. These were powerful stories filled with struggle for the desire to continue higher education given many structural and political roadblocks that were created by the government. I will write about that for my next piece.

In all, there seems to be a disconnect between the government and the higher education community.  Each group (professors, students, administrators)  has their own set of problems with the government’s higher education reform.  Indeed, it doesn’t seem that complete governmental authority over higher education is working; we are in the midst of watching change occur and no one knows yet how this will affect Ecuador’s most valuable treasure: its people.

Ecuadorian Funerals: A Ceremony of Love and Race

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Although I am born of Ecuadorian parents, I know more about being Ecuadorian American than I do about being Ecuadorian. I have little experience living with large extended families as some of my cousins are accustomed which also means that I have little experience with grandparents and death. Naturally, when my aunt passed away, and I knew I was going to attend a funeral in Ecuador, I googled to see what I should expect.

What I found on google were US-centric, US value based descriptions of Ecuadorian funerals. Descriptions such as “loud” and “theatrical” and “dramatic” were pervasive in blogs and other notes on Ecuadorian funerals. What I found in Ecuador was different: a celebration of closure, a celebration of love, and a celebration of a life – albeit, a heartbreaking and moving celebration. I realized how much my US value system teaches me to repress my feelings, and learn how to control them, rather than experience and express those feelings. And the lesson: that expressions of grief end, start again, but end again.

Funerals help provide closure and an opportunity to think about what this individual contributed in my life. Thus, before I go into what I experienced, I want to describe a little about who my aunt is and what she means to me as a woman of color. Unfortunately, I never was able to tell her in person.

What my aunt taught me about race will live with me forever and has helped influence my identification as a woman of color. One of my first memories of her was her saying to my mother “Ñañita, tu hija es sambita! Vistes!” (Sister, your daughter is sambita, you see!).

I don’t remember my aunt looking angry or upset about whatever sambita meant. But I do recall the look on my mom and dad’s faces. My mother, a light-skinned woman, and my father a man who prided himself on his European lineage (like many Latin Americans do) looked horrified and quickly reminded her that I wasn’t.

Of course this made me want to look up “sambita”. And if there was anything that my dad taught me was that whatever he could not teach me, I can find in a book. So that’s where I went. To the dictionary. Samba, I found was a derogatory word for a black person in Latin America. Someone with curly hair. When I was younger I remember being picked on for having big lips and being reminded that my hair was not like my mother’s or my sisters’. My hair and lips did not seem to match my white skin. I was different. I was not entirely white, I was not entirely Black. What was I? Sambita perhaps. It was my first recognition of myself as being a kid of color. Or some color at least.

Kids do see color. When I was little, I didn’t understand why my family believed themselves to be white when I had a brown auntie, an auntie who was china, and an auntie who was india… All my family members look like they are from different parts of the world and I loved it.

This particularly auntie was a brown woman. And I thought it was curious how she called my uncle – my mom’s brother – “mi negro”. And he called her – “mi negra”. I knew these were terms of endearment and I saw a love, a kind of endearment that I saw between my uncle and my aunt that I did not see very often.

Despite these endearments, I did wonder why “negro” was a nickname while “Blanca” was an official first name….

I never knew exactly how my aunt identified herself racially. I do wonder however if rather than seeing something in me, by calling me sambita, she was perhaps seeing something in herself. In this racialized self-knowledge she then was able to speak aloud and identify being negra in me, despite my light skinned complexion, despite my mother’s white skin, despite what my family would think about having a sambita in the family meant. Whether it was bravery or just personal identification, it was one of the first instances of my own identification as a confused little girl of color growing up in a racially confused family within a growing color-blind society.

This woman, my aunt, continues to teach me. Even in death.

Her funeral began with a wake in the United States. A wake was necessary in New York for all the community she created here. There was a time limit to the wake. We began at 3pm and ended at 9pm. People prayed silently and in groups while children were running around. Children were aware. They said things like “No I want to play grandma now” Or “Whoever says grandma’s name first, wins”.

A couple of days later, we went to Ecuador. My family waited for her body at the airport. From the airport she was carried in a car that was expected to drive around her neighborhood and other places she was known to frequent. This was the first physical announcement of her death. From there she was brought to her Ecuadorian wake. The viewing room had an additional three rooms in the back. These rooms were a small kitchen area, bathrooms, and a resting area for living members. The expectation is to stay with the body until the actual burial. To spend your last moments with her as best as you can. I couldn’t believe this. Stay with her body overnight? But who could stay away? Saying goodbye was too difficult.

In the evening of the wake, my uncle paid mariachi bands to serenade her. Mariachis were her favorite. So a mariachi band played somber music and music she loved. This added to the sadness. The music was poignant and moving and knowing that some were her favorite perhaps added to the emotional roller coaster that we were now engaging in. Men began to cry. Women were consoling the men. Women were serving the tea and other drinks. Men were comforting my uncle and my cousins. Saying their last good-byes, praying over her body, and crying some more.

Wailing did occur. Wailing, yelling, wondering out loud at the cruelty of death. The inevitable sadness that crept over me was – well, inevitable. I could not figure out if I was sad to say goodbye to this woman who has been in my life for as long as I could remember or if perhaps I was sad for my uncle who was losing his partner of 43 years or for my cousins who were losing an overprotective loving mother who continues to care for her children… But soon a wailing crept in me that my American Gringa taught me to stifle and control.

I realized that stifling emotions were not the custom in Ecuador. Wailing was allowed. To tell others to control the wailing said more about me: I could not handle the emotional response expressed at this wake. Why are we so judgmental over how people release their sadness? We give people tissues, we tell people to be strong – for what? Because we can’t handle other people’s pain? So I didn’t ask anyone to stop. They knew something I didn’t. That eventually the wailing would end and that completing a life was in process.

The next morning a mass was said for her. And the goodbyes before the closing of the casket commenced. This was also allowed. No one, unless it was taking too much time, would stop anyone from going to her body and cry and talk and cry some more. This was done before closing the casket. Once the casket was closed, we processed with it to a boveda, which she was to share with my grandmother, a space on a wall constructed to bury our dead. There were many walls. We bury our dead in the ground, but I find Ecuadorians prefer bovedas. I’m learning that bovedas are spiritual alters, a place where people go to communicate with their dead. This is how we commemorate our dead.

At the close of the ceremony, many of us, particularly her daughter, were inconsolable. I couldn’t help but think about my own parents’ mortality. I wondered how would I handle such an event. Would I be expressive like my Ecuadorian cousins? Would I stifle myself like my American upbringing has taught me? Would I be as ethno-centric as those American bloggers who write how dramatic and theatrical Ecuadorians were? Not sure. But I do know that I would ask the same things my cousin was asking out loud: Why are you leaving me Mommy? Where are you going? Take me with you. Please.

How do you celebrate a life? How do you complete a relationship? I once believed like my Gringo-blogger counterparts that having all these rituals that last a week sometimes can be too much. But now I know this to be selfish. Some people need these rituals to say goodbye, to come to closure with a human being you loved. Giving the opportunity to give others closure is important too – not just receive it, but offer it as well. A funeral, the end of a life, should be celebratory, theatrical, dramatic, because we are mourning and celebrating a LIFE.

So I see funerals now, despite the sadness, the wailing, the crying, the pleading, as an act of love. My family, a celebration of race (whether they see it or not), is at the cusp of losing these rituals… but perhaps by writing them down, we won’t.

“Yo quiero que a mi me entierren, como a mis antepasados”

Finding Maria Chiquinquira — On the Road to Racial Completeness

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2011 at 12:03 am

Racially complete. When you are racially silenced, you begin the process of being incomplete. Silence can occur when you are told to stop talking about race. The process begins early for children – through a loss of heritage from the process of immigration, to being racially silenced in schools, to being told, “you’re crazy” from friends and family — the silence around race is deafening. To become racially complete, you have to go backwards, go back to these moments when you were silenced and try to understand what those moments were about. Your voice is the beginning.

I found my voice during Black History Month. I was a sophomore in college and was very unhappy. My experience with race and racism was overwhelming. A predominantly white institution, the college I attended still had a lot of work to do around these issues. Not knowing what race-work was at the time, I was one of the students who discussed racism on our campus with other students, in the corner of a cafeteria. Then, Revolution was only part of my vocabulary and something others did. Not something I could do.

Until one day, my friend Aira, co-coordinator of Black History Month at the time asked me to sit on a panel to discuss the experiences of Women of Color. “You should talk about what it means to be Latina here.”

Oh hell no I thought. I don’t even know what that means. Where would I even start?

The truth, my friend Rahsaan said. Start there.

The truth meant reviewing my experiences with race and the college experience. How my version of being Latina did not match what others at the college thought what a Latina should look like, sound like, act like. Being Latina at home meant I was light-skinned and could pass for white in a mostly Dominican neighborhood. In college, I was not light enough, not white enough, spoke like Rosie Perez, and was so very “New York”. Some didn’t even know what a Latina was – some thought I was half white, half Black, or half white, half Asian.

Latina? Wasn’t even in some students’ radars. This was the early nineties.

That is the voice of what was happening. What being Latina meant on a predominantly white campus. But what is the history? Where is my history?

Latino roots. African. Native. European.

How does a light-skinned Latina woman even begin to understand her African and Native roots? How do you explain the work that rises in you – the confusion you see in the mirror – when your skin color says one thing, but your facial features say another, and your spirit screams out yet another? Am I insulting some by identifying as Afro-Latina? Am I ignoring my Native roots? From that speech, I declared my identity and formally began my search for its meaning.

I tried to do this by first gathering information about Latin Americans who had a voice. People like Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz, Frida Kahlo, the Mirabal Sisters…and as much as I enjoyed learning about Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Ecuadorian history was often ignored in Latin American art, history and literature courses. I learned how to do research and from then on I hunted for my own racial history, and for me this would take me back to Ecuador.

When I found Maria Chiquinquira I couldn’t help but be excited. For one, my knowledge of Ecuadorian history was a constant self-education, a journey that came in spurts, but a desire that continues to burn. A search for my roots to help explain some of the confusion I felt for a long time about who I am and why I looked a certain way. I saw Maria’s picture hanging in the Museum Of Nahim Isaias and I see my lips. I see my nose. And I see that she is Black.

Maria Chiquinquira is an African woman who was enslaved in Guayaquil, Ecuador in the 1700’s and was the first slave in Ecuador to win her freedom. She was enslaved by Presbyter Afonso Cepeda de Arizcum Elizondo. According to Sherwin Keith Bryant, author of an unpublished dissertation called Slavery And The Context Of Ethnogenesis: Africans, Afro-Creoles, And The Realities Of Bondage In The Kingdom Of Quito, 1600-1800 (2005) Maria Chiquinquira “entered a legal battle” for her and her daughter’s freedom in May 1794 (p224).

Although she was a slave, she was aware of some of her rights and fought for her freedom based on that information. According to Bryant, Maria (along with other female slaves in Latin America) won her freedom by accusing their masters of “…dishonorable acts including: siring children with slave women, requiring work on Sundays, withholding time for mass, and failing to provide instruction in the faith.” (p.225).

Although she is an important symbol in Ecuador, like most of our African and Native history, she has been buried under the rubble of the European destruction and colonial civilization. Rendering us racially incomplete.

When I saw her picture hanging in the Museum Of Nahim Isaias in Guayaquil, she was still buried under the pictures and maps and other artifacts that signified the colonial period of Ecuador. Not much has changed in regard to our African and Native lineage.

Who is Maria Chiquinquira? When I google her, not much is mentioned. Dr. Bryant’s dissertation is the closest someone has written on her in English. There are some books in Spanish, old, some outdated texts – still nothing extensive.

The little I do know of her is that she was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador like my mother. She was intelligent and understood her rights and had a history of being mistreated by men. She was a Black woman in a time when Black meant slave. She changed the course of her history and for thousands of women in Ecuador – but who would know?

She is like me. Perhaps I inherited some of this trauma, some of this intelligence, some of this fight for freedom. For many years, I looked to Sor Juana, Joan of Arc, Toni Morrison, Angela Davis and here I had my own Ecuadorian hero – and I am beginning to feel somewhat, racially complete. Because in addition to recognizing similar eyes, nose, and lips which could have been passed down to me too – who knows? – I also wonder how I inherited the spirit of freedom that we all share – just been buried by our own modern day colonialism of bad reality TV and Eurocentric education.

I am happy I found Maria Chiquinquira.

But the journey to feeling racially complete, my race-work, my race-love, continues…

A Tale of Two Novembers: The Ecuadorian Massacre of 1922 and the Mirabal Sisters

In Uncategorized on November 16, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I have quite often recovered pieces of Ecuadorian and Latin American history through literature. Being born in the United States, daughter of immigrant parents, I have the fortune of inheriting multiple histories, but the misfortune of not being formally taught Latino literature in school. When I discovered Latino literature, a whole new world opened up for me. For example, I learned  history from the Dominican Republic and Haiti through writers such as Julia Alvarez and Edwidge Danticat. I became familiar with Cuban, Mexican, and Puerto Rican history through Latino literature.

Ecuadorian literature was a little different – very few of its finest pieces are translated into English and thus less accessible to the US public and consequently – me. Still, I go hunting to recover pieces of my Ecuadorian history from the inspiration of Dominican, Haitian American and other writers with the hopes that one day this can be done for Ecuadorians, too. In this hunt, I learned about the importance of November. I learned about the murder of the Mirabal Sisters from the Dominican Republic and the largest massacre to occur, some would say, in Ecuadorian history – also known as Las Cruces Sobre el Agua or Ecuadorian Massacre of 1922.

The months of August, September, and October  mark  months in which many Latin American countries won their independence from Spain. Lesser known are days when battles for justice have been fought. November is an important month for Dominicans and Ecuadorians. Although not widely known, these stories of political struggle remind us of our collective responsibility to combat injustice everywhere even if it means death. These events are part of our social justice history. This work contributes to our genealogy of justice.

In the Dominican Republic, you have the infamous Mirabal sisters. Four sisters who are mythologized as Las Mariposas were said to be the beginning of the end of the Trujillo dictatorship. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic not only to was the champion of genocide and racial cleansing in the Dominican Republic; he was also the leader in the Massacre of 1937 in Haiti. He ruled the island for close to forty years. It is taught that the Mirabal Sisters developed an underground system to overthrow the dictator. Several failed attempts caused for the Trujillo dictatorship to uncover the work of Las Mariposas. No one knows exactly how they were murdered but the story is that the women were traveling from the prisons where their husbands were incarcerated for their political activism. After their visit, they were ambushed and killed. They were savagely killed and believed that they were led into an ambush. Their assassination occurred November 25th 1960.

The slaughter of the Mariposas, their murder, haunted their survivors and these survivors were inspired to continue to overthrow Trujillo. Trujillo was killed not too long after the murder of the Mirabal sisters. While there is much controversy over their lives and their participation in plans to overthrow Trujillo, they are best remembered for the beginning of the end of the demagogue Trujillo. They inspire all women, particularly Latinas, and remind us that our participation in revolution is necessary and an imperative.

Bloodshed is often the only way a government listens to a distressed people. Hiding this history gives the same government the opportunity to minimize the chance for a future revolt. Ecuador is no different. On November 15, 1922, workers in Ecuador protested the labor conditions under a dictatorship, regime-like government. During this protest, a struggle that united workers from across professions, countless Ecuadorians were killed and thrown in the River Guayas.

The president during that time was Jose Luis Tamayo. Ecuadorian economy depended on their cacao industry. The exploitation of obrereros of all kinds, but in particular agricultural obreros, was serving and enriching the monetary coffers of a political oligarchy – in which few families actually held power in Ecuador. Ecuadorian obreros and workers organized under the La Federación de Trabajadores Regional del Ecuador (FTRE). This union initiated the protests. Soon electrical, agricultural, and railroad workers joined the movement.

Before the protest they wrote a worker’s manifesto in which they charged the government with mistreatment of their people and provided a bill of rights to ensure that they gain protection. For three days they protested. There is much debate about what happened the third day. Some report that 20,000 people gathered to celebrate that the workers’ demands were met. Others report that President Tamayo ordered his military to kill the protesters. What is known is that this movement did not only consist of workers, but also their wives, their children, elderly people, and students. What is known is that the military did indeed fire at the crowd resulting in a massacre. Bodies were strewn everywhere and the military decided to throw the bodies in the River Guayas. It is reported that over 300 people were killed that day. Others report that the number of people killed that day was actually over 1500. The government says only 100 people were killed. Today, this protest for greater justice to workers is memorialized by placing crosses over the river. A cemetery in the river, thousands of bodies were left unknown. This memorial is called Las Cruces Sobre el Agua, or the Ecuadorian Massacre of 1922. Evidence of this history is written in literary form by Joaquín Gallegos Lara.

When one recovers a bit of their own culture history, an emotional roller coaster ensues. For one, you wonder why didn’t you know this already? Secondly, now that I know about this history, what can I do to make sure others learn about these two novembers, too? Finally, what lessons can we learn from these tragedies?

Not all of us can be an Edwidge Danticat or Julia Alvarez. Not all of us can find a piece of history and put a name like Steven Spielberg to a film with a historical theme to it and make it accessible. But I do hope that one day, even amongst smaller communities, we can make this information more available for others to learn, become more whole in our history of our people, and recognize that it is in our genes to continue to fight for racial justice and other forms of social justice. We are one with those ambushed, murdered, and slaughtered, like the Mirabal Sisters. We are one with those bodies in the River Guayas.

I (finally) Love My Hair

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2010 at 11:44 am

I don’t have “wash-and-go” hair like the girls in the commercials. Growing up my hair caused me many problems, as I am sure it has for many little girls. But the kind of problems I had were not just that I didn’t have the right bow to wear, or that maybe I didn’t like the way it happened to look that day. No. My hair just didn’t know itself. Junot Diaz’s character Yunior in Drown may have had Africa running through his hair, but I had Africa, Europe, and Quechua (Native American) running through mine – and my hair was just all confused.

When I was younger, family members called me “sambita” because I had curlier hair than my mother and sisters. I had no idea what this term meant at the time. All I knew was that it meant “different” to them and it meant “no one knew how to help me take care of my hair” to me. So for years I would spend my time pouring over magazines like Teen magazine, magazines not meant for girls of color, to figure out ways to straighten my hair to look like the women in my immediate family. “ESTE PELO!” my mother would exclaim trying to get through the African and Native American in my hair – and it all just turned into one ball of a frizzy mess.

Until one day I went to Ecuador. I was 16 years old and it was my first trip back since I was three. There I met more women from my family, more Ecuadorian women. These women didn’t have tight curls – they had frizzy curls like me but they looked healthier. They didn’t have straight hair like my sisters did – their hair was definitely curlier. That in-between state of hair – that mixture of people – evidence of our heritage – was stated plainly in our hair and on our lips. And for the first time, looking at them, I felt normal.
So I asked – “How do you keep your curls? I brush and brush, use water, pull it back at night, pull it up in the morning—I feel like I tried everything and nothing works!”

My cousin looked at me like I was crazy. She said very pointedly – “Stop brushing.”

Lightning bolt.

What?! Could it really have been that simple? Stop brushing?! For years, I saw Marcia Brady brushing her long blonde hair 100 times a day and I thought something was wrong with me!

For years, I hated THE BRUSH. Who knew a brush was a tool for my own oppression!

During that time, although I was racially aware, I was not racially conscious. I was, however, mad that I had this “kind of hair” and that I had to learn this late in the game how to “manage” it. Even the term “managing” seems so oppressive. As we “manage” diversity on our college campuses or corporations or celebrate “difference” rather than discuss the inequalities that those differences represent. At a very micro-level I was learning about the ways women of color have been oppressed for years – through our hair.

A revelation is only the beginning of acceptance. From then on I looked to magazines that were dedicated to women of color – Essence, Ebony – even though I was not a Black woman they were magazines that more closely addressed my issues with hair. Latina magazine popped up in my late teenage years and that helped this mission to destroy THE BRUSH a little more.

Despite all these discoveries, I still had my struggles with hair – all issues of acceptance of course. I went through my hair-straightening stage. When I thought I would be accepted more in college if I had long, straight hair. Then I went through my curly hair stage, when I chopped my hair off and realized the curls bounced back and my hair seemed happy. This stage was really my ‘I don’t care what you think” era. I was more politically active on campus, I was more outspoken, and I didn’t spend money on a brush. A curling iron instead was used to push the European strands of hair to join the rest of the curls.

I can’t say I loved my hair growing up. The tugging, pulling, straightening, moisturizing, moussing, brushing – all of that my hair endured – just to help it finds its place. All because I didn’t feel like I had wash-and-go hair.

Today is a different story. I appreciate my hair now. I can curl it when I want. Straighten it when I want. Both are still long processes but I have learned that this is just my hair. Putting myself in the world where women have similar hair also helped. After all, who can help teach you how to love your African and Native hair – except for other women who have African and Native hair?

Today I don’t hate the brush – that much. I understand now that it is used as one of those oppressive tools – teaching some of us from jump that some of us have Marcia Brady hair and some of us don’t. So when people around me say that children don’t see color – I laugh.

What’s lovely about today is that we no longer just have Marcia Brady to teach us about hair – today we have people like Natasha Tarpley, author of I Love My Hair and Camille Yarbrough’s Cornrows, Lucille Clifton’ poetry and many others. And in following this tradition of race-work, I hope to expand this by adding my own testimony of what it means to be a little Ecuadorian girl with frizzy hair growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan – and my mission to use THE BRUSH for race-love and not for race-evil.

There is a lot of race-work to do out there!

PS: I look like the little girl in this video when she wears it up in a ponytail 

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