Be careful and make conscious decisions about what organizations, people, spaces, and projects of which you will be affiliated.
Folks will exploit you. You may be the first LatiNegra they have ever encountered in the field, and they may want to use you to represent a “diversity” they are not committed to in any way. You may also interact with people who have a history of being oppressive and crappy to other people you care about.
Always research before committing. Ask those hard questions before, like “what are your policies and actions around outreach and maintaining a diverse and inclusive space?” Be ready for folks to come with a standard form response, and be ready to disengage. You don’t ever have to endorse someone you don’t believe is someone you would want to be affiliated with.
There are lots of folks who have great intentions and do crappy things along the way. It’s up to you if you want to build with them. But what you have learned is that when you can’t find the space and folks you wish to have around you, you build your own spaces and organizations.
It’s also ok to leave those spaces and organizations you’ve left when the time has come. Those spaces need to grow and evolve just like you did when you created them. Having you in a leadership position isn’t always the best thing for the organization or for you. Other folks will have a vision and the energy to push that space in a direction you may not be able to do or go. That is the gift you give those who come after you: a space to push in a new exciting direction.
Ask those hard questions and push folks who you are committed to building with. When people don’t have a solid understanding of gender or are using gender specific language, and you believe this is something that impacts a person because of how they were created and born into this world: speak on it! If it is about cervical cancer, push to make language and spaces inclusive of everyone who was born with a cervix and push that org to do better, learn more, reach more broadly, and be more inclusive.
Do that work if you have the energy. Do the work you are dedicated to. Do not let the work run you over, suck you dry, manipulate you, or cause you continuous pain (because this path is painful at times, until you find your way and hold onto your convictions).
Folks need you to do this because you have the power you have and can use it with versus over other folks.
For inquiries or to hire email LatiNegraSexologist@gmail.com
I was born in a traditional Dominican home in Santo Domingo. My father was a truck driver and my mother worked for Codetel, a phone company. Both my parents were hardworking and sacrificed everything to make sure I had the best education they could afford. My father wasn’t home much when I was growing up, but my mother smothered me with love and attention. She was particularly worried about my appearance in school - as I was one of the less economically privileged students at this primarily socially-elite private school. I remember sitting in the tub, legs crossed, as my mother pulled and yanked my hair into straight submission. We would spend hours at my abuelita’s house as she blow dried my hair and made a tubi. My “lighter” skin and straightened hair saved me from the ridicule I would have otherwise faced as a mixed student. While I have always had the privilege afforded by having lighter/ “Spanish” skin, my hair and features were a dead giveaway of my true mixed nature.
When we moved to the United States, following my mom’s brother and sister, this obsession with my hair intensified. The shift from a Dominican school to an almost all-white environment kicked my mom’s need for me to feel “normal” into high gear. In fourth grade, I would wake up early on Sundays to wash and blow dry my hair for the week. This did not stop other students from noticing the other ways in which I was different - my accent oftentimes gave me away. A year later, she cut off most of my hair and left me with an unruly afro. The running joke was calling me a burnt marshmallow as I would wear this huge, puffy jacket in the winter and let my hair go wild. Eventually the weekly blow-drying returned as my hair grew out.
In high school I took it upon myself to wake up early every morning and spend two hours straightening my hair. This internalized need to fit in was encouraged by the compliments I always received by peers and adults when my hair was straight and manageable. I thought that in order to fit in or at least feel less like the “foreign” kid I had to look like everyone else.
Going to college I wanted to reinvent myself. Of course, I continued to straighten my hair for the first couple of months - wanting to make a good impression. During this time, I was introduced to identity and hair politics. Discovering more about the power and resistance of natural hair, I started experimenting. I dyed my hair every color of the rainbow. Chopped it a the nape. Grew it out over the summer. Returned my second year with a vow to never straighten again. Reflecting on my mom’s insistence of “whitening” my look by straightening my rather kinky-curly hair, I refused to hide my identity as a Dominican woman behind a veil of flat irons and pinchos.
Today, I have a much healthier relationship with my hair. Some instances, however, still make me feel uneasy about my decision to keep my natural hair. Going to professional conferences and meetings I feel totally uncomfortable without getting my hair straightened. Kinky-curly hair is not considered “professional” in Western media. My recent move to Morocco has also caused some hair flashbacks, since women here meticulously blow dry their hair for status (similar to the culture in the Dominican Republic). I will be steadfast in my decision to not be ruled by a patriarchal culture. I will go to the club with my half-curly half-kinky flaming red hair. I will get stared at. At times, I will want to straighten my hair for the wrong reasons. Those are the times where I will have to ask myself: am I using my hair as a source of POWER or SHAME? Finding strength in community, specially the Tumblr and Youtube powerhouses of the natural hair movement, I will recognize my choice as a RADICAL step towards self love. From these resources I will unlearn how my family has socialized my hair. I will introduce myself to products and methods that were always restricted to the “Other” by my mother. However, I will also reject factions of the natural movement for my individual needs and desires. I will experiment until I am perfectly comfortable with my appearance or until my appearance is no longer a factor of my identity. I will confuse the two and wind up in a happy middle. I will find community and individual agency in my hair.