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Adventures in Hair Politics

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Nov. 13th, 2007 | 01:16 pm
location: Cuarto 112

Even as I was planning this trip, I figured that if I'm going to be in Caracas for 6 months, I'd have to investigate the hair situation in terms of availability of products, braiders, and visibility of women with "natural" hair. Because for those of you who have never seen me, not only is my hair "natural" but it is a natural. A big one. El Novio warned me that rocking the Angela Davis will probably draw a lot of unwanted attention, and asked me not to wear it like this too often. Of course, I asked him if he wanted me to slap some of the creamy stuff on my head...he chose to ignore me. Then I suggested a sew-in and at that point he might have just gotten up and walked out. Hell, at least my hair is "natural" under the weave with the second option. So I showed up with my double strand twists that, especially after a wash, make my hair look like it's much shorter than it is in reality. And I still get a lot of attention. There are a lot of black women here, but unless their hair is long and "wavy," (even sometimes then) they straighten it.

We arrived on Friday morning, and as a shameless people-watcher, I observed everyone very closely, trying to figure out how I fit in. I started in the airport where we waited on our connecting flight to Caracas. There were about 50 passengers waiting, and the majority of them would be "white" to most passing observers in the US, and would definitely be "white" in Venezuela. I noticed one browner-skinned woman with a short hair cut that could possibly have been a loose afro if she would let it grow a bit. El Novio wondered if this was a representative sample of who would be in Venezuela, but I doubted it, and I was right. I said, let's think for a moment about who would be going back and forth to los Estados Unidos. These were the kind of people that lived near the supermarket we ended up at on Sunday (Sunday story coming up), in the eastern part of Caracas. There is an American Airlines booth sitting there as soon as you walk in.

Over the next 2 days we saw hundreds of people on the streets, in the subway, and on the busses. Right now we live on Calle Libertador, which is a very wide and busy street that runs past Plaza Venezuela. Out of everyone, I had seen a few women with cornrows, and maybe once or twice someone had very thin box braids that ended in straight hair. I didn't see women with hair resembling anything like mine until Sunday.

On Sunday we attended the second day of a week-long international book fair of publishing companies mostly from all over Latin America. It was outdoors at el Parque del Este. In addition to the opportunity to buy rare or specialty books at discount prices there were also numerous lectures, panels, and readings mostly of a political nature. We attended two of these, one on Venezuelan foreign political policy with concern to gender issues, and the other on the release of a book of Malcolm X's speeches. So it was here among bookworms, internationals and students that I saw about 6 or 7 other black women with natural hairstyles. I have definitely thought before about the intersections of black women, class, and choice of hairstyle, but I've been thinking about it a lot more since I've been here.

Why, in the US, is "natural" hair more of an option for women who have been college-educated? Aside from the centuries of psychological warfare on our sense of beauty, my fear is that it's also become associated with being bougie, and is presented as inaccessible and that only a certain kind of person is supposed to wear their hair that way. Even so, the country I've been in where I felt most at ease in my afro was South Africa, even more than when I'm on the South or West side in Chicago. There, I observed that there wasn't much of a difference that economics or formal education in whether women living in Johannesburg wore their hair permed or natural.

Back at the park, I approached a couple of them with braids to find out who did their hair. The first young woman was about 18 years old, and was working the fair. It was in long box braids, that also had strands of blonde weaved throughout. I remembered wearing mine just like this when I was 18. She said that she did it herself, and gave me her phone number. The next woman I approached was closer to my age, and wore her hair very similar to mine, except mine is 2-strand and hers is 3-strand. No extra weave involved. She spoke a little English, and came to look at the books. She was there with another black woman who wore her hair in decorative cornrows. She also gave me her number, and offered to braid my hair sometime soon. The next woman wore beautiful locs, and ended up being from New Jersey. She had been living in Venezuela for a couple of years and was excited to meet another black woman English speaker.

I saw another woman today in the subway. Something about her coded her as Haitian, not Venezuelan. I'm not sure what exactly. But she was older, about 50 (but black don't crack, so she could have been 60), with a nicely shaped short fro with a few patches of gray around the edges. She was beautiful...I wondered what the consequences are for her choice of hairstyle. I haven't found out yet.



Palabras del dia: las sobras - leftovers; la patilla - watermelon

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Comments {5}

beanqueen524

(no subject)

from: beanqueen
date: Nov. 14th, 2007 03:45 am (UTC)
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This is so interesting. La patilla = sandia? you are a really visual writer.

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martine

(no subject)

from: hbsoul
date: Nov. 20th, 2007 12:07 am (UTC)
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yes. also, frijoles = porotos.

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yayoyego

(no subject)

from: yayoyego
date: Nov. 14th, 2007 06:18 am (UTC)
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yooooooo,

say wat up to meh citay. how you feelin there? you need any contacts or watev?

holla

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yayoyego

whaaaa?

from: yayoyego
date: Nov. 15th, 2007 08:48 pm (UTC)
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she fuckin left you hangin the day you left?!?!?!?!?!?!!? wtf holla back!!!

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Got to be good-looking 'cos he's so hard to see

(no subject)

from: fa_ikaika
date: Nov. 28th, 2007 08:26 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the add. Wow Venezuela huh? There must be LOTS of stuff to write about going on in your life right now.

Glad I'll be able to read your thoughts on this and other subjects. Speaking only for myself, I think 'fros are hype! Hope your time in Caracas is engaging and enriching.

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