Like most young, curly-haired Dominican girls, a considerable portion of my youth was spent underneath a blow dryer or en rolos anytime I had to attend a formal event. My sisters followed in the same footsteps, but only one of the three carried the same struggles as I did. My little sister, Alexa, carries the curly crown like I do, but lived a different experience as we are 13 years apart. When she was school age, I was preparing for college and leaving home while she was just beginning her hair journey. School mornings were spent tying her hair in pigtails, buns, and any type of updo that would keep every strand in order and straight.
As we chat, she tilts her head back and almost travels away for a moment reflecting on her elementary years. I recall a few memories as well; Mom being super mom and blow drying or doing moños while we ate breakfast. Once middle school came around, Alexa was old enough to start doing her own hair and if you can believe it, she actually didn’t even realize she had curls yet!
Throughout middle school, Alexa goes on to describe how she would observe one of her older sisters, the only other one who had curly hair, and try to emulate her routine. “I tried A LOT of products”, she smiles, reminiscing on simpler times. This made me blush, of course, as I am the curly-haired sister and I never noticed I had a young curlyhead in training right behind me. How naive we can be as teenagers.
As my little sister grew, her curls started becoming more unruly, dying to be nourished and let free. And finally at 16 years, she decided enough was enough, and began her curly hair journey.
The turning point arrived in highschool when two friends who had highly damaged, thick, Dominican hair, decided they were done with chemicals and blow drying. They started their curly adventure and took my little sis along for the ride.
“They would have me as their guinea pig and I happily obliged, captivated by all the brushes, creams, gels and clips.” It was during this chapter when she unleashed her curl power and chopped off her hair. Insert dramatic scream, here! Yes, that’s right. She put her best foot forward sophomore year of high school and cut off all her dead hair, which was most of it.
As every challenge begins, taking the first step is always the hardest. In this case, it was the big chop. “When I cut off all my hair, a lot of unwelcomed opinions swooped in to chip away at me and others mourned my long hair…”. She couldn’t believe how traumatic the experience was for other people in her family, because for her it was just hair, just an extra weight she no longer had to carry – and she loved it.
“I was super scared; scared of what my Mom would say, how my hair would react to the length. To learn what shrinkage is and how it really works! I didn’t know I would have a mini afro, but I did and I had to learn.”
Alexa relied heavily on youtube videos and researched curl patterns to try to learn and understand her own. And as she tried different products, different brushes, and different styles, she realized she felt more like a bebesota in her rizos than in anything she’d ever worn before.
She found confidence in her curls. She knew how to do her own hair and nobody could touch that. “People would come to me as their hair guru, even though I was still learning myself. It was an incredible feeling,” Alexa says happily.
The amount of products out there on the shelves, bursting through your Instagram feeds, and taking over the internet is so overwhelming! You spend so much time, money, and energy trying different creams, gels, and elixirs. And of course you have to give each one enough time for your hair to adapt and see if it’ll take. It’s no wonder so many people grab for the blow dryer, it’s just easier.
Embracing my curls started and stopped more times than I can count. I asked Alexa if she ever wanted to quit along the way. She shook her head no, confidently, because she wasn’t going to settle for what she had, and she knew it was only a matter of time. “I hated seeing how dead my hair was. I focused my energy on hair masks and deep treatments to nourish the new growth. Hair is hair, it has to grow. Watching the roots grow kept me motivated. I knew it was going to take a long time, but I was patient.” And her patience paid off in volume and ringlets!
From my own experience, I recall the process to retrain your curls is long and frustrating. I asked her how long it took her before she started seeing results. “OMG, a couple of months! About 6 months before my hair started growing healthy and my curls were beginning to show off their curves. When I cut off my hair it was so damaged that I really had to go short. But once I started seeing results I felt really confident and beautiful.”
In my most toned down big sister voice, I proclaim she’s always been beautiful, but that I was proud to see how her confidence sprouted through her roots. She smoothly replies:
“I really love how much I identify with my roots; it’s what makes me unique. My roots are Dominican, literally and spiritually. I truly enjoy being Dominicana; with all the wives tales and home remedies and music and food; it’s just a magical culture I feel lucky to be a part of.
As she adoringly calls, her pajoncito, is an integral part of her character because she feels most like her Latina self when it’s fully out – Curly to the Core! And in that same breath, she could shave it all off and feel just as peaceful about it. “I want to accept myself in my truest form, whether it’s rocking out my rainbow dyed armpit hair, a unibrow, or unshaved legs. When the day comes to shave my head completely, I feel like it’ll be a rebirth. You grow new skin every 7 years, so why can’t you grow new hair? Thanks to discovering her literal roots, she no longer defines herself by her curls, but by her truth.
All these small steps led to big changes for my little sister. It started with the big chop, then trial and error of products and weekly self care. Now she thrives in her true form as she builds a dance career and continues growing as an artist.
“Caring for my hair made me care for my life”. As her confidence grew she had the courage to apply to dance school. The transformation of her hair is now a part of her life story that she can take all the credit for. Alexa realized if she could do all that emotional growth for herself as a kid then she could certainly care for herself in the adult world. She could see a future for herself, by staying authentic, all thanks to trusting the process. From building her curls to taking action.
“I like washing my hair now”, she smiles, “I let the water run down my scalp and I feel cleansed and refreshed. If I start with my head I know I’m going to take care of everything else. Taking care of your body feels good on the inside too.” Her favorite products are all sulfate and paraben free, like All About Curls Bouncy Cream. She loves this styling cream because it seamlessly helps her elevate her natural curl pattern. The luxe cream gives her de-frizzed definition and moisture without weighing her hair down.
“I use my curly hair journey as an example for my life actions – you can always start again.” She explains that less is more, less product, less stress, less whatever, it all stands for the same. We don’t need so much fluff when the basics will get the job done. Patience is key.
The TLC that my younger sister has added into her hair, is the same she’s transferred into other aspects of herself and relationships with others. For Alexa, it’s a friendly reminder that sometimes it’s hard to see growth and improvement. One might not notice right away while growing and building your craft because you’re working constantly and you’re hard on yourself, but in actuality there are so many parallels. Like she did with her hair, she does with her art. Stay patient, focused, and it will work out.
My sister and I exchange a soft smile, as we both know what it means, how it feels to go against the hard grains of our Latina lives, but we relish in the comfort of our patience. “Me being authentically myself is having my hair out in its biggest form – curly, wild, and free,” she says with pride.
Well rock on those curls my Sis, and keep it curly to the core.