A series on the complexities of being mixed-race (multi/bi-racial)
Curly, straight, braided, dyed.
Frizzy, wild, horsehair, fried.
Butchered, Bell head, bangs too short, Cried.
Alicia, Selena, Jlo, Da Brat in Funkdafied.
These are the words that describe my hair identity crisis. Looking through the photos of my younger years, my hairstyles were reflective of the identity crisis that I was experiencing as a multi-racial person that did not and still does not physically fall into the expected looks of Filipinas, Whites, or Native Americans. Even though those generalizations are stereotypes that do not include the diversity amongst the people, even within these racial groups, my physical looks are racially ambiguous.
To provide a little more context, between my parents and myself, I had the curliest hair. My mother has straight black hair, often permed for volume. My father has straight blonde/brown hair, with a little curl at the tip when it grows out. My brother and sister both have dark hair with some waves but not nearly as thick, curly, and frizzy as mine. My mother, bless her heart, did not quite know how to care for my hair. Something many mothers of mixed-race children face, like me with my daughter with 4a curls (Thankfully, her father has been her teacher for haircare and has saved her from my ignorance!). My curls would get brushed through with a typical hairbrush, and for those of you with curly hair --- you know that’s a big no-no. When I was at this age, there was no internet and no youtube to teach me about mastering curly hair. What I had were magazines and tv celebrities with seemingly effortless and perfect curly hair. I experienced a lot of ridicule from my peers for my hair.
“You have horsehair!! Hahahahaha.”
This comment from elementary school rings in my head more than I would like to admit, even as an adult. I was still brushing my curls and would attempt to wear my hair in a fountain ponytail high up on my head with a scrunchie. This was me attempting to fit in with my friend group, which was predominantly white. During this time I would just attempt to get my hair to do what their hair could do or what was in BOP magazine and on MTV.
When I hit junior high and I was the most confused, I tried everything. Thanks to watching Hairspray, I figured out I could straighten my hair with an iron. In my 6th grade year, our school had a much larger Filipinx student body than my elementary school. I spent this year attempting to fit in more with Filipinx friends. Hence, the straightened hair attempt. I learned a lot this year about Filipinx culture. I participated in tinikling, candle dancing, and of course, eating a lot of food at friends’ homes. I learned bad words in Tagalog. I attended rosary nights, debuts, and Miss Fil-Am Pageants. I learned a lot, but I still didn’t feel like I truly fit in. I heard comments amongst the adults about “those” who married White people as if they were outcasts. I often received funky looks when people learned that I was half-Filipinx, even more so when I had to reveal that I also didn’t speak the language. A lot of assumptions were made about my parents that were not correct and quite insulting. I don’t want to paint such an awful picture, because I was invited and welcomed into the homes of many of my Filipinx friends. I often spent the night, shared meals, and attended parties. Even with this invitation, I still didn’t feel as though I belonged.
In junior high, I also rocked Selena bangs. I would hairspray my bangs and use a curling iron until they crisped into the perfect barrel. I found mousse and blue magic coconut oil in middle school, and so my curls became much more pronounced. Many people, to this day, see my dark brown curls and my facial features and assume that I am Latinx. I was influenced a lot by the movies, Blood In Blood out, American Me, and Mi Vida Loca, which all came out in the 90s. I did see my physical attributes reflected in the Cholas and Mexican female characters. Most importantly, I was gravitating to these attributes being seen as beautiful and accepted which was a new concept for me. I thought these women were beautiful, and I could actually emulate their hairstyles with my hair. So if I could, then maybe that meant I was beautiful too.
For most of my youth, I was also very much influenced by Black R&B and Hip Hop artists. I mean, let’s be real, I still listen to this music on a daily. I wanted TBoz’s hairstyle SOOOO bad that I would draw myself with that hairstyle all the time, but never got the courage to actually cut my hair, knowing it would not look the same. I would attempt to get my lip to be just like Mary J Blige with the brown liner and gloss. I can go down the list of Black female artists that I loved and wanted to look like. In my later junior high years and into my high school years, my friend group also changed and was much more diverse. There was not a dominant race amongst my friends and many of them were racially mixed people, especially mixed with Black and Latinx. These are the people that I felt accepted and had a sense of belonging to. My racial ambiguity was often accepted in the Black and Latinx community as a mixed person. I didn’t receive a lot of comments or looks of rejection. I often received positive comments about being beautiful (There’s a lot to unpack about this). So between my infatuation with Black female artists and often being told that I look like I am mixed with Black, I wore many hairstyles emulating Black women. There were Aaliyah’s side swoop bangs, Da Brat’s twists, Alicia’s braids, and even more.
Now, I want to emphasize that this is embarrassing! I was absolutely participating in cultural appropriation, and I am admitting to attempting to fit in with other racial groups that I do not belong to. But, I shed this embarrassing truth with the world because I want to share the internal conflict that exists for many of us that identify as mixed-race, multi/bi-racial people. My hair was one of the ways my seeking of belonging manifested in my life. I was fighting to be seen as beautiful, to not be seen as other, and to be a part of a group. I was trying to figure out, “who am I” and “who do I want to be?” Most young people are grappling with these questions, but not always in the context of race. In so many ways, youth are asked to claim and identify their race early on in their life. They are expected to know this by the time they have reached their secondary years in school. When you don’t fit into a box, when you get asked “what are you?”, when you have tried a million ways to fit in, you begin to question your existence and your place in the world. You go through an identity crisis.
We usually move on as adults and begin to get clearer on our identities, but for many mixed-race individuals, it is something that many of us have not given attention to. It may even continue to impact our present place. It may be driving how we choose our friend groups, who we gravitate to at work, and how we choose to show up. I personally am still discovering my authentic self. I did not have the opportunity to be deeply entrenched in Filipinx or Native culture and traditions, but I was deeply entrenched in White culture. I am on a journey to learn and discover more of the parts of me that I don’t know yet and discover my authentic self.
As for my hair, I have embraced my curls and frizz. I often wear my hair with no product so I can toss it up and down whenever it feels good. I still struggle with a good hairstylist to trust with cutting my hair, and often my hair doesn’t behave the way I want it to, but most often, my hair represents me!
To further explore your mixed-race identity, sign up for my Rooted-In-Self Love Seminar and stay tuned for my upcoming Seeded-In-Self Love Program. Subscribe so you can get updates!