From the Vancouver Star, an immensely long article about … hair:
By Melanie Green Star Vancouver
Sun., Nov. 10, 2019 timer9 min. read
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VANCOUVER—I remember the tears that would roll down my cheeks as my mother combed through my ragged knots. She’d use “grease” to braid my dense coils into two plaits that were so tight they felt like tiny fingertips pulling each individual hair on my head.
That hair distress — a nest of confusion, tears and pain — would follow me into my adult life.
When my family moved to this country from Trinidad and Tobago, hair was the last thing on our mind. But it didn’t take long for 11-year-old me to figure out it would be an issue.
There had been no shortage of options in Trinidad — a historically cosmopolitan island with multiculturalism institutionalized as a policy — to get a trim, style or blowout (a word used to describe blow drying curly hair straight).
But within a week of arriving in the townhouse-lined streets of North Delta, about 45 minutes out of downtown Vancouver, I was crossing the street after school, when a white child in her father’s arms reached out to touch my hair.
She pointed and asked her dad why my skin was “so” dirty and my hair so messy.
He answered: “Because she’s Negro.”
Totally confused, I sprinted home to breathlessly ask my mother if I was, indeed, Black.
You see, I’m mixed race; a mishmash of Black, Indian, Spanish, Chinese and Scottish. In Trinidad, I would never be called Black.
But, inevitably, perception becomes reality. The next day at my elementary school, I keenly observed the faces of my classmates. I was the only Black one. I had an unmistakable sense that I had moved to a land where nobody looked like me.
Even at home, my hair didn’t look like my mother’s, which she calls wavey.
Over the next few years, my mom would go to excruciating lengths to get my hair done. First, it was chemical straighteners, which would cost $150 and need to be reapplied every six weeks.
We would trek about an hour out to Burnaby where one salon was located. There were days I would wait hours just to get in the chair, as the scent of chemicals, peroxide and burnt hair wafted through the neon-lit room.
When it shut down, I saw a stylist in Surrey who ran a pseudo-salon out of her basement.
I began to resent my mom for traipsing me around town only to end up with styles that made me look like there was a wet mop on my head. Looking back, I know she just wanted me to be presentable. After all, I was a reflection of her choices — to come here, to start a new life.
I wanted her to be proud.
Every morning, I would force my curls downward with a flat iron so my strawlike hair could hang down my back. But it was time-consuming and I was convinced it made my already big head look larger.
And so forth and so on …