Growing Together: Your Latino Hair and You
By Lucas Madrazo
You know photos of newborns? Babies just pulled from the womb, faces wrinkled, a dollop of wispy, blond hair balanced atop their soft spot? That wasn’t me. I was brought into this world with a chaotic mop of black hair, and I’ve been dealing with it ever since. I’ve denied its mood swings. I’ve punished it into submission. I’ve begged for its forgiveness. I’ve tried to shame it. I’ve felt shame because of it. In my darkest moments, its made me lose all hope. It’s been a blessing and a curse, this swirling, curly, thick temperamental crown of Mexican hair I wear.
Side note: Mexican hair is different for everyone. It’s an extension of your character, a patronus. For some, their Mexican is beautiful and dignified, a majestic stag. For me, my young Mexican hair was about as charming and well-behaved as a convulsing ferret on a four-day trucker meth bender.
I was thirteen the first time my hair ruined a barber’s life. I walked in holding a photo of Brad Pitt. “Make my hair look like this,” I said. I didn’t realize that barbers weren’t miracle workers or that genetics would make my request practically impossible. To his credit, he accepted the task, though I’m certain he knew it was a lost cause. I walked away that day with a haircut that can best be described as “damage control.” Over the next year, Damage Control Haircuts became my normal look.
By fourteen, I was convinced barbers were scam artists.
It wasn’t until I visited my tía that someone finally had the courage to break the news to me. She offered to give me a trim, so I showed her my photo of Brad Pitt. After a fit of laughter, she crumpled the photo and threw it into the trash like it was no better than an old receipt or a court summons. She produced a photo of a swarthy Latino man with a luxurious head of hair. “This hairstyle is more suited for someone with your follicular endowments,” she told me. Translation: you’re not white. She was right. When she was finished, I finally had a haircut that complimented the natural features of my thick, Mexican hair. I took the photo of the man and put it in my Velcro wallet for safe-keeping.
The next time I went to a barber, I had a renewed faith in the process. I shouldn’t have been so optimistic. When the barber asked what I wanted, I pulled the photo out and gave it to him. He frowned. “This is a photo of Pablo Escobar.”
The problem with being a Mexican undergoing puberty in the early 1990s is that there weren’t many Latino celebrities on my radar from whom to take stylistic cues. Razor Ramon, Gerardo, Che Guevara, Escobar, John Leguizamo, Jose Canseco and maybe Ponch, to name a few. If I had to turn to a nefarious South American drug lord just to get a decent trim, so be it.
I blame society.
Bound by his Hippocratic oath, the barber agreed to give me the haircut I asked for. However, I’m certain he sabotaged it on moral grounds. I left his establishment with another Damage Control Hairstyle. In that moment, I swore off barbers forever. I also realized something important about how I saw myself.
I grew up in an East Texas town I fondly describe as “infested with Anglos.” All of my friends were fair-skinned, blue-eyed, with straight blond hair. And they were my peers, so I felt pressure to look like them. Problem is, by the time puberty hit and I actually cared about my appearance, I realized I was brown-skinned, brown-eyed, and sporting both a mustache and a mullet. Managing my appearance became a daily struggle.
Dealing with my mustache was easy enough. I shaved with my sister’s leg razor. When it came to dealing with my hair, I was as naïve as I was Mexican.
Every morning before school, I applied entire cans of Aqua Net to make my hair behave. I’m sure there’s a small hole in the ozone directly above my childhood home. My best efforts never lasted. One minute in the humid East Texas weather and my hair curled up like the hackles of a frightened poodle.
Shortly after my last Damage Control Haircut, I made friends with a pair of clippers and a number four guard. I shaved my head every time my hair hit that awkward phase of being too-long-to-be-short-and-too-short-to-be-long. It’s a hard phase to describe, but if you have hair like mine, you know it well. It’s the kind of hairstyle a 1970s pinball champion might wear in his prime. And here’s the thing about that phase: if you can just get past it, your hair will continue to grow, and it’ll be awkward for a while. But then it won’t be. It’ll get to a length where it develops its own personality and it will make you look amazing. It will be the best wingman you could ever ask for. For the last ten years or so, I had long hair. People complimented it all the time, and at least once a week, someone asked if they could touch it. I always obliged.
Then I got drunk with a friend, and I let ‘em cut it. It was funny at the time, but when I woke up, sober, I had one of those “did you lose a bet” haircuts. Worst of all, I knew I’d have to go back to the barber to get it fixed. As I took a seat, I felt the nerves of my youth consuming me. Sensing my apprehension, he put a hand on my shoulder.
“I think I need a haircut,” I said.
“Absolutely you do,” he said. “How do you want it cut?”
I showed him a photo of Oscar Isaac and said, “Can you give me this?”
“The hair I can do. But I’m no miracle worker,” he said, pointing to Isaac’s face. “That’s pure genetics.”
I’m in my thirties now and occasionally I’ll creep on my high school friend’s social media posts. Most of them have aged well enough, but a lot of them have gone bald, or at least have receding hairlines and thinning hair. It’s a natural part of getting older, and I’m sure it’ll happen to me some day. But it hasn’t yet.
My Mexican hair is still going strong.