“Can I touch your hair?”
“No”, is what I should have said. Or “that’s weird.” Instead I stared blankly at her and said “sure!”
Maybe I should provide some context. I get this all the time, sometimes in different variations like “Funny, you don’t have an accent” or “both of your parents are Puerto Rican,” but they’re different questions asking the same thing.
This time it was asked by girl who walked into the bar where my friends and I were celebrating a successful Writing 6 show. She apparently knew someone at our table and joined us.
I don’t know how we got to this, but it’s one of my friend’s favorite party tricks, so I’m not surprised. He asked this girl to guess where I was from. Oh goodie, let’s pretend this will have a different outcome.
She stared at me, quite intently. I’m not sure what my face was saying, or if it was giving off any nationality vibes. And that’s when she squinted a little and said “Can I touch your hair?” What followed was probably the most awkward interaction I can imagine. I would have paid some serious money to see what my face looked like as I stretched over the long bar table over to her.
She squeezed the hair bun, and after what seemed like hours of her wheels turning as an exercise in futility, she shifted back in her bench and triumphantly announced:
My so-called friend smirked in delight. As if saying “HA! Once again you have been deceived!”
I politely corrected her, no – that would be Puerto Rican. I felt bad. She was so sure after her fact-based assumption. I can only imagine that comes from years of hair-texture research, it’s understandable that she was disappointed in my non-Greekness.
“Hmmm, interesting, you have Greek hair!”
Again, I should have said something, but I was stunned by the series of events. To be honest, I never really have a response for these things. I mean, what does it mean to look Puerto Rican? Or Greek for that matter? I forgot to wear my Puerto Rican flag.
I’m so sorry. I’m sorry that you couldn’t peg where I was from, or are somehow concerned that I don’t look like J.Lo, am not obsessed with spandex and lip liners.
Should I take off my nails, and my hair extensions? Should I wave my finger? Say something like “Ay esto se va a poner bien feo!” Does that make my Puerto Rican-ness more palatable and relatable? Should I be darker? Or lighter? Or have more product in my hair?
I’m being unfair. I can see your confusion. Your perception of me is not in my hair, but in how you perceive my hair should be. My perception of me is not so simple. I was raised in the island, but I am not the island. It is a part of who I am, but it is not the only defining factor of who I am.
But who knows… maybe I have it all wrong.
This was a story written for my “Tell Your Story” class. It’s all true – along with my deep thoughts on it.