By Cynthia Vasquez
Hairitage, the long-awaited event catered toward celebrating and educating participants on the ethereal and esoteric aspects of Afro-Latinx and African-American hair, occurred this past Saturday, February 24. It was a daylong-event comprised of free giveaways, a keynote speech delivered by TGIN (Thank God It’s Natural!) CEO Chris-Tia Donaldson, three circuits of hour-long seminars, and a reception ceremony. The program was hosted by the Livingston Residence Hall staff, with Modinat Sanni and Kaelin Conover as the primary event coordinators.
Upon arrival, all attendees were guided toward the greeting desk to receive their Hairitage customized hair-care packages; a custom-designed and biodegradable bag with the lettering “Hairitage” on the front, with a set of products that were assorted and compiled together based off of one’s own description of their hair texture and gender. All of the provided hair materials were supplied by the program’s product sponsors, including CURLS, Dr. Goat Beard & Facial Care, Jane Carter Nourish & Shine, Miss Jessie’s, and TGIN (Thank God It’s Natural).
The three total circuits, or “block sessions” as they were called, were the time frames for 3-5 of the 13 workshop sessions to happen simultaneously.
“If you look at it in the mirror like, ‘I understand why a million people a day would be coming up to me to look at my hair because it’s fucking awesome,’” said Christine Bright, a fellow Rutgers alumna. “Then now it makes a little more sense and you can be one of those people who can bridge the gap [between those who are and are not familiar with natural hair].”
Bright held and conducted one of the first workshops presented throughout the day. Her seminar, named “Don’t Touch My Hair,” was as quoted by the program description “a conversation about social etiquette regarding the exoticism of the afro-textured hair.” It was a discussion-based program in which all who were present voiced their opinions on who reserves the right to touch their hair, and how to accept people’s curiosity or ignorance on a subject (in this case a hair type) they may not be familiar with.
In a time where naturally curly hair and Afrocentric features are the most popularized beauty fads in American culture, such an agenda could not be happening during a more perfect time. “Black beauty” has turned into an even more marketable commodity, where many media and beauty campaigns are now showcasing both men and women willing to reclaim their natural beauty.
Yet, this shift in beauty standards is not necessarily as celebrated within the Latinx community. “Pelo malo,” a saying that those within the Latinx community use to describe someone with Afro-resembling hair, is a still present stigma.
“A lot of [Latina] women with naturally curly hair… have been brainwashed into thinking that straight hair is the way. So, we’ve neglected our natural hair,” says Ingrid Diaz, founder of the curlfident.com blog. “This is our time to shine and embrace that. You are beautiful with the hair you have, and in the skin you’re in.”
Diaz’s “Curly Kitchen” workshop was an interactive DIY activity. All participants were given food-additives, comprised of items that one would find on a generic grocery list, to create a low-protein hair mask for under $20.
Soon after, all participants gathered to enjoy the reception’s dining options and enjoy the diverse set of spoken-word performances.
“Shoot me in the heart, but the soul of me you’ll never bury,” recited Stephen Alexander, the first poet that performed. “Blood justice [is] a system and you can see it too.”
Oliver Colbert, Tiana Marie Ford, and Aleya Pierce were the other spoken-word artists that also presented their pieces. All of whom performed delivered a variety of strong messages on culturally relevant topics ranging from race relations in America, taking pride in one’s culture and physical appearances, and self-love.
The rest of the night was followed by a musical performance by Cimarrones, a Puerto Rican bomba and plena group, and a live-DJ set as guests began to say goodbye for the night.
Hairitage, as shown by the large turnout of Rutgers’ students, staff and affiliates, brought a great quantity of people together based-off of shared cultural understandings. Proving to serve as an honest staple of the diversity here at Rutgers-New Brunswick, it should become an annually scheduled event.