A Perspective on the Asian-American Identity: Hair


I’m pretty sure every Asian immigrant mom had their daughter’s hair cut short at some point in their lives.

I know this is an overgeneralized statement, but I say that because not only did I have my hair cut short, so did every Asian girl I knew in elementary school – even Jennifer. I’ve had conversations about hairstyle choices with those girls in recent years and we all realized our moms made us do it.

Whether they innocently thought it’d look cute on us or they were actually scheming to keep boys away from us for as long as they could (or a mix of the two), we all agreed it wasn’t a great time in our hair history. They weren’t like Ginnifer-Goodwin-short-pixie-cute hairstyles. They were more like Jackie-Chan’s-80s-classic hairstyles; it had great movement when he was kicking ass, but just a mop when he wasn’t.

Before my mom decided I should look like the son of the missing Filipino Gibb brother, my hair was long, black and sometimes with a fringe. I washed my hair every morning, so my hair was always clean and shiny for school.

I remember being jealous of my classmates’ curly and natural hair. They always came to class with cute bows, interesting braids and it even looked great worn down. I thought my hair was boring because mine grows straight and it was too soft to put into twists or braids.

It must have been in first grade, when I moved to Center for Modern Languages (or CML) in Opa-Locka, when a new classmate asked if she could braid my hair.

This of course was the only thing I could have ever wanted, so I said yes. She said I had pretty hair, that it was so soft and so straight, and she told me she wished she had my hair. I – totally blown out of the water by this statement – asked her, “WHY?!” and then proceeded to list all the things I couldn’t do with my hair that she did with hers. To which she replied with a list of all the things she couldn’t do with her hair that I could do with mine, like run a comb through it without it getting snagged or grow it long.

This was the beginning of a trend among my peers as I continued my public school career. So many classmates became my friends because they initially just wanted to play with or braid my hair (or get answers from me). Sometimes they didn’t even ask, they’d just start playing with it. Friends and random people would ask what I do to get it so long and straight, and when I would reply that I just wash with shampoo, I’d get incredulous looks. But I didn’t understand why that was such a big deal.

I had more friends in the future tell me about the time it takes to grow their hair. One friend in high school (she’s Haitian-American and she kept her hair natural) told me it took years to grow her hair to the length it was – which, when she pulled on a curl, reached the middle of her neck. Up to this point in my life, I never knew different hair grew at different paces. If I cut my hair to my shoulders, it would be to the middle of my back in a month or so.

Which is why, when I got bored, I would dye it all kinds of colors, cut it all off and just wait for it to grow back out again. I’d do all kinds of crazy styles on my hair just because I knew I’d only live with it for about a month or so.

And that annoyed a lot of my friends – in a sweet(?) way.

They always let me know how they felt about me cutting my “pretty” hair. I once cut my hair in an asymmetrical style where the shortest side started at my chin and the longest ended below my collar bone, and a friend actually photoshopped a photo I sent him to make my hair long again. We laughed at it, but it really was him expressing how much he disliked me with short hair.

I mean, I’ve been hesitating cutting my hair into a pixie style for YEARS now because so many friends have yelled at me not to. Literally. Someone mentioned my hair’s gotten so long and when I said I was cutting it into a pixie style, a third person actually yelled, “WHAT?! NO! You’re hair is too pretty!”

It makes me feel kinda guilty, to be honest. Like I’m throwing away valuable jewelry.

I’ve been wearing my hair long and kept its natural color for a little more than a year now, mostly because I’ve been too broke to maintain it as often as I used to. I realized it requires more tender love and care now that I’m older. While it doesn’t grow as fast as when I was a kid, it still grows pretty quickly thanks to the quality products I learned about from my curly and natural-haired friends.

Now that all the bleach is almost gone from my ends, I’m about ready for that pixie cut and donate this hair to people who need or want it (one friend told me I’d make a lot of money if I sold it as weave and market it as “that real 100% Filipino hair”). So I don’t mind making this a thing I do.

Plus, everyone who wants me to keep my hair long can at least be happy for about a year.


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