• Leonora Martelly

Hair and Cultural Identity #LovethyHairSeries



I wrote this particular piece for a feature called #LoveThyHairSeries by photographer and creative, Laurel K. Abbot. This piece is an ode to my blackness and how my hair attributes to my cultural identity. My hair is apart of my journey and tells many stories.

Alexa play "Don't Touch My Hair" by Solange.


When I was younger, identifying as Haitian meant that you were going to be teased. There was a stereotype of what Haitian hair looked like, what we dressed like, what we sounded like and who we were, before we even opened our mouths. Yet, I never shied away from identifying the pieces of me that contributed to my wholeness. My identity.

But to be honest, I wasn't really teased.


Instead, I was put into a box. The box of being "mixed" or a "mutt," as they use to say.

See, my hair and complexion did not match the stereotypes of what everyone thought all Haitian people looked like at the time. Subconsciously, I always felt like people tried to strip me of my culture and my blackness. Imagine how hard it was to not only find, but also be secure in my own identity. At one point I embraced the box they put in. Other times I felt inadequate in not “looking” Haitian enough to be Haitian, not Dominican enough to

be Dominican and not seasoned enough to understand the depth of my blackness; my identity as a first generation Haitian-Dominican-American.


One thing that I've always understood, is my boldness in expressing myself through art. To me, art comes in many forms, one being hair. I have always had a love for expressing myself through different hairstyles. I’ve always had a thing for braids. I mean I grew up during the Moesha/Destiny's Child era. Braids were and continue to be the SHIT! One of the got-to's for a black girl's protective hairstyle. Plus, it kept hands out of my hair for a few weeks. I love braids, always have and always will! I remember being younger and people saying things like "you have nice hair, why do you braid it?” or “okay you feeling ghetto”.

I never really understood it.


My hair told many of stories of that I did not understand at the time. I permed my hair trying to rid my curls, colored it continuously, cut it, weaved it, braided it. I mean it sung songs and wrote poetic stanzas. Fast forward to being a grown ass, I know who I am ass woman…

I know the songs my hair sung and sings. I see the poetic expression in how I choose to style my hair and the story it tells. Hairstyling represents freedom and self-expression. There is a cultural connection to our hair and the evolution of black culture. There is an emotional significance hair has on Black culture and identity. Each woman has her own story or hair journey, often marked by struggles stemming back to childhood. I know that I experienced mine. Although, my story may read different from yours, as women, we all have one.


Quick Note: I think it is important that we embrace the diversity of our hair, including our hair in its natural state. To this day, I consider it a vital step in accepting and defining our own cultural identity. Although, it is not all that defines us or makes us whole.





A snippet from my Poem “Culture and Identity”

“MADE.” on page 14


I never quite understood what it meant to be a young black girl in America with everyone identifying me as mixed. I never understood why when asked my nationality and Haitian dripped from my glossed lips, next came "and what else?"

I would say Dominican and "I knew it" dripped from theirs.

As if Dominicans aren’t black and a big toe dipped in the sea away from the culture I grew up in and that sculpted a lot of qualities in me.





Copyright 2020 She is MADE LLC

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