Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pelo Bueno, Pelo Malo and the First Meltingpot Giveaway

So, on our way home from the holidays, my husband struck up a conversation with a fellow traveler who happened to be from Venezuela. My husband swears he cannot remember how the conversation started but eventually the topic turned to hair. Maybe she was looking at my hair, beautiful as it is in shoulder length dredlocks. Or perchance she was fascinated by the different textures of hair on the heads of my two children. Whatever the reason, the terms "pelo bueno" and "pelo mala," entered the discussion.

"Do you know what we mean in Venezuela when we say 'pelo malo,' the woman whispered to my Spaniard. "Pelo malo is hair that is so kinky that it doesn't even get wet. Water just ripples off of it." And she wasn't speaking metaphorically. She meant that in a technical way, that indeed there is a certain grade of (obviously African) hair that is so dense that water cannot penetrate.

She then reached over to pat my older son's head, to ascertain just what type of hair he had. The Spaniard claims my son was blissfully unaware of the conversation going on around him. She proclaimed, "Oh no, his hair isn't 'malo,' it's thick but water could still get through." Really, she said that.

Had I known what was being discussed, I definitely would have jumped into the conversation, but apparently I was too busy drooling in my own seat across the aisle. As it turns out, there are several grades of hair between 'pelo bueno' and 'pelo malo,' where the 'bueno' hair is nice and straight like that of the European conquistadors who introduced it to the Venezuelan double helix. (See image above for visual aide.)

I am so not criticizing this woman, just posting about here on the Meltingpot for public debate and discussion. Anybody who knows anything about Black Americans and our hair knows that as a community we're still employing the terms, 'good hair' and 'bad hair,' where bad hair is ultra kinky and good hair is loose and curly and kind of Indian looking. Right? I just think this story illustrates how similar we all are, despite our desperate and futile attempts to segregate ourselves. Can I get a witness? I feel like I'm about to preach a sermon, but I will refrain from spreading the hairy gospel.

Instead, I will drop some knowledge in the form of a free book giveaway. The first one ever (and not the last) here on the Meltingpot. Post your craziest personal hair story in the comments section by the end of day tomorrow (Thursday January 15) and I will select a random winner to receive an autographed copy of the book, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. Yes, I wrote it, but it's a great book that documents the amazing history, culture, politics, and business of Black hair, including the origins of the terms 'good hair' and 'bad hair.' I'll post the winner on Friday, so send in your stories lickety split.

Peace and Hair Grease!


Spring said...

Sometimes in the adoption community, people talk about easy hair, which is most similar to white hair and thus, most familiar to white adoptive parents, and bad or hard hair, meaning least similar to white hair.

I may be biased, but give me braids that will last two weeks over messing with tangles and tears every single morning before school any day.

Dee said...

Well, I have hair that is the "best of both worlds" courtesy of my African father (Nigerian) and my African American (black American) mother. I would always question God as to why I didn't have slick, straight hair. Attending a predominately white high school didn't help either. I've heard everything from "Mop-Top" to "Woody Woodpecker" to "Electric Shock." And the list goes on.

One day, my mother decided to put my hair into two big cornbraids. She knew my hair was uneven. My mother said she was tired of me wearing hats to hide my unruly hair. She had the last word so I had to go along with it.

The next day, I rushed to school since I overslept. I didn't have time to examine my hair. Big mistake. Suddenly, before I'm inside I hear, "A loaf of bread is coming your way! Duck!" Laughter and stares ensue. All day teachers can't stop looking at it and kids can't stop pointing. I felt like a art exhibit. Finally, I rush to the girls' bathroom and peer into the large wall mirror. My mile-high hair would've put Don King to shame. My braids had come undone and I looked like a mad scientist.

I cried in the bathroom for a good hour. Then I threw as much water on my hair as possible, worked it into a ponytail and went out. I was ignored for the remainder of the day (I wasn't mad about that.)

As I ran out the school after my last class, a teacher stopped me. "Is it raining outside? Do you need an umbrella?" It was cloudy with a slight drizzle but not raining. I said no to both questions and left before she asked something else. But not before overhearing her talk with another teacher. "Is that the girl with the crazy hair?" The other teacher asked. "Yeah." The first teacher replied. She added, "Thank God it started raining, her hair looks so much better now."

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

hmmm. I would say when I decided to go natural and cut all the chemicals out my hair my mom's comment "What have you done! You look ugly." was one of the most hurtful hair comments.

Also brothers in L.A. telling me I needed to go back and straighten my hair was very annoying.

Carleen Brice said...

I have a friend from Veneuzla and we often speak about how similar the cultures are.

Alicia Anabel said...

Excellent~ Thanks for this. Check out our website we are doing a segment on identity and pelo bueno/pelo malo is an impt segment. Blessings. Alicia

Anonymous said...

It's nice that your husband is bilingual and you probably could practice your spanish on him. Also regarding stick straight hair (white) sometimes it could get very messy and full of snarls. My husband is white and Phillipino and cant speak anything but english. My daughter didnt have afro hair at all, not snarly fine hair. Her hair was very easy to do and she wasn't tenderheaded. Yet she complains about her hair not being as long as someone elses (sigh)

Anonymous said...

I am very familiar with the term good hair, bad hair in the black community and also the Pelo Bueno, Pelo Malo debate in the Hispanic community considering that I am part Mexican on my fathers side. My whole family is multiracial like many afrolatino families and range in hair textures.

One time when I was in middle school, there was a time period when people would keep asking me if I were from another country like Ethiopia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, etc. I didn't understand because I really wasn't a light-skinned boy. One particular time a hispanic lady asked me if I were Panamanian. I said, "No, but I am part Mexican."

She said, "I knew it porque tu tienes pelo bueno!"(I knew it because you have good hair). I knew what the term meant, but I never thought I had "pelo bueno".

The same situation presented itself again with a black lady and I told her thank you even though I didn't really agree with it. I have cousins who would fall under the "bad hair" category and I didn't believe that their hair was worse than mine just because it isn't as eurocentric as mine.

I will have to admit, for a little while I did think that my hair was better than others' because of how much people talked about my hair. Still today people who haven't seen me in a long time comment on my hair. It doesn't phase me anymore considering that I've heard it for so long.

People don't realize that "good hair, bad hair" affects little boys as well as little girls so don't forget to tell all boys that their hair is beautiful....or handsome.

Camila Maria said...

I don't like the terms pelo malo/pelo bueno, good hair/bad hair/ nappy, etc, but there is a type of hair that is what she described, it would be low porosity hair. My hair is like that, very hard to moisturize and saturate with water, I could wet my hair and you wouldn't even notice!Same reason why it doesn't take hair color or anything, and probably the same reason it wasn't bone straight when I was relaxed.