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  • Writer's pictureRaquel Cepeda, Jazz Singer

Not Two Raquel Cepedas Are The Same

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

Raquel Cepeda | Houston Jazz Singer. Songwriter.

It was 10 am on s Saturday and I was wearing a black dress, the red flower on my head. As I looked at the mirror I went throughout all the details of my appearance: red lips carefully outlined, the right balance on my makeup, curls in good shape, and one more time I shook my mane to add even more volume. I was following the advice that my friend Roda had given me about a year before:

- "Raquel: don't ever straighten your hair. Instead, the bigger you can make it, the better."

Ah, that Curly, Black Mane

Curly hair had been a curse growing up. When I was in high school, one of the nuns used to make indirect comments at me during the plenary gatherings and sermons that we had at the recess hour. In a population of schoolgirls that in big part were daughters of Spanish and Portuguese immigrants, with thin, flat, golden hair, my curly, black, abundant hair would stand out as an undesirable breakage of the norm.

In at least one occasion, the nun director sent me to the office and handled me a comb. The message was clear. I would not be let go until I combed and pulled my hair back.

To me all that was unnatural. How can you tame a hair that by nature behaves like the tides of the ocean, following the cycles of the moon, growing on a circular, rhythmic dance of waves? Every time I tried to comb it, I would separate the natural curls, only making the problem worse, as it would get to a greater level of unmanageability, frizziness, and added volume. Not even counting how difficult, time consuming and painful was to comb a hair like mine. But I complied. To my frustration. Not much that I could do, I was only 15 years old. And they had the last word.

We were soon preparing for the high school graduation ceremony, and the nun director made sure that the topic was boarded during the ceremony preparation meeting: Loud and clear, in front of all my school mates, microphone on hand, she said:

- "Raquel Cepeda must straighten her hair for the ceremony or else she would not be allowed to participate."

Frustrated, I complied again. I went to a hair salon to get a chemical straightening that ended up burning all the hair on the crown my head, leaving a patch of boldness that eventually grew back, but had me showing a very undesirable, fresh-cut-grass effect on my crown for a while.

Flat hair in Venezuela and in South America in general is seen as one of the ideal models of beauty. In a population that is largely characterized by a mixture of races, European, African and Indigenous, the curly hair gene can sneak out relentlessly in your code no matter what other mixture you have. There is in fact lots of people with curly hair. But they do whatever it takes to hide it.

Maybe part of the appeal is that we all desire to have that which we lack. As a child, I did desire to have flat hair. Soon enough I realized that it was not worth the fight. My hair nature was stronger than I. Stronger than my patience. Stronger than my willingness to put time in keeping it tamed. And decided I was going to let it be how it wanted to be, how God personally had designed it, and that I was going to make the best of it.

Later on, from time to time, and only on special occasions, I would have it straightened. On those occasions my hair would appear at least double in length, the tips touching down my waist. I would run my fingers through and it would feel soft and silky. But the magic would last very little, as soon as the smallest amount of humidity would hit it, and then it was all gone.