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.
Meanwhile, in Houston...
There I was, many years and many moons after the first incidents at high school, and countless discussions with my family as how good girls should have their hair under control. The image on the mirror as I prepared to go to the concert proved that my curls had finally conquered their space, helped in part by the fact that I was not in Venezuela anymore, and in the US the desirable thing is rather to have curly hair, because is what most people lack. But also thanks to my friend Roda, who had invited me to take my mane to the next level, not only carry it timidly, but putting it out and showing it to the world like a precious crown.
The concert happened at 1 pm and it went well, the venue was full of people. It was held at a record store in Houston. Many old friends and new people that I didn't know came by. I was promoting my CD, which had been released less than a month ago, and that store was going to be selling the physical copies. At the end of the show, I got to talk to everyone, thanked them for coming, and signed their newly purchased CDs.
The four months prior had been a hectic time. After finishing the musical aspects of the recording, came the release process: overviewing the design of the cover, carefully inspecting its content, making sure the copyrights were properly taken care of, sending the material to the duplication company, uploading the tracks to be released online, making sure that my website was up to date, physical CDs were sent to distributors, radio stations and music reviewers, preparing all the aspects of the release party: contractors, performers, food, wine, flowers. Rehearsing. Finding the right dress.
Ah, and doing my full time job as a Geologist. Which was demanding to say the least.
It was year 2013 and I was still wearing two hats: a jazz artist and a lead geologist for the oil industry. Those previous four months were of very little sleep and lots of work. By the time that I was done with the release party I had a long pile of undone things at my house, and a boyfriend that was starting to loose its patience with my rhythm of life.
So when the invitation to do the concert at the record store came by, I happily accepted it, and was even happier to hear that they would do all aspects of the promotion, including a printed advertisement on the local events newspaper, because I knew that I was not going to have the time to do promotion myself. As they added my name to they calendar, they asked me to send them high resolution photos and my bio by email, and I did so immediately. A week before the event, I talked to the person in charge of the promotion who told me that they had received all my information and that they had already posted the ad on the newspaper. I was so busy that I did't even get a chance to find a copy of the newspaper and see it, but I trusted that everything was fine. At that point everything seemed in place, so I continued to focus on the many things that I had pending until the day of the concert.
An Interesting Surprise
One week after the concert, on a sunny Houston Saturday, I woke up a little bit more relieved and relaxed. I was finally having a breath of time to take it a bit easier. I took my time to get off bed and decided to go to a little cafe close by to get some breakfast.
As I ate, I was thinking of and lamenting not having ever been able to look at the ad that they published and figured that it was going to be very difficult to find the publication now that the event had already passed. It was a shame, I thought to myself. But I had other more important things to worry about.
When I finished eating at the cafe and was walking towards the exit, I noticed, to my surprise, that besides the door they carried the publication where my ad would have been posted. I took a copy, not thinking that it was going to be from the previous week, and couldn't believe my eyes when I read the dates. It was actually from a week before. That was the issue that should contain my ad. I was excited.
I went back to the table with the newspaper in hand and quickly reviewed all the pages. There it was. Raquel Cepeda. Jazz concert. Saturday 1 pm. But wait: The picture was from a different Raquel Cepeda.
Curly black hair, brown eyes, medium tone skin, Latin American look. Raquel Cepeda. But it was not me.
I knew her well, in fact. Not in person, but because unavoidably she comes out in Google when you look for Raquel Cepeda, and I have known about her presence for a while.
She is a journalist from Dominican descent who was born and lives in New York. She writes about Hip Hop and latina issues, and has a book published called "Bird of Paradise - How I became a Latina". She is doing a great job with her writing.
But is not only the fact that she is somehow a public figure, that she is "Latina", and she has curly dark puffy hair like mine. To add to the confusion, we both were born in the same year, 1973. Yes, two 1973 curly haired Latin american Raquel Cepedas that are doing artistic work, her with her writing about Latina issues and filmmaking and me with jazz singing and music.
Even though I am totally convinced that in spite of the general points of coincidence, our faces are very different, for some reason the poor man putting the publicity together at the record store didn't think so, and instead of using the material that I had already sent, with my photos on high resolution, he decided that we was going to use a photo off the internet to send to the newspaper. And when faced with the possibility of doubt, he might have through:
- Either way, what would the chances be that is not the same person? Could there be other Raquel Cepeda?
Or maybe he didn't even think that there could be another Raquel Cepeda at all.
When I saw the newspaper ad while sitting that Saturday at the cafe, the sun shining bright off the window, I didn't know if I should have laughed or cried. There was the announcement to the concert. Obviously it was my concert, but with her image instead. I wanted to tell the waiters at the cafe about it, but I knew that I was going to have to give too many explanations for them to understand what was going on. I had to laugh hard to myself.
And I decided that the story was so peculiar, interesting, and funny, that one day I would write about it.
Write about it and tell the world that not two Latinas are the same. Not two Raquel Cepedas are the same. Even if they are born on the same year, have the same kind of hair, and appear high in Google when you look for them. There are two, and I am sure that still many more Raquel Cepedas doing interesting things and letting their curls conquer the spaces that were meant to conquer.
But definitely not the same people.
I am sure that she has probably had to deal with my image appearing in publications about her. Also, from time to time, I get emails that are meant to go to her sent to me instead. I kindly reply and say that they got the wrong Raquel Cepeda, I tell them who I am, and tell them that they need to keep looking. I don't have her contact information, otherwise I would just forward those things personally to her. One day I tried to send her a note using an email address that I found online telling her about this story but not sure if she ever got it, because I never got a reply.
Besides from the annoyance of finding our images mixed up by untrained eyes, I wonder how much of this is all a problem. In any case, her fans get exposed to me and my fans get exposed to her. Not planning in any short future to change my name, and I know that she is not thinking about changing hers either. But at least let this article serve the purpose to make people aware that not two Raquel Cepedas are the same.
To all of the Raquel Cepedas fans, beware!
Thanks for reading. With love,
Raquel Cepeda | Houston Jazz Singer
Photo at the top: Diana Simonetta
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