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Episode 37: La reina del pelo bueno (The Queen of Good Hair)

By Duolingo on Thu 12 September 2019

All her life, Cirle Tatis Arzuza had been taught to think her curly hair was something to hide. But after years of harsh chemical treatments, Cirle learned to love her hair, and taught other women to do the same.

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Transcript

Martina: When Cirle Tatis Arzuza was a little girl in Cartagena, Colombia, her schoolmates used to bully her. Particularly because of her curly hair, or pelo rizado.

Cirle: Yo era la niña más negra de mi clase. Los chicos se reían de mi piel y mi pelo rizado, aunque Cartagena es una ciudad muy afrocaribeña.

Martina: Regardless, the kids and the adults in Cirle’s life thought having natural black hair was a bad thing. When Cirle was 10 years old, her mom relaxed, or alisó, Cirle’s hair for the first time.

Cirle: Entonces, todo cambió en la escuela. Mis rizos, que llegaban solamente hasta mis orejas, se alisaron y bajaban hasta la mitad de mi espalda. Todos los niños me llamaban Pocahontas. Yo pasé de ser una niña víctima de bullying, a sentirme como una princesa de Disney. ¡Estaba feliz!

Martina: For the next 16 years, Cirle continued to relax her natural hair, until it started to fall out. So much so, that she started to question how much she was willing to endure for a discriminating standard of beauty.

Martina: Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast — I’m Martina Castro. Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories, to help you improve your Spanish listening, and gain new perspectives on the world. The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I’ll be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again – and we also offer full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com.

Cirle: En el Caribe afrodescendiente, se dice que el pelo afro rizado es “pelo malo”. Muchas de las mujeres en Cartagena no saben cómo cuidar y peinar el pelo negro natural, porque desde hace generaciones ellas se acostumbraron a alisarlo.

Martina: This is true in many Caribbean countries, where natural black hair is associated with poverty, lack of education and other racist beliefs dating back to colonial times. So women like Cirle’s mother, Cerlis, don’t style their hair naturally, which means they don’t know how to comb, or peinar, their daughters’ natural hair either.

Cirle: Antes de alisarme el pelo por primera vez, los fines de semana, mi mamá me peinaba. Era un proceso traumático que duraba toda la tarde. Yo no podía moverme y, mucho menos, salir a jugar.

Martina: In her living room, Cerlis, who had relaxed her hair for years, would pull and brush Cirle’s natural curls, but they'd get tangled again and again.

Cirle: Yo lloraba y mi mamá gritaba, muy molesta por la frustración: “¡Ay, este pelo malo! No puedo esperar para ponerte la crema alisadora”.

Martina: That day came when Cirle was 10 years old. Her mother told her they were going to straighten her hair before Cirle’s First Communion.

Cirle: Yo estaba muy emocionada porque ya no quería tener pelo malo.

Martina: Cirle learned to hate her hair early on. Her schoolmates reinforced the idea, bullying her for her dark skin and tight curls. Cirle didn’t have any friends, until the day she straightened her hair.

Cirle: Mi mamá me llevó a la peluquería. Me pusieron una crema con un químico que se usa para abrir los baños obstruidos. Me la pusieron en el pelo, parte por parte, hasta alisar completamente mis rizos. Después, me lo peinaron con un cepillo y secadora.

Martina: Chemical relaxers are proven to have adverse effects, like causing hair to fall out or damaging the scalp.

Cirle: Sin embargo, en ese momento, yo no sabía nada de esto. Me sentía feliz con mi pelo liso.

Martina: The kids at school said she looked beautiful, with long, straight hair like Pocahontas from Cirle’s favorite Disney movie. All of a sudden, Cirle became part of a group.

Cirle: ¡Todos en la escuela querían ser mis amigos! Mi vida cambió rápidamente solo por haberme alisado el pelo.

Martina: After her Disney princess moment, Cirle never stopped straightening her hair. She did it all through school up until she attended college at the University of Cartagena. First, she studied Philosophy, but eventually she switched to Communications. And then she noticed something.

Cirle: En Colombia, hay muy pocas mujeres con pelo afro en la televisión y otros medios de comunicación. Y si las hay, siempre son trabajadoras domésticas, criminales, narcos o prostitutas.

Martina: On TV, Afrocolombian characters with natural hair were always relegated to negative or less important roles. Cirle didn’t want to associate herself with those stereotypes. So, she continued relaxing her hair, even though it had started to fall out.

Cirle: Durante 16 años me alisé el pelo en la peluquería cada dos meses con químicos muy fuertes. Después de alisarme, la posibilidad de tener heridas en la cabeza era alta.

Martina: When Cirle was 20, she broke up with her longtime boyfriend. The end of this relationship, and her struggles with her hair, sent her into a period of depression.

Cirle: Tenía mi autoestima muy baja. Ya no me sentía bonita y, además, estaba perdiendo mi pelo.

Martina: She thought, “How could I be beautiful and feminine if I’m losing my long, straight hair?” So, she decided to get long, straight hair extensions. They became her escudo, or shield, against her insecurities.

Cirle: Las extensiones eran mi escudo contra el mundo. Me ayudaron a subir mi autoestima y a seguir teniendo ese “pelo bueno”, aunque ya no era mi pelo verdadero.

Martina: Cirle wore extensions as a shield for another six years, until she woke up one morning and saw her pillow covered in hair. She had lost so much of it over the years that now, at age 26, she was almost bald.

Cirle: Yo estaba aterrorizada. Ya no tenía casi pelo para ponerme las extensiones.

Martina: In that moment, she realized that she had dedicated her entire life to keeping her hair straight.

Cirle: Durante 16 años, prácticamente no fui a la playa para no arruinar el alisado. También dejé de ir al gimnasio por el sudor. Siempre me escondía de la lluvia. ¡Yo hacía cualquier cosa por mi pelo!

Martina: Cirle was desperate. Her hair was falling out on her pillow, in the shower… She knew she was going to have to do something drastic.

Cirle: En ese momento decidí dejar crecer mi pelo natural, sin importar el resultado.

Martina: To help her hair transition back to its natural state, Cirle was going to wear it in braids, or trenzas.

Cirle: Les llamamos trenzas africanas. Son extensiones de pelo sintético trenzadas al estilo afrodescendiente. Las quería porque, al menos, se parecían un poco más a mi pelo natural.

Martina: Cirle was going to have to manually weave each one of the braids into what little hair she had left on her head. The process would last hours.

Cirle: Yo sabía que a mi mamá no le iba a gustar esta idea. Para ella, “pelo bueno” significaba pelo liso. Para hacer mis trenzas, necesitaba un momento lejos de ella, pero yo estaba viviendo en su casa.

Martina: The perfect moment to put in the braids, came when her mom was watching a beauty pageant. Pageants are a big deal in Colombia. People spend hours watching women compete for the title of most beautiful. None of the black contestants wore their hair naturally.

Cirle: A mí no me interesaba ver eso. Yo me fui a mi cuarto para hacerme mis trenzas y estuve ahí por horas.

Martina: Hours later, Cirle came out with her new braids, thinking she’d gotten through the hardest part. But her mother’s reaction proved her wrong.

Cirle: Cuando mi mamá me vio, me preguntó: “¿Ahora tú te crees palenquera?”

Martina: “Palenqueras” are women from a palenque, a settlement of escaped slaves. Palenqueros are believed to have pure African ancestry, unlike most afro Latin Americans, who are mixed. Cirle’s mother used the term as an insult, and Cirle was surprised by her own reaction.

Cirle: Cuando mi mamá me dijo “palenquera”, yo me ofendí. Pero, ¿por qué? ¡Yo soy negra! ¿Por qué me ofendía si me decía “palenquera”?

Martina: Cirle began to question the way she understood her racial identity. She went back to her interest in Philosophy, which she had studied briefly in college, and she started reading works by black women. She fell in love with a specific quote from Angela Davis.

Cirle: “Ya no voy a aceptar las cosas que no puedo cambiar. Voy a cambiar las cosas que no puedo aceptar”.

Martina: The quote sparked something in her: she realized she was a black woman who did not accept herself as such.

Cirle: Mi concepto de “belleza” era algo que no era parte de mí. No era parte de mi cuerpo, ni de mi identidad.

Martina: Cirle began to identify with the Black is Beautiful movement from the US Civil Rights era. In the 1960s, black activists like Angela Davis started styling their hair in afros and other natural styles to fight racist ideals of beauty.

Cirle: Después de eso, ya no podía aceptar los estándares de belleza que había seguido hasta ese momento. Ya no quería dejar que nadie me dijera qué hacer con mi cuerpo. Dejé de aceptar algo que antes pensaba que no podía cambiar.

Martina: Cirle says this is important because for black women, hair is not just aesthetic, it’s political.

Cirle: A veces, solo por tener pelo afro, no te dan un trabajo o no te dejan entrar a una escuela.

Martina: All that pressure leads women like Cirle and her mother Cerlis to relax and straighten their hair, no matter the inconvenience or the consequences to their health.

Cirle: Todo por pensar que tenemos el pelo malo, como pensaba yo cuando era niña. Pero ahora, yo sé que eso no es verdad.

Martina: When her hair had finally grown long enough under the synthetic braids, Cirle decided to wear it out naturally, in an afro.

Cirle: Me corté las trenzas y, al principio, mi pelo se sentía extraño. No me gustaba, no me sentía cómoda con lo que veía en el espejo. Hacía un ejercicio diario de mirarme y decir: “Esta eres tú y te tienes que aceptar”. Después de 20 días, empecé a sentirme realmente como soy, bella, y comencé a cuidar mi pelo natural.

Martina: While all of this was happening, Cirle was also in between jobs.

Cirle: Yo estaba viviendo en la casa de mis padres y eso no me gustaba. Necesitaba algún proyecto para estar ocupada.

Martina: When Cirle started wearing her braids and natural hair, other black women in her city asked her lots of questions about it. How did she get it to grow back after the relaxer? How did she maintain her afro?

Cirle: Yo encontré toda la información necesaria en YouTube, pero casi toda estaba en inglés. Yo no hablo inglés, pero entendí los videos después de verlos muchas veces. Había pocas personas ayudando a las mujeres afrocaribeñas que hablaban en español. Entonces, yo decidí ayudar también.

Martina: Cirle wanted to make her own YouTube channel to spread this advice. But at that time, she didn’t have a camera. She didn’t even have a cellphone.

Cirle: Yo tenía que ir a la casa de una amiga a dos horas de mi casa. Ella me prestaba su celular y yo grababa los videos explicando mi experiencia de volver al pelo natural.

Martina: Then she would make the two-hour trip back home, where she had an old computer, and edit the videos.

Cirle: Mi computadora era tan vieja que no soportaba el editor de video. Se apagaba varias veces mientras yo trataba de editar. Yo necesitaba dos días para editar un video.

Martina: She decided to call her channel "Pelo Bueno". Her videos touched on how to care for natural hair and talked about her journey to self acceptance. It took her a while, but now she has over 130 thousand subscribers.

Cirle: Yo aprendí a usar aceite de coco, papaya y otros ingredientes naturales para cuidar mi pelo y mantenerlo fuerte. Tuve que aprender sola, pero ahora estoy ayudando a otras mujeres negras a cuidar de su pelo de forma muy fácil.

Martina: Since Cirle started her channel, she has seen women who suffered third degree burns from the chemicals they used to straighten their hair. It can severely damage their follicles.

Cirle: Me siento muy triste al ver cómo nosotras, las mujeres negras, nos hacemos tanto daño físico y también psicológico.

Martina: At some point Cirle’s videos got so much international attention that people in Cartagena started asking her to cut and style their hair.

Cirle: Yo estudié comunicaciones y no quería ser peluquera. Sin embargo, una amiga necesitaba mi ayuda, así que decidí hacerlo.

Martina: Slowly, she started to build a client base. First, she cut hair at her mom’s house, and eventually she moved out on her own.

Cirle: El primer lugar que tuve era tan pequeño que solo había espacio para una clienta y para mí.

Martina: Soon, Cirle started getting attention from the press, and after two years, she was able to move into a commercial space full-time and hire a staff. Over time, something else changed, too.

Cirle: Ahora, ¡hasta mi mamá dejó de alisarse el pelo!

Martina: When Cirle’s mother saw how much attention Pelo Bueno was getting, she started thinking about her own hair. She works as a nurse, and the relaxer treatments didn’t allow her to wash her hair as often as she liked. When she was ready, she asked Cirle to cut her hair.

Cirle: Para mi mamá fue un poco difícil adaptarse a su nueva vida con su pelo natural. Pero, hasta ahora, ella no ha vuelto a alisarse el pelo.

Martina: Cirle Tatis Arzuza now works full-time promoting and styling natural hair in Cartagena, Colombia. You can find her on Instagram @CirlePeloBueno, and on YouTube by searching “Pelo Bueno”.

This story was produced by Maria Murriel, a journalist based in New Orleans.

We’d love to know what you thought of this episode! Send us an email with your feedback at podcast@duolingo.com. And if you liked this story, please share it! You can find the audio and a transcript of each episode at podcast.duolingo.com. You can also subscribe at Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening app, so you never miss an episode.

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The Duolingo Spanish podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media. I’m the executive producer, Martina Castro. Gracias por escuchar.

Credits

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Script Writer: Maria Murriel
Narrator & Protagonist: Cirle Tatis Arzuza
Script Editor: Catalina May
Mixed by: María Murriel
Sound Design & Mastering Engineer: Martín Cruz Farga
Executive Producer/Editor: Martina Castro