In The Community
Hairstyles have always been about more than just aesthetics. They’re a symbol of ethnicity, religion, social status, resistance, and more. Through them, ethnic and cultural groups have been able to reclaim their identities in the past and the present. Hair braids are one of those empowering hairstyles that have stood the test of time.
The art of hair braids isn’t specific to one culture or people because it has existed everywhere in many forms, including Ancient America. Mummies hundreds or thousands of years old have been found wearing braids, such as the Pre-Columbian Mummy “Juanita” of Peru.
Like so many other Latino cultural topics, it’s deeply nuanced.
The History of Hair Braids in Latin America
Andean cultures, like the Incas in Peru and Chile, also have a long history of hair braiding. Indigenous communities like the Quechua and Aymara are also known for their hair braids, which often communicate a person’s identity, connection to ancestors, strength, and vitality. Braids are even used to celebrate or mark life events and milestones.
Within Latino culture, this hairstyle has also been shaped by African people and their hair-braiding art. Because of the transatlantic slave trade, African culture merged with Latino hair-braiding traditions. Enslaved Africans brought their techniques and heritage, which spread because they used their hair as a means of communication.
For example, in 16th-century Colombia, intricate braids represented coded messages to spread information about the slaves’ surroundings, escape routes, and the locations of Spanish troops. African slaves also used braids to carry seeds, grains, and small trinkets. When they escaped, these belongings helped them survive and build communities wherever they went. To this day, hair braiding is a central part of the Afro-Colombian identity.
This is just some of the history of hair braiding in Latin America to give an idea of how ingrained it is into the culture. The integration of African and European ethnic groups has resulted in a wide range of hair textures, from straight to tightly coiled curls. Braiding has been a long-standing practice of hair care, but also of connection to our ancestors and roots.
Is It Cultural Appropriation to Wear Hair Braids?
This is a question most often asked by and for white people, but it’s also something Latinas ask themselves, especially those who are racially white or have lighter skin and can be white-passing. This has a lot to do with the fact that hair braids are primarily associated with Black culture, and they are indeed a central part of Black expression.
However, it’s also true that hair braiding is an integral part of Latino culture and has been for centuries. So, to determine whether wearing braids is appropriation, we have to consider the definition. Cultural appropriation consists of taking something from a culture that’s not your own and engaging with it in an exploitative or disrespectful way.
In the Latino and Afro-Latino communities, hair braiding shouldn’t be classified as cultural appropriation because it’s part of the heritage. It’s a practice that has been passed down through generations as a form of expression, hair care, and cultural pride. In the context of white people, the question is a bit more difficult to answer because it depends on the intention of the wearer and the type of braid as well.
For example, French braids, fishtail braids, and 3-strand braids are usually appropriate for everyone. They don’t hold the same cultural significance for Black or Latino people as box braids, braids with ribbons, beaded braids, side braids, crown braids, and many others, which are steeped in history and tradition.
When it comes to intention, wearing braids as a form of appreciation or a way of connecting to other cultures can be acceptable. For example, people who travel to the Caribbean often come back with braided hair because locals share this part of their culture. It’s also a way for them to make a living, so tourists directly contribute to their livelihoods.
Permanently adopting hair braids, especially the more traditional and culturally significant styles, might be cultural appropriation. Not having a connection to the symbolism and identity that certain styles represent, but wearing them anyway may be disrespectful. It may also be exploitative if there’s something to gain from adopting these hairstyles without regard for or acknowledgment of the communities they belong to.
Hair Braids as a Symbol of Latino Pride
Ultimately, wearing hair braids as Latinas is a great way to honor ancestors and traditions. There’s no rule for Latinas when it comes to wearing most styles of braids. It’s a matter of identifying the reason why they are being worn and how that relates to their identity, community, sense of self, and their politics.
Even if the decision is made not to wear hair braids, learning about them and sharing the knowledge can help bring the community closer together. A big part of bonding with one another is finding connections through sharing the different aspects of our culture, even if we don’t always partake in them.
Recognizing where hair braids come from and their influences, whether they’re African or Indigenous, is an effective way to help create awareness about our diverse experiences and relate more closely to the Latino community. Especially when that community is often overlooked and intentionally kept out of important historical narratives.
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In the United States, societal attitudes toward marriage are evolving, evidenced by a significant decrease in marriage rates – dropping from a robust 76.5% in 1970 to a modest 31% today – this trend spans various communities, including the Latino community, which is actively challenging conventional norms, reshaping roles, and forging new paths in their conceptions of love and family.
Challenging the Status Quo
Although there have been some changes in recent decades, Latino culture still holds onto many outdated traditions and rigid gender roles. Many Latinas report still feeling pressured by society and even their own families to get married early and start a family. These expectations are sometimes pushed by older women in the family who insist that their daughters embrace the roles of marriage and motherhood, even when their daughters have entirely different goals in mind. These women end up backing the patriarchal system without even realizing it; a phenomenon referred to as marianismo.That the marriage rate has dropped so much in recent years is a clear indication that Latina women are challenging traditional gender roles, choosing to focus on their personal development, education, and career, sometimes before or even instead of marriage.
Independence and Choice
The decision of younger generations to not get married is meaningful, particularly when considering the significance of marriage in Latino culture for many years. The declining marriage rate mirrors how Latinas are reconciling their cultural traditions with more progressive ideas, leading to the creation of new collective views and realities.
Latina women are achieving unprecedented levels of education and workforce participation, giving them greater economic independence. This autonomy has expanded their life options. For new generations, marriage is no longer seen as the only route to stability and success, but as one of many options on a broader spectrum to achieve personal fulfillment.
Breaking this paradigm is also influenced by the multicultural environment of the U.S., where Latino traditions are merging with new ideas and dialogues that challenge traditional and outdated systems based on patriarchy, creating a contemporary reinterpretation of what it means to be a woman and being Latina in today's society.
There are a few additional factors at play that have led to a decrease in marriage rates. One significant factor is the declining religious adherence to marriage. There's also a growing trend of reduced enthusiasm for marriage among the general public that has contributed to this decline.
A Ripple Effect on Men and Society
As women gain more autonomy and redefine their roles, Latino men are also experiencing a change in their traditional roles. So, how are Latino men adapting? Are their views on marriage, family, and gender roles in these areas shifting too?
The answer tends to lean towards no. Men, in general, aren’t faring too well as women continue to increase their life and dating standards. A recent study of 46,054 people in 237 countries found that men are now more likely to be "lonely and single" than women, which wasn’t the case 30 years ago.
Greg Matos, PsyD, a couple's therapist, wrote in “Psychology Today” that men are struggling to bridge the "relationship-skills gap" as women search for partners who are "emotionally available, good communicators, and share similar values."
As men find new ways to participate in family life and relationships, the shift could lead to a reevaluation of masculinity within the Latino community. This change creates opportunities to challenge gender stereotypes and foster more equitable and collaborative relationships in maintaining a home and raising children.
We are already starting to see more single-parent families or non-traditional family arrangements. This shift could influence several aspects of daily life, including parenting, community support, and social safety nets.
The increasing participation of Latina women in higher education and the workforce is having a considerable impact on the domestic economy. This shift might make Latino families start to rethink how they handle their money, make investment choices, and decide on their spending priorities.
A New Latino Identity
The low rates of marriage among the Latino community reveal the change in gender dynamics, educational empowerment, and an ongoing interplay between traditional values and modern viewpoints in a multicultural setting. All these factors are shaping a new Latino identity.
The Latino community in the United States is not only adding to the country's cultural diversity but also taking a lead in some of the most important discussions of our time regarding gender, culture, and identity.
In an ever-changing world, adaptability, resilience, and the willingness to challenge the status quo are not only valuable but essential. And in this scenario, Latina women in the United States are, undoubtedly, at the forefront.
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We all love the smell of coming home from a long day to find our family cooking some of our favorite Latino meals. From homemade tortillas to tostones, our families have typically carried on cooking some of the most traditional foods from our origin countries to curb their cravings. Whether you just simply want to learn more about making foods from other countries or just want to be able to make recipes on your own, our list of our favorite Latino cooking accounts is here to save the day.
Cocina Con Adela
Salvadoran cocinera Adela is showing up on her YouTube channel to show you how to cook some of the best dishes across Latin America. Plenty of videos cover recipes from her native El Salvador, but she has plenty of recipes from other countries to meet your needs.
El Jibaro Moderno
After the earthquakes that shook up the island of Puerto Rico in 2020 and right before the pandemic hit, Miguel Sanchez began posting videos as El Jibaro Moderno showing you how to conquer some of Puerto Rico’s most beloved dishes. With easy instructions, you’re sure to become a home chef in no time.
Tropical Cake Pops
If you’re looking for mostly dessert recipes, Tropical Cake Pops is your home. Mostly Puerto Rican in nature, you can whip up delicious treats like tembleque or coquito with these amazing videos. Beware though - their content is only available on Facebook.
Muy Bueno Cooking
We all love a great recipe, and Mexican blogger Yvette provides us with tons of them on her page, Muy Bueno Cooking. This author has also released two cookbooks, so there’s nothing short of everything here.
Smart Lil Cookie
Vanessa Mota dominates Dominican cuisine amongst others on her blog Smart Little Cookie. From cookies to sofrito, her simple recipes make it all possible in your kitchen.
Mexico Cooking Club
We love content creators that take risks with their cooking, and Mexico Cooking Club doesn’t disappoint with their amazing experimental recipes.
Happy Bellies By Jenny
Caldo de Camaron para este frio #shrimp #caldodecamaron #DoTheScottsSlide #fyp #jalisco #mexico #mexican #cooking #parati #foodie #ItWasntMe #foryou
Jenny Martinez shows us how to do it all with her endless recipes and over 2 million followers on TikTok! From modernized Mexican food to joining the battle of spicy chicken sandwiches, she is truly a professional.
Silvia and her abuela show us the world of traditional Mexican cuisine on their YouTube channel, Abuela’s Kitchen. The best source of cooking is always abuela, so be sure to check them out to make your dinner favorites.
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