The Power of Hair Explained.

Picture Day has got to be one of the most hectic times of a child’s life. You have to choose a background (blue, grey, or the classic bookshelf. But if your school hired a fancy company, you had the option for an outdoor backdrop), pick out nice clothes, practice your smile, and most importantly… your hair has to be fabulous. Things worked out well for me, except for 2nd grade. Oh how I hated my hair during that time!

A couple of days before Picture Day, my mom brought me to the salon to get a haircut. I remember specifically telling my mom to let the hair stylist know I just wanted a trim. NOTHING DRASTIC. Now, I know that lady understood English because she agreed. But she was also Asian, so she was going to whatever she wanted (Relax, I’m Asian too. And I know how we get all sensitive about jokes on our people. So if that offended you, I’m kinda sorry.) So as the length of my hair got shorter and shorter, my eyes only got wider. Then, she whipped out the razor. I swear to you, the buzzing sound still rings in my ears. My soul was shaking. Slowly, I feel it hit closer to my neck and cut higher to my head. After the damage was done she told me, “See, it’s even better than you asked for.” I got into the car and cried my eyes out. I looked like Dora the Explorer, un-casted edition. It was mortifying.

But I was not the only one who experienced this pain. In Zitkala-sa’s novel American Indian Stories, she recalls the day the “paleface woman” cut her hair and how much it affected her.

I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold blades of the scissors against my neck, and heard them gnaw off one of my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit. Since the day I was taken from my mother I had suffered extreme indignities. People had stared at me. I had been tossed about in the air like a wooden puppet. And now my long hair was shingled like a coward’s! In my anguish I moaned for my mother, but no one came to comfort me. Not a soul reasoned quietly with me, as my own mother used to do; for now I was only one of many little animals driven by a herder.

(School Days of An Indian Girl, Section II)

After leaving her homeland and moving East with the missionaries for school, she realized her expectations of what life would be were different. She was a foreigner. But this particular scene is so important to discuss in Zitkala-sa’s story. She says, “Our mothers had taught us that only unskilled warriors who were captured had their hair shingled by the enemy. Among our people, short hair was worn by mourners, and shingled hair by cowards!” Her long hair is a symbol of strength. It was part of her identity and a direct connection to her roots. As the “paleface woman” cut off her hair, she felt that she had also “lost [her] spirit,” her sole reason of being. The woman did not only change the girl’s physical appearance, but altered her inner self as well. AGAINST HER WILL.

Hair will always grow back. We know this. But it is part of our body, and no one should control our body but ourselves. Whether you want to shave it all off or grow it long, it is your choice. That was why I was so angered by the lady who had cut my hair when I was younger. I chose the kind of way I wanted my hair to look, I trusted that she would respect that, but instead she did what she thought was good for me. No one gave her that right. Not her certificate, not her employer, not my mother, and definitely not me. As a girl, I am attached to my hair. It sounds so silly to say hair gives someone some kind of identity, but it does. Because (on good hair days) I control it and I style it the way I am comfortable with.

Zitkala-sa shows that after all the struggles she went through up to the time she had arrived at the school, her hair being cut off was the final straw. Expectations, rules, and culture was pushed onto her like she had no choice. She was being made into someone who she is not, but didn’t know how to escape it because “[she] was only one of many little animals driven by a herder.”  She ended up being one of the warriors captured by the enemy and had their hair shingled. She was made into a “coward.” They broke her.

I cried, just like her. I knew I became different. But I knew it wasn’t natural. To be stripped of choice, especially at a young age, makes you feel so powerless. For someone to take away something you hold so close to your being, makes you feel robbed. As I pass by the little salon and see it now made into a shop, I feel a bit better. It’s like I got my revenge. I might make my experience sound so dramatic, but my emotions were as real as I recall it. That lady left me with a bad hair cut and a picture to always remember it by. But it will still be a memory that is instilled in my mind forever, no matter now much my hair grows now.


Girls and Education Explained.

I sit here and think about how different my life would be if I hadn’t gone to school. Let’s face it, school is like that boyfriend that you love and hate at the same time. At one moment, he has your attention, the next, he just babbles about something you could care less about. Still, you, as the amazingly loving girlfriend, must put up with… everything. This boyfriend is a part of you. He pushes you to be better, teaches you things you’ve never known, and provides perspective on ideas that are other than your own. Education is the boyfriend any father wouldn’t mind you taking home (primarily because it really isn’t something you can make out with and most importantly, he wouldn’t need to worry about his little girl being with something useless). In Zitkala-sa’s American Indian Stories, we get a glimpse of a young American-Indian girl’s life. She sets out to do chores with her mother, spends time with her playmates, and learns the ways of her people. The one thing absent, is access to a proper education. She is obviously a curious child.  She likes to hear the stories about Legends and tries to figure out its meaning. She questions the role of the “palefaces” and their relationship to her people. When the missionaries came, she wanted to learn more of what they are saying. All this curiosity comes from a fire within her to want to be more than what she is. When she was given the opportunity to go East with the missionaries, her mother was hesitant. Letting her go will mean that her beloved daughter would have to face hardships on her own. But the mother knows how valuable education is.

“She will need an education when she is grown, for then there will be fewer real Dakotas, and many more palefaces. This tearing her away, so young, from her mother is necessary, if I would have her an educated woman. The palefaces, who owe us a large debt for stolen lands, have begun to pay a tardy justice in offering some education to our children. But I know my daughter must suffer keenly in this experiment. For her sake, I dread to tell you my reply to the missionaries. Go, tell them that they may take my little daughter, and that the Great Spirit shall not fail to reward them according to their hearts.”

Education provides us with a foundation. It gives us information that is connected to just about all corners of the Earth. But the biggest lesson I’ve learned, is that everything in the world is always changing. It’s proven in history books and reality. That is why the mother sends her daughter off because there will be “fewer real Dakotas, and many more palefaces.” Education will provide her with the knowledge and strength to both adapt to the changing world we live in, as well as allow her to trace back to the land that birthed her. Education is empowering. Girls were expected to follow the footsteps of their mother. They are taught domestic duties and are expected to abide by these “womanly roles.” As we see in the beginning of Zitkala-sa’s novel, women are seen as the home-bodies. But when education becomes accessible it shows that women are able to rise above this stereotype and prove they are capable to be so much better. Education is a human right. It should be provided for, no matter the gender or status of a person. And a woman’s education should go beyond the home setting. Let the world be her classroom.

The thought of not having the education I am so thankfully provided with, hits pretty hard. I was always eager to learn. I was the bookworm. I was the one who looked forward to journal entries. I’m part of the few who actually really like school. But liking school was not the first thing that came to my mind. I went for my friends and the whole social aspect of it. Had I not been taught to sit in a chair and actually pay attention, I wouldn’t have done so. If my teachers never introduced me to certain books, I wouldn’t have picked them up to read. Education goes far beyond textbooks and lectures. It really does prepare you for life. However, the lessons outside of a classroom is what tests you on how strong you use your education. Let this Education Boyfriend be your companion in life, but never forget to follow your own voice. Use his lessons about basketball stats and playbook rules, and apply them to your own situation. Also, be brave enough to create rules of your own.