April 22, 2021

Uncovering and Honoring Deep Roots with the HairStory Project

by joeyphoenix

Choose How to Share

Featured image for “Uncovering and Honoring Deep Roots with the HairStory Project”

by Joey Phoenix

ReRooted: Presented by The HairStory Project is an offering that will stream live on Thursday, April 29th at 7:30pm from Museum of Science [Register Here]. The event is billed as a multimodal virtual production providing context for the ongoing debate of natural hair and celebrating the roots of African heritage. This project is made possible (in part) by a 2020 Live Arts Boston grant from the Boston Foundation.

For Black and Latinx communities, hair is more than just hair. It’s an identity, it’s a badge of honor, it’s a story woven through and around someone’s life. It’s often stereotyped, misunderstood, discriminated against, and discredited. But the only ones who have the right to label it and determine its relevance to them personally and publicly are those it belongs to. 

Born out of this recognition, The HairStory project – a collaboration between Yvette Modestin (she/her/hers – Encuentro Diaspora Afro), Ana Masacote (she/her/hers – Dance to Power), and a team of creative artists of color – exists to educate viewers about the history of natural hairstyles and invite them to rethink the importance of hair as more than just a style for Black and Latinx communities.

ReRooted, the first HairStory event of 2021, curated by Modestin and Masacote and created by a dynamic creative team, invites viewers to witness this ongoing narrative, this celebration of the deep roots of African heritage and their ongoing, intentional relevance. 

The event will also feature an introduction from Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley

“I Didn’t Come from Bad Hair Stories” 

Yvette Modestin

Yvette Modestin is an Afro-Panamanian writer, poet, and activist from Colon, Panama. She is the founder and executive director of Encuentro Diaspora Afro in Boston. 

“My Father transitioned recently,” Modestin said, explaining that to transition meant more than just passing away, but to rest in power, “and it’s made me reflect on how I was brought into the world and held up with so much love, which is the same love I carry in my hair. I don’t come from bad hair stories.” 

Although similar narratives of love and acceptance have always existed in Black communities, public discrimination has been rampant and systemic, leading to many harmful stereotypes and false representation of those communities. And hair-based discrimination has been a sizable part of it. 

“An Ode to Mi Corona”

In 2019, the State of California originated a law nicknamed “The CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act”, that prohibits race-based hair discrimination and the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists or bantu knots. As of April 2021, It has been adopted in 10 states. 

But while these debates carry on on legislative floors, The HairStory project organizers are working to spread and generate empathy through sharing these deeply rooted and personal stories of Black and Brown individuals. 

“Anti-Blackness is deeply rooted in how society has been shaped,” Modestin said. “And what I have found in my travels and in my conversations with Black communities is that hair was part of the conversation, and the disconnect with race and the disconnect with roots also created a disconnect with how [people] loved their hair.” 

Modestin began her loc journey nearly four years ago. 

“My loc journey is grounding me in my identity and in my spiritual awareness that I am one with nature,” Modestin says. “I push back on folks that say there’s an ugly stage [in the loc journey]. It’s a challenging stage, the most decolonizing stage.” 

This realization came to her one day while, after seeing her image reflected in a mirror, she felt hesitant to go outside and be seen by the world. 

“I had to push through that deeply rooted colonial lie and white supremacy message that is in us about what beauty is supposed to be. But pushing through that stage means freedom on the other end, it makes you feel absolutely natural in your Blackness,” she said. 

“I can tell my story and, hopefully one day they can tell theirs too.”

Ana Masacote
Image by Roberto Matteo

Like Modestin, Ana Masacote – dancer, activist, and founder of Dance to Power and advocate for gender, racial, and LGBTQ inclusivity in the arts – had a positive experience at home in regards to her curly hair. Unfortunately, that appreciation and warmth didn’t extend to her public environment. 

As a first-generation Mexican American attending school in a predominantly white neighborhood in Texas, she recalls facing a lot of anti-immigrant discrimination and pressure to assimilate into those spaces. 

“In my youth, I was just trying to fit in. What I didn’t understand then was that I was being bullied to assimilate.” Masacote explained. “Unfortunately, that is what a lot of the Latino/Latinx community grows up in. And because we sometimes have passing privilege we are more able to change aspects of ourselves to fit more comfortably in society, leading to a lot of anti-Blackness in our community” 

RELATED READING: Masacote Shows Lynn as “Out and Proud” with Queer Lynn Scene

Some of the ways in which she tried to force her appearance and, in particular, her hair into conforming to these standards were ironing her hair, shaving her arms, and dressing in a way that was culturally acceptable. “These messages, they stick with you. And it took me a long time to move past them,” she said, adding that “attending a more diverse high school with other Chicanas helped me better connect with and appreciate my culture more.”

“Ode to La Chicana” 

“My sister-in-law recently mentioned that my niece was having issues with her hair. She wanted to straighten it more. And it reminded me a lot of my youth, where at home she is feeling this love, but the messages outside of home are very different,” Masacote said. 

Her poem in the project, “Ode to La Chicana,” is dedicated to her nieces in recognition of this continual generational divide. 

“They may not understand it now, but as they grow up they will – and it’s a messaging that I can bring forward to the table. I can tell my story and, hopefully one day they can tell theirs too,” she added. 

The live stream of ReRooted: Presented by The HairStory Project will air on Thursday, April 29th. You can Register Here for the event. Because of limited capacity, the hosts kindly request that you only reserve tickets for the number of devices being used, not the number of people in attendance. 

To learn more about the HairStory project, follow them on Instagram @thehairstoryproject or check out the website at https://www.anamasacote.com/thehairstoryproject

Joey Phoenix (they/them) is the Director of Brand Strategy and Innovation at Creative Collective. As the resident storyteller and town crier, they encourage you to send story ideas, inspiration, or pictures of adorable critters to joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com.

Creative Collective is celebrating the ways we can get outside this Spring with their #SpringOnTheNorthShore campaign, an initiative created to highlight the best that springtime North of Boston has to offer on the longer, warmer days. 

Area businesses can participate in the event by using the hashtag #SpringOnTheNorthShore and tagging @creativecollectivema  and @creativenorthshore in posts on social media highlighting ways their businesses are encouraging people to get out and explore the best of the region this Spring.