Reflections of a Nappy Headed Girl

She was not my first choice, or even my second or third, in the primary season. I actually found her annoying, at times.

She was not my first choice, or even my second or third, in the primary season. I actually found her annoying, at times, and even infuriating once or twice. But when I heard Kamala Harris talk about her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, coming at 19 years old, to Berkeley in the 1960’s, from Chennai, India, only one generation removed from her rural ancestral town, unexpected tears sprung up from somewhere very deep inside me. And I could not stop them. I was bawling.

I have been to Chennai, I have lived in Berkeley. There could not be any more separate worlds. Even arriving in1960’s Berkeley from Los Angeles had me agog.

When she talked about her being only one generation removed from that history, to now being elevated to the second highest office in the land — I could not stop.

When I saw her stoop down to embrace her beige skinned nappy haired young nieces, in their white dresses, standing right next to the President Elect of the United States — I felt something almost indescribable. My heart swelled, and I could not stop.

Her nieces’ nappy hair flowed freely, something unimaginable to my grandmother, who twisted my hair into tight “poppy knots,” as she called them, then tied them with big ribbons. The loose kinky ends at the forehead and nape of my neck were slicked down with Alberto VO 5 — neat and tidy, not permitted to kink up again.

A few short years later, I began a lifetime of “reverse perms”, chemical straighteners, hair “pressed” while sitting in the kitchen, with the hot comb on a burner on the stove — being careful of breakage or burning pieces of hair. I wonder if America can even understand the significance of those nappy haired little girls.

This nappy headed little girl, flummoxed that her blond Irish descended neighbor’s stick-straight hair would not at all hold a curl, after I set it on rollers. I declared to her I was certain this would work, after she told me she couldn’t get her hair to curl. Or the amazement that a young classmate displayed when she showed me how she smoothed down her hair by dampening her fingers with a little water from the fountain and passing it over her hair. Mine just kinked up more.

Shyamala Gopalan did not live to see her half-breed, first generation, Jamaican Indian daughter, Kamala Devi Harris, become Vice President of the United States, but this nappy headed little girl will live to see it, very soon.

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