Garifuna author Sulma Arzu-Brown displayed her bi-lingual, 23-page book / workbook “Bad Hair Does Not Exist, Pelo Malo No Existe!” at Barnes & Noble/ Union Square this past Saturday.
She joined other women who write for children or young adults in an event organized by Shalom Israel Diggs to mark Women’s History Month.
Tables displayed the works to a book-loving public who were able to converse with the authors.
“I am a proud Garifuna woman from Honduras and proud Afro-Latina,” Arzu-Brown the former Garifuna Coalition executive director declares outright. She is now the director of operations of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce located in El Barrio.
She explains the inspiration to write the book.
“I am the mother of two girls and I want them to grow up in a world that respects everyone’s diversity and unique beauty.”
Coming from a small village in Honduras, the author didn’t experience how hair was an issue. “There it was an expression of beauty,” she says. “We had corn rows, two-braid twists and beaded hair decoration.” Recalling, “We didn’t have TV and outside media influences.”
When she was six her family moved to the Bronx where she lived in a Puerto Rican neighborhood amidst girls with straight hair.
She wanted to be like her older cousin who relaxed her hair and she admits, “I wanted to fit in.”
It was only at the salon she learned that she had bad hair — ‘pelo malo,’ the term to describe curly coarse hair. “I had ‘pelo malo’ but didn’t think much about that.”
But, when she heard her daughter’s caregiver referring to their hair as ‘pelo malo,’ she began her mission to elevate the caregiver’s thinking. When Arzu-Brown couldn’t find a book that expressed what needed to be said, she wrote one herself.
She says, “Hair comes with different careers.”
The book’s girls and young adults, beautifully illustrated by Isidra Sabio, also Garifuna and Arzu-Brown’s best friend, are coiffed with a myriad of natural hair styles: curly, straight, long, short, wavy, afro, Mohawk, dreds, loose, braided. And colors, black, red, blonde, and white.
And they’re engaged in many diverse pursuits: every day activities and sharing parties, making music, baking with grandma, dance, athletics, and professionals in medicine, science. There is even a princess and supergirl.
“My daughter was three when I published this in 2014; it was her first book.”
And how has the reception been? She hears: Where was this book when I was young? And she gets a lot of thanks. “Fathers have expressed to me their daughters have been bullied because of their natural hair style. They got the book to empower them to love themselves.” The book’s clear message is: All hair is good! Y todo pelo es Bueno!
The workbook section referred to as “fun activities” asks and encourages engagement: Draw your type of hair, draw your family members type, draw your friends.
Arzu-Brown is a registered vendor with the Board of Education — two schools have ordered copies. The book is available at the Union Square B&N or through Amazon.