The 2004 film, Spanglish, narratives the story of Flor, a young Mexican immigrant mother that immigrated to the United States with her daughter, Cristina, in search for a better future. As her first job, Flor becomes a full-time nanny for the Clasky family, which leads Flor and Cristina to live with the Clasky family. Cristina quickly develops a close relationship with Deborah Clasky, the mother in the family, and she begins to assimilate more into American culture. As Flor realizes that she is growing apart from her daughter, she decides to take Cristina and stop working for the Clasky family. Cristina becomes upset that her mother is taking, what seems to be a great opportunity, away from her; the argument leads Flor to ask Cristina the most important question of her life, “Is what you want for yourself, to become someone very different than me?”. Flor’s question lead me to think about the ways in which immigrating to the United States influences a change of image for many women, so that they are more acceptable within white American society
Being a Mexican immigrant myself, I witnessed firsthand, how many women changed their appearance, especially their hair, as a way to leave behind of their Mexican identity and blend into western beauty ideals. When my family and I first arrived to the United States, my mother had long, black hair that extend down to her knees. After living in America for a few weeks, relatives told my mother she had to change her appearance; according to our family members, her long hair made it “obvious” that she was an immigrant. In other words, her hair made her look un-American. Following people’s advice, my mother eventually cut and dyed her hair; similarly to my mother, I saw how many women within the Mexican community changed their long black hair for shorter, lighter-colored hairstyles.
The pressure to alter one’s appearance to fit more Eurocentric beauty standards, is a pressure many women of color encounter. Furthermore, the constant persuasion to follow eurocentric ideals of beauty does not only come from social interactions, but it is also enforced systematically by different dress code policies. In recent events, there has been an increase in cases regarding hair discrimination. Numerous cases report how employers and school administrators have forced people of color, specifically black women, to conform to “Eurocentric beauty standards- long, straight locks” (Gandy 2-3). The pursuit towards mainstream, white beauty ideals go beyond vanity; many communities are aware of the discrimination people face whenever they fall outside white beauty norms, especially in the workplace. The ways in which workplaces police people of color is accurately described in Paulette Caldwell’s, “A Hair Piece: Perspective on the Intersection of Race and Gender”, where she states that, “By exercising the cultural component of racial or ethnic identity, the court reinforces the view of a homogenous, unicultural society, and pits blacks and other groups against each other in a battle over minimal deviations from cultural norms. Black women cannot wear their hair in braids because Hispanics cannot speak Spanish at work” (Caldwell 275).
The pressure my mother received from my grandparents to, essentially become someone very different from them, was their way of helping my mother avoid the discrimination many immigrants have faced before. When changing their image to embody more white beauty standards, Mexican immigrant women are forced to leave behind parts of their identity and assimilate as much as possible to “American culture”. Through this assimilation, immigrant women prevent their white coworkers from thinking about racial differences, thus preventing any unwanted attention or discrimination.
Imani Gandy, “Black Hair Discrimation Is Real- But Is It Against the Law,” Rewire, May 2017: 2-3.
Paulette M. Caldwell, “A Hair Piece: Perspective on the Intersection of Race and Gender,” Critical Race Theory (1995): 275.