In addition to your full-time job, you wrote a book called Bad Hair Does Not Exist! (Pelo Malo No Existe). What inspired you to create the book? What has the response been like thus far?
I have two intelligent, curious, intuitive, beautiful girls (Suleni Tisani and Bella-Victoria). My husband and I work day in, day out to instill values that will contribute to them becoming good human beings. A major part of that is creating a foundation of high self-esteem and teaching, [and] that all aspects of them are beautiful. For Black girls that also means loving their hair. This takes dedication and consistency. One day, I took my 3-year-old to the caretaker whom I love dearly, and on this day, she told me to relax my daughter’s hair because she had “pelo malo’,’ or “bad hair.” It took everything in me to respond as my grandmother would. I respectfully asked the caretaker not to use that term. I also told her the following, ‘Hay pelo largo, hay pelo corto, pero pelo malo no existe – hay pelo lacio hay pelo crespo, pero pelo malo no existe.’ I went on and on. My response to her became the book. I also requested that we work as partners to uphold the values I teach my children at home. I have a newfound respect for the caretaker because she allowed me to educate her and share the message with the rest of the kids.
The book took 5 minutes to write. I immediately called my best friend, Isidra Sabio, who quickly took on the project as an illustrator. Two months later the book was ready. The goal is to get this book in the hands of all girls.
How do you identity? Do you consider yourself Afro-Latina, or use another term to describe your race and/or ethnicity (i.e. Honduran, Garifuna)?
I am proud to say that I am a Garifuna woman from Honduras.
What is your earliest memory of identifying as Garifuna? How did you come to identify as such?
When I really learned of the resilience of the Garifuna people and truly understood what our ancestors went through to save our race from genocide—I knew then how privileged I was to be born a Garifuna.
Who inspires you?
God and his word inspire me every waking moment. My life has been a series of challenges and many ask how I overcame [them]. My response is always, “I give it to God,” which is hard to do because for some reason, as human beings, we become selfish with pain. I’ve learned that if we hold on to that pain, it has a crippling effect on every aspect of one’s life – so I give it to God. This way it does not creep into my marriage, my children, my work and all that is around me.
Which Latina matriarch do you most identify with and why?
My grandmother, Elena Calderon. She was an amazing mother, exceptional entrepreneur using natural resources to provide for an entire village. She also had an intriguing ability to be diplomatic and accept everyone’s differences for the greater good. As I consistently have to pray for the spirit of discernment, I believe my grandmother was born with it. She was a phenomenal woman.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?
Tough one! I was what you would call an “independent thinker” (a rebel with a cause) while in high school and even in college. I developed this phrase: “If I don’t like it, I don’t do it.” I had no idea, how detrimental that would be. So, the advice I would give to my younger self would be: “If I don’t like it, become the best in it”. This would have taught me how to take on challenges earlier rather than run from them.
If you’re in New York, join Sulma at her official book launch party at Startup Box, 866 Hunts Point Avenue Bronx, NY , on Saturday, October 18 from 12:30 – 3:30pm.
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