Woman, black and immigrant, the powerful message against the stereotypes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria, 1977) resonates strongly in Colombia, a country that does not stop leaving behind its past of violence and exclusion. The Nigerian writer revolutionized this Sunday one of the popular neighborhoods in the periphery of Cartagena de Indias, on the last day of the Hay Festival Every year he takes to the streets of the tourist and colonial jewel of Colombia.
"I am happy to be in the black Cartagena", was the first thing he said when he arrived at the Nelson Mandela, a neighborhood that was born in the 90s from the settlement of displaced people in Colombia, far from the glamor that distinguishes the walled city , the historical helmet heritage of the humanity. On the stage, Chimamanda, with a moña of Afro-natural hair, was accompanied by the journalist Mábel Lara, with her brown hair in the air –in the same way that you have presented news in the last year after smoothing them for too long– and the academic Aurora Figueroa, with long silver braids. A postcard of three women claiming their roots in the hairstyle, which, as the Nigerian books teach, has an enormous symbolic weight. And all in a country where the black population, close to 20%, has suffered with special rigor the armed conflict, poverty and inequality.
"Africa is in the DNA of Colombia," he had said amid applause the previous day, during his talk with Mexican journalist and writer Alma Guillermoprieto in a distinctly different setting, the Convention Center on Bahía de las Ánimas, at the event star of this edition of the festival. If in that conversation he put the accent on his books, Nigeria and his experience as an immigrant in the United States, in Nelson Mandela he did it in feminism. "What I want is for the world to be better for men and women, feminism is good for both," he said.
Chimamanda, one of the beacons of the movement since he popularized his essays We should all be feminists Y Dear Ijeawele. How to educate in feminism, It has been from beginning to end one of the stars of the literary party in his first visit to Colombia. His prestige is based on his acclaimed novels The purple flower, Half yellow sun Y Americanah, but the fame that precedes it is also due to one of his talks TED turned into a book, The danger of the unique history (2009), in which he warns about stereotypes, the topics with which Africa is usually pigeonholed, but also Latin America. By relating his particular circumstances, he has achieved a universal script.
"I am increasingly interested in the African diaspora, especially outside the United States. I know the African-American history, but not that of black Latin America, "Chimamanda explained in conversation with EL PAÍS. "People's concerns about social issues always depend on the context," he clarified about his presence in Cartagena, where he was received as a true celebrity, but "the place matters, and matters even more to recognize that although we all have problems, the way they manifest is different. "
The echoes of his messages have been felt at moments when Colombia seeks to turn the page of the armed conflict. Within the framework of the festival, an edition of The danger of the unique history sponsored by the Truth Commission that emerged from the peace agreement with the FARC. "What Chimamanda has written and said moves for the integrity of his being. Of who in itself affirms and protects the equal and extraordinary dignity of all human beings, "wrote in his introduction the Jesuit priest Francisco de Roux, president of the commission.
The hair revolution
"Try not to associate hair and pain. I remember my childhood and the times I cried while they braided my long and bushy hair, "Chimamanda writes in one of her advice to a friend in Dear Ijeawele. How to educate in feminism. The experience of combing can be quite a torture for many afrodescendant women, because for a long time the best way they found to avoid discrimination in different places was to wear straight hair, with extensions and dyes.
In Americanah, Ifemelu, the protagonist, is also told through her hair. From the decision to let him grow to natural, without chemical smoothing, by letting him braid it in a specialized salon where African immigrant women work in the United States. It is in the North American country where she discovers what it means to be black, because that is where she learns that the color of her skin defines how they see her. But it is also there that he accepts and assumes the heritage of his roots, with pride. And that pride also goes through her hair, not accepting that her beauty is defined by white and western standards.
"Hair may seem inconsequential, but in reality it is not," explains Chimamanda. "As black women, when we grow up reading fashion magazines with white women on the cover, we get to know everything about white women's hair, but those magazines do not tell you what to do when your hair is frizzy."
For some years now, in Colombia and in many places the new generations have rebelled and claim the curls, turbans and braids. "For many black women, it's almost a revolution to finally talk about their own hair, and their own hair-related issues," says the author. Americanah. A welcome form of resistance.