Legislators in racially diverse Puerto Rico have opened a public debate on a bill to explicitly prohibit discrimination against hairstyles such as cornrows and Afros, sparking a heated debate.
Local government officials argue the legislation is unnecessary because federal and local laws already ban such discrimination.
But Puerto Rican activists said at a hearing Tuesday that the island’s Afro Caribbean community still faces discrimination and needs explicit protection when it comes to public services, work, education and housing.
“I’m 23 years old, and I’m tired of this problem,” said Julia Llanos Bultrón, a teacher who wears cornrows.
“I’m very disappointed with a system that pushes us to change the hair with which we’re born.”
Llanos said that a school in the northeast town of Fajardo offered her a job last year on condition that she cut her hair because they didn’t allow locks.
Similar incidents were recounted by others who spoke at a crowded public hearing held at San Juan’s seaside Capitol building, noting that the hairstyles in question are culturally important and carry historical significance.
More than 1.6 million people in the US territory of 3.2 million identify as being of two or more races, while nearly 230,000 identify solely as Black, according to the US Census.
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