By the time I was three years old, I knew that I had "bad hair". That was when my mother first tried to chemically straighten it. It fell out in clumps.

It is a tradition in my family. The women have always been obsessed with hair. They learned this from their mothers, who learned it from their mothers and on it went—sometimes skipping a generation until someone was lucky enough to be born with "good hair" or pelo lacio as they called it: straight hair.

By the time I was three I knew I had "bad hair" When my hair grew back Mami started sending me to hair dressers: Dominican women who, like us, had been trained to murder every curl at conception. Instead of playing outside, I spent hours as a kid under a hard helmet-shaped hair dryer, propped up on phone books, crying when the heat burned my ears. According to my mother and the three hair dressers who worked on my lengthy hair, I was not allowed to move. I was too afraid to move anyway, afraid that alien-looking contraption would suck off my entire head.

Though I begged otherwise, my mother routinely refused to cut my waist length-hair.

"Why not, Mami?"

"Las mujeres tienen el pelo largo (Women have long hair)," she responded in a no-nonsense voice that left no room for questions. Defiantly, I gave all my Barbie dolls mohawks and pageboy haircuts.

When I was twelve years old, Mami still brushed my hair. When I tried to do it myself, my classmates teased me mercilessly about not knowing how to comb my hair. I didn't. It was so long and unruly, I was racked with exhaustion when I finally returned to my mother, with a brush in hand—the kind she used to slap me in the back of the head when she found too many knots in my hair. (And there were always knots.)

In high school, as soon as my five a.m. alarm went off I worked for hours on my hair. I was as obsessed as my foremothers. I poured gel in it, molding it into a stiff helmet. I moussed it, but was terrified at the resulting volume. I used products imported directly from the Dominican Republic for "difficult" hair. And when I ran out of gel one day, I used Vaseline. It was sure smooth! But the Vaseline took weeks to wash out.

One day at school (after a recent trip to the salon) my crush, Pedro, sprayed my head with his Super Soaker water gun. While I screamed, he laughed and ran away. The hair on my head began to rise, attempted to curl and finally frizzed in every direction. I wish I could say it looked like Ronald McDonald but it was more Bride of Frankenstein.

I cried all the way home but I decided I wasn't going to take it anymore. I hated running for cover during rain showers. I hated the cramps in my arms after hours of blow drying. I hated that smell of "wet dog" that wafted out of the shower whenever I washed my hair every other week. I hated my pseudo-straight hair!

I decided I wasn't going to take it anymore And boy, did I rebel or what? Nobody recognized me under my flowing, luxurious, albeit triangle-shaped mass of tight curls. My mother wouldn't look at it or talk about it. My grandmother, the former hair stylist, told me she hated it. My aunt gave me the same look she had when my mother cut bangs into my hair that made me look like a rooster. I did alright; I hadn't exactly expected familial support.

For my high school graduation, I washed my hair and let it air dry. But it was one of those perilously hot, humid June days in New York City. My hair grew to epic proportions. In all the ensuing photos, I looked swallowed up by my curly black locks.

Horrified, I cut off my hair. I tried a succession of short hairdos and then buzzed it all off again several times. My aunt said I looked like a cancer patient and no boys were every going to date me looking like that. I rolled my eyes at her and tried not to think of all the nasty things boys had already likened my hair to in the past.

By twenty-five, now in graduate school, I finally started to grow my hair again. I taught high school English during the day and my Latina students begged me to straighten my hair, their eyes gleaming like my mother's once had. I battled daily to shrug them off.

Then, soon after, I decided to convert to Judaism and I met my future husband, Yehuda, at a party in Washington Heights—my hometown, which is most notable to me for having a Dominican hairstylist at every corner ready to blow any curls away. We became friends despite the fact that he couldn't stop staring at my head.

"Do you think it's... ugly?" I asked him carefully, with big, doe eyes.

His eyes grew large. "Are you kidding me? I love it!"

He watched me fondle it and scrunch it up, and he prayed for damp days when he could track its hourly growth. He refused to let me cut my hair. His obsession with it bordered on idol worship. (But nothing as serious as the Golden Calf, I promise, since he was, after all, a rabbinical student.)

I really let my hair grow this time. It even gave me trouble on the day I went to the mikvah. It refused to lie down underneath the water dunk after dunk after dunk. Too big? It refused to grow longer. It only grew bigger. Taller. Bolder. But never longer. My stunned hairstylist was a little speechless.

"I just want a trim," I told him. "I want it to be like the sun. Like rays sticking out everywhere! Big!"

"Thank G‑d!" he said when he recovered his voice. "They all come in here begging me to straighten it!" Ironically, he was a Spaniard. Maybe Spaniards didn't hate curly hair? He snipped my hair lovingly for the next two hours until it was much bigger and lovelier than before.

I really let it grow this time When Yehuda saw my hair, he didn't know what had hit him! Bam! His blue eyes sparkled like sapphires. Yeah, it was a totally cheesy moment as a toothy grin broke over his lips and his cheeks burned a deep pink hue.

Of course I said "yes" when he proposed the same day, my best hair day ever. It wasn't like I had to think about it. Where else was I going to find a nice Jewish boy who really loved me... and my hair?

My Latina students helped me prepare for the wedding.

"Misssssss, aren't you gonna get your hair done?" they whined. I shook my head and their jaws dropped in disbelief. "Miss, you are so crazy." I just smiled knowingly. It probably wouldn't have been wise to mention I was also going to do my own makeup.

At the bedeken (the ceremony where the groom places a veil on the bride), the rabbi asked me to write down a blessing for my husband. But only one thing came to mind. It was embarrassing but I figured only my husband would ever read it, right?

Hours later, under the chuppah, the rabbi asked me to read the blessing aloud. Gulp. I took a deep breath and opened the little note I had written earlier. The crowd quieted down as the microphone was thrust at my red face. I hesitated before I spoke, staring out at the crowd which had swarmed around the chupah at my husband's request.

"I wish you beautiful, curly-haired babies!" I said.

The crowd roared with amusement.

In mere seconds, I had broken with centuries of family tradition. Things were going to be different for me than they had been for my mother and my grandmother before her. And it was all my husband's fault. He was a bad influence.

You see, it was my husband who had finally taught me to love my hair.