There’s a ritual I go through when I get dressed in the morning, I haven’t planned my outfit the night before, and have hit the snooze button one too many times to allow for even last-minute planning. Not this, maybe that, I think as I put things on and take them off in a rush, staring at myself in the mirror thinking, how do I want to express myself today?
I always end up wearing a variation of my favorite items, and lately that includes finishing my look with a pair of gold hoop earrings; whether the dainty pair my mom gave me before I left Puerto Rico, or the chunky, gold pair I keep seeing on my Instagram feed. If you’d met me a few years ago, however, you would’ve never seen me in gold hoop earrings (mostly because I had a self-ascribed allergy to jewelry and lived in fear of my earlobes falling off, but that’s another story). As a Puerto Rican who was born in the States but grew up in Puerto Rico, there was a certain way I perceived women who wore gold hoop earrings, influenced by everything from school to the media. I had to unlearn and deconstruct these feelings.
I got my first pair of gold hoop earrings before I can even remember. As is the tradition in Puerto Rico, my ears were pierced as soon as I was born, and I was given a pair of gold hoops, a pair of gold studs and a dainty gold bracelet. Every time I wore them I felt safe, like I was home. When I got to middle school, I stopped wearing them because they weren't allowed by my strict Catholic school, who thought them “unprofessional and distracting.” The rules also influenced me into not wearing them when I wasn't at school, because I thought I would be looked down upon. Why would I want to wear something that would make my tanned skin look tanner, my brown eyes look browner, and my thick eyebrows appear thicker? From there on, my ears were always naked and I opted for all those early 2000s charm and jelly bracelets. I distanced myself from them because I was too busy ‘‘mirando pa’rriba” ― looking to American culture as the most important thing, thinking of it as better than the things I knew and loved that were uniquely Puerto Rican. The writer Frantz Fanon studied this behavior and named it, the so-called dependency complex of the colonized, but I like to keep it simple and call it ignorance.
The gold hoop earring has been a powerful symbol in numerous cultures throughout history. Both men and women have been adorning their bodies with jewelry since the earliest days of civilization. The oldest earrings archeologists have discovered belong to Sumerian women who lived in 2500 BC, and favored the now classic, gold hoop style.
In 1500 BC Egypt, even cats — that most sacred animal — were adorned with gold hoop earrings. Julius Caesar turned earrings into a status symbol during his reign over Rome. During the golden age of piracy in the years between 1650 and 1730, pirates were known to wear earrings in order to secure a proper burial, should they drown and their bodies wash ashore. In 19th century Japan, it was tradition for both Ainu men and women to wear brass hoop earrings. More recently in the 1980s and 1990s, hoop earrings have been associated with ‘Cholas,’ a subculture that emerged in working class Mexican neighborhoods in Southern California, but they’ve also played an essential part of other working class Latinx, and black communities. The popular saying, “the bigger the hoop, the bigger the hoe,” has been now been reclaimed and changed to “the bigger the hoop the bigger the love.”
“Hoop earrings represent a part of who I am and have always been a common fashion choice amongst the Latina women I grew up with and admired,” says Verky Baldonado, fashion editor-at-large at Latina Magazine, “It is part of the fabric of who we are, [it] transcends fashion trends and generations”
The history of the hoop earring is as long as human history itself. They have never been just a trend, which is why they have become a charged accessory in the cultural appropriation debate. Take the “White girls, take off your hoops!” message that was spray painted at Pitzer College in March 2017, a response to the fact that the fashion industry is claiming this accessory as the newest trend, without realizing that it’s an essential part of many women of color. And without acknowledging the inherent prejudices they face — that they are dressed unprofessionally, that they are “ghetto” — when they are the ones that wear this suddenly “hip” style.
Callia A. Hargrove, Teen Vogue’s social media editor, an African American woman that was born in Queens and raised between upstate New York and Queens, has always seen hoops as an extension of herself. “Communities of color have always embraced [hoop earrings], but with an understanding that outside of the comforts of our communities and families, they are seen differently, in a negative light.” She adds, “knowing that, wearing hoops in those settings almost feels like a form of activism.”
“In life, I navigate through two different worlds — my American world and my Latina world — and my outfits are representative it,” reiterates Baldonado. “When I wear hoops, particularly with designer pieces, I am making a statement that says I don't forget where I come from — an urban Latino hood — and I celebrate it.”
Although my emotions about this accessory waivered, I’m not a confused jibarita anymore. There’s something about moving away from your homeland, that activates a longing, a need to connect with your ancestors. Moving away from my island made me fully embrace the things I loved and were an expression of my identity, and that meant embracing the gold hoop earrings. Now I wear them as a reminder that I can decolonize my self and my mind every morning when I get dressed. Plus, besides pulling my outfits together, I’ve discovered they have an extra, unexpected magic power. Wearing them makes me feel the same way they did when I was young— like I am home.