Sulma Arzu-Brown on How Her Children's Books Teach Girls Confidence and Afro-Latina Pride
“My books are based on my experiences and the world around me,” children’s book author Sulma Arzu-Brown tells People CHICA. “I really like my messages and believe in uplifting our community, specifically the women.” Her latest book, My Hair Comes With Me: Shifting the Paradigm of What Success Looks Like, shows black women in various roles of power and strength. “I have a black female president of the United States,” she says. “I wanted to make sure that our little girls can aspire to be presidents of a free nation. I love the fact that the new Miss Universe from South Africa looks like my president of the United States with her short hair,” she adds, referencing Zozibini Tunzi’s unique look.
The book, which celebrates the diversity, inclusion and self-love, also shows a professor with vitiligo and a black choreographer in a wheelchair, among other career women all wearing their natural hair proudly. “I wanted to showcase that we go beyond hair. Inclusion does exist. My sisters in the Muslim community have beautiful hair under their hijab. Braids and Afros are beautiful, an entrepreneur with her natural curly hair is beautiful,” she says. “I make my TV anchor a woman of color with dreadlocks who is part of the LGBTQ community so we could make people understand that we come as we are, and this is well-groomed and this is what it means to be beautiful. I wanted hair not to be the focus, but for diversity to be the main focus.”
This new story — illustrated by her best friend, Honduran artist Isidra Sabio — is a direct follow-up to her book Pelo Malo No Existe (Bad Hair Does Not Exist), which challenges outdated notions of beauty. “We are now changing the narrative of beauty standards. Social media and the selfie generation have empowered us to embrace every aspect of beauty,” she recognizes.
The self-published author and motivational speaker, who lives in the Bronx, wanted to create books that she and her daughters could relate to. “All of my protagonists will always be women of color. As a Garifuna woman from Honduras and an Afro-Latina — and the mother of two Garifuna Afro-Latina Jamaican girls — it’s important for me to set that precedent for them because we have millions of books out there that are not showcasing me or my daughters as protagonists,” she says.
Arzu-Brown also celebrates the duality of being Afro-Latina. “I embraced it because I feel that connects me to my brothers and sisters in the Afro diaspora. It’s an important term that allows us to love each other and be supportive of each other,” she emphasizes. “Whatever terms can connect us all and create a bond of sisterhood, a cultural bond and admiration for each other, I’m going to embrace.”
Another fun read by Sulma? My Best Friend Likes Boys More Than Me. “That little girl that liked boys more than anything was me,” she says of the inspiration behind the main character of this story. “It shows the story of all my phases and what I used to do. I would daydream in class about boys, I would write them cute notes. I became boy-crazy to the point that my grades went down in high school.” Thankfully, her best friend talked some sense into her and she refocused on her education. “It’s a fun way for parents to have their kids read it and talk about it. It opens up a really nice conversation about relationships and the priorities you should have, and not letting anyone interrupt your progress,” she adds.