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Student Spotlight: Sylviane Greensword

I am a citizen of the world.

I was born in France and raised in Algeria and France by Congolese parents. My Jamaican husband and I have four American children, and each of my four brothers-in-law is from a different country.

I was in college at LSU when I fell in love with the academic approach to African and African American studies, so much so that I stayed there to pursue an MALA with a concentration in AAAS. My project was a literary dissection to compare Richard Wright / blues narratives with contemporary African American / hip hop and gangsta rap narratives.

Logically (or not), I then started to work as a school teacher, first at R.E. Lee High, then at Southern University Laboratory School. I promised myself that I would only work for a year or two, and then return to school to pursue a doctoral program. I stayed at Southern Lab for six years. In 2012, the year I decided to return to school, I joined our very own Louisiana State University Laboratory School, where I also teach foreign language. I had the joy to instruct French and Spanish to students of grades Pre-Kindergarten through 12th over the course of my career as an educator. The excitement over the sight of little minds growing and brains at work is indescribable. The pride felt when carrying a conversation in a “foreign” language. The sense of accomplishment over knowing I helped make this happen. Priceless.

I was quite undecided on my true calling when I was asked, “so what’s your research about?” Then, as part of a service-learning course, I started to observe my community. I looked at my own reflection in the mirror. My braids were old. It was time to replace them. I looked at my daughter. The roots of her braids were loose. It was time for me to re-do her hair. I stepped outside for some fresh air and saw my neighbor. Her hair looked nice. Then my neighbor on my other side greeted me and asked, “who braided your hair?” Embarrassed, I replied, “oh, I did it myself.” She patted her afro. Something was bothering her. “See, I really need someone to braid mine. I don’t have time to polish this afro everyday, I have too much to do!” The cares of being a working mom, taking care of her home. “Well, I answered, my schedule is very hectic but…” And then it dawned on me. My Togolese and Jamaican friends owned hair braiding salons that serviced the black community throughout the city and beyond. I had read about the politics of black hair and I had experienced the socio-economic complexity black hair care as a woman of African descent. I had also worked as a private and salon braider through my years of high-school, college, and grad school. All of a sudden, I felt like Rapunzel in front of her mirror when she realizes she is the lost princess (I had just watched the cartoon with my daughter). That was it!

I started ethnographic research with braiders in Baton Rouge, interviewing and observing immigrant women who use their dexterity as their source of livelihood. My work expanded to include African braiding salons in New York City (Queens), and braiding salons in Jamaica (Ocho Rios, Kitson Town, and Kingston). Participant observation helped deepen my understanding of the salon as a microcosm shaped by gender, racial, and ethnic attachments. My coursework at LSU, especially in cultural anthropology, confirmed that this was the direction for me. I had the privilege of deepening my knowledge of fieldwork methods, and to apply them immediately. I am grateful to the department’s faculty who supports me and (re)directs me so that I can achieve my academic goals, despite my complicated schedule as a “non-traditional” student!