Like in many other cultures, Dominican hair standards can be oppressive. The country is filled with people who normally have curly and afro-textured hair – but the culture favors long straight hair. For Dominican-Americans, “the salon” plays a massive cultural role in our upbringing. For many young women, it’s their therapeutic session.
You step into the beauty salon, give your kisses and hugs and while you wait your turn you talk about men, the latest Telenovela, politics and so on. It’s also the place that women go to get their hair done when an “important event” is taking place. These clients you will see at the salon four to six times a year, unlike the faithful every-Saturday-client.
I remember being as young as five and getting my hair done at the salon.We are told ” ay que aguantar para verse Bella” which translates to ” you have to endure to look beautiful.” Growing up my mother made sure to take me to the salon for big events. I wasn’t an “every weekender,” but she was. I was never told by my parents that I had bad hair, in fact, the first time I noticed how beautiful my curls were was on a trip to Disney World. I was nine, and mother styled it with mousse, but even though it was never contextualized or voiced, the action of taking me to the salon for important events rang the message loud and clear “YOU WILL LOOK PRESENTABLE WITH YOUR HAIR STRAIGHT.” The salon experience can be time consuming and pricey. According to Sociologist Ginetta Candelario, Dominican women visit salons the most than other female populations in the U.S. and also found that up to 30 percent of their salaries are spent on beauty regimens.
As I got older, the comments became more consistent. The older women in my family would ask me “when are you getting your hair done?” or “you’re doing your hair for the party right? do it so you can look pretty.” These comments, along with the lack of representation in the media and fashion industry, created a psychological effect to my self-esteem in my teen years. The term “pelo malo”, which means “bad hair”, is used loosely. It’s a term that is associated with puffy, frizzy, curly and kinky hair, and I didn’t want to be associated with that term so I became obsessed with straightening my hair…and damaged it.
The Dominican Republic, May 2017
It had been seven years since my last trip to the Dominican Republic and I was looking forward to absorbing the festive vibes as well as spending time with family. After spending five years transitioning my hair, cutting it short and a consistent hair treatment regime – my hair was looking fabulous.
I was very much aware of the hair culture in the country, which is why I was really excited to collaborate with Sofia Reyes. Sofia has been one of my biggest supporters since the beginning of Hu-Huako. Through collaborations and mentorship, our bond has grown into a “sistership” that Is valued by the both of us.
Sofia had recently taken a position at Miss Rizos Salon, a salon dedicated to treating natural curly hair located in “La Zona Colonial” the “colonial zone” of the capitol, and when I told her I was vacationing in Santo Domingo, we saw it as an opportunity to collaborate. We came up with an amazing concept as I created the pieces, she encouraged two co-workers to climb aboard and we were set.
The location was set in La Zona Colonial,if you ever vacation in the Dominican Republic it’s an area you need to check out. It’s like stepping into a colorful downtown/old city Philadelphia.
We wanted to capture the beauty in the colonial zone while capturing the natural beauty of the models.
The women wore 70s inspired clothing from Hu-huako’s SS17 collection.
Lord knows how much I love my Dominican roots. However, a large number of the country’s population will not appreciate MY roots. My natural hair is viewed as unkempt, unprofessional … not “put together”. It’s important that we showcase all beauty. It’s vital that we challenge social stigmas constructed around the natural-hair community – attached to all communities.
The symbolism throughout the shoot hits home. You experience the colonial city where beauty standards were put in place by a caste system that categorized you by race and mixture. A system put in place by the Spanish in many Latin American countries, that decided ones social class by the whiteness of your skin and features. Integrating this information with what the future could look like – will look like, and combining the love of fashion is powerful storytelling.