"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

At the sweetness salon, Dominican-American women clashed over the search for straight hair.

When Chabelly Pacheco — a Dominican-American who moved to Long Island at age five — walks into her favorite Dominican salon on Graham Avenue in Brooklyn, it's more like entering a house than a business.

The salon is filled with smoke, hairspray and girls of all ages. Everyone within the room greets her: hairdressers kiss her on each cheeks, while other customers say hello. Daughters sit with their moms with curlers of their hair, feet dangling from their chairs.

For first-generation Dominican women like Pacheco, these salons can function a spot to bond with fellow Dominicans.

“I don't really feel connected to my culture,” said Yuli Collado, a friend of Pacheco's who moved to Long Island from the Dominican Republic when she was three. “When I speak Spanish, I feel powerful… but other than that I don't have much that I can connect to. So going to a Dominican salon is part of my culture. For me, it's one of the only ways There is one that I can identify with.”

Other diasporas have a wider range of cultural public spaces. There are Chinese community centers and Indian music venues, Russian tea rooms and Ghanaian restaurants.

For Dominicans, the salon plays a significant cultural role.

Fascinated by these places – and as a scholar studying women's issues – I desired to see how salons and Dominican beauty regimens affected women's Dominican-American identities.

I discovered that although the Dominican-American women I interviewed spoke warmly of the salons they frequented, Dominican hair culture is way from glamorous. In some ways, it's an expensive, burdensome ritual shrouded in colonial beauty standards – a paradox that young Dominican women grapple with today.

'Hair carries a lady'

As in lots of cultures, Dominican women's beauty standards may be burdensome. Although most Dominicans have curly, textured hair, the culture favors long, straight hair. Curly, curly, or frizzy hair known as “pillow-mallow,” which translates to “bad hair,” and plenty of women feel pressured to treat it.

“I hear my mom say that all the time,” Pacheco said. “'Hair lifts a woman' – that's my family's mantra. If your hair is fine, you're fine.”

Despite the salon's vigorous atmosphere, it's not all fun. It may be expensive, painful and time-consuming.

Sociologist Ginetta Candelario has been found That Dominican women visit the salon more often than another female population within the U.S. and spend as much as 30 percent of their paychecks on beauty regimens.

Many Dominican children don’t know tips on how to style their hair. Their parents force them to straighten up. This was evident at Pacheco's salon, where young girls pulled tight curlers through their hair, complaining that the dryers were burning their scalps.

“You're taught from a young age that you have to have straight hair to be beautiful, to get a job, to have a boyfriend, to be called beautiful by your mother,” Pacheco told me. .

It all stems from the strict hair culture within the Dominican Republic, where young women can actually do it. Be sent home from school or work. If their hair will not be “preferentially” worn. Women with untreated, natural hair also can. Banned from some public and private places..

Although discrimination against curly hair will not be as pronounced in New York, many Dominican-American women told me that they nevertheless feel similar pressures.

There is not any such thing as black.

The Dominican tradition of straight hair has its roots in colonial rule under Spain. It eventually became a way of imitating the upper classes and distinguishing themselves from their Haitian neighbors, who had once occupied their country and Supported the motion for negligence.It was began by black writers to defend and rejoice black cultural identity.

Dominicans consider that Haitians are “black”, while Dominicans – even those of clearly African heritage – fall into other non-black categories.

The technique of differentiation known as “Whitening, which translates to “being white,” and straightening hair is one among the numerous ways Dominicans try to differentiate themselves from Haitians. Actually, though the Dominican Republic It is in fifth place. In countries outside of Africa where the black population is the most important, many black Dominicans don’t consider themselves black.

“[Blackness] It's taboo in the DR,” explained Stephanie Lorenzo, a 25-year-old Dominican-American from the Bronx. “You don't want to be black.”

A 12-year-old girl straightens her hair at a beauty salon in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic.
AP Photo/Manuel Diaz

According to Yesilernis PeñaAccording to a researcher on the Instituto Tecnologico de Santo Domingo who studies race within the Latin Caribbean, six racial categories exist within the Dominican Republic, they usually correspond to at least one's economic class: white, mixed race, olive, Indian, black and black.

during this, A thin elite has consolidated most of the political power.While most of the country's black people – who make up the vast majority of the population – live in extreme poverty. So straightening your hair may be seen as an try and climb the social ladder – or no less than imitate individuals with money and power.

“When people relax or bleach their hair, they do it because they want to be close to people in power,” Dominican salon owner Carolina Contreras told the magazine. Remix In 2015

'But I prefer it straight'

Given the fraught history of hair, it is obvious that Dominican salons, together with beauty procedures, are complex, contradictory spaces.

Pacheco — who grew up in America and loves spending time in salons — is aware that she's also quietly bending beauty norms steeped in racism.

“Obviously it's a construct, and it puts pressure on women and sometimes I feel conflicted about straightening my hair,” she said. “Those roots of colonial oppression are still there. But then I'm like, 'I prefer it straight.'

In research by sociologist Ginetta CandelarioHair Racing: Dominican Beauty Culture and Identity Production“She wonders if beauty can be a means of empowerment, even if it means consuming time and resources, while suppressing one's “blackness.”

Through her extensive research in Dominican salons in New York, Candelario found that ladies could, the truth is, empower themselves through these principles of beauty. By changing their physical appearance, they’ll improve jobs and use their beauty as “symbolic and economic capital”.

But she explains that for this beauty system to be in place in the primary place, it’s mandatory that “there is ugliness somewhere to live, and that somewhere is in other women, usually women defined as black. is done.”

Reimagining beauty, reinventing space

In 2014, Carolina Contreras opened Miss Rezos, a natural hair salon positioned in the center of the colonial city of Santo Domingo, the country's capital.

The 29-year-old Dominican-American wanted her salon to champion “pajón love” (African love), and reimagine what a Dominican salon and Dominican beauty regimen looks like. The salon, which caters to Dominican-Americans, encourages women to wear their African-textured hair with pride.

It was at Contreras' salon where Stephanie Lorenzo decided to do “the big chop” in 2015: She cut off her chemically altered hair, leaving her with a brief afro.

“At the same time, I was becoming more in touch with my African roots as an American woman,” she said.[Cutting my hair] It was a part of recognizing that we were black too.

Back in Brooklyn, the Chabelly Pacheco hairdresser said that in her 30 years working in salons within the Dominican Republic, Haiti and New York, she's noticed more women asking for natural hair treatments. In fact, many older Dominican women are actually starting to alter the best way they appear at their hair. Carolina Contreras' mother told me that she decided to go natural to do what God envisioned for her.

Contreras, nonetheless, is quick to notice that the natural hair movement will not be meant to shame women who decide to straighten their hair. Instead, it's nearly accepting, appreciating and celebrating textured hair.

Perhaps by embracing all various kinds of hair, salons — which bring Dominican women closer to their culture and one another — also can bring Dominican women closer to their natural selves.