Don’t mess with my suegra’s hair appointment
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There are two weekly appointments that my mother-in-law holds sacred. The first, of course, is her Sunday mornings at the church. Don’t ask for a babysitter Sundays unless it’s after 2 p.m. The second is her Friday morning trip to the beauty shop.
Well, beauty shop is a pretty generous term for where my mother-in–law gets her hair blown out and curled every week. It’s actually the home of Maria, a Dominican friend who converted one of the three bedrooms in her house into a hive for women in need of a blow dry, a relaxer, a die job, or a trim.
Much is said about Dominican women and their addiction to hair care: that the obsession with straight hair is part of a cultural negation of their African roots, the collective rejection of natural hair is part of the Eurocentric beauty standards that have been imposed upon an island population that is at least 90 percent of mixed race. My mother-in-law, whose been getting her hair straightened since she was 12, doesn’t care for theories.
“People who have straight hair want curls, people who have curls want straight hair. Nadie esta conforme,” she says.
The preference for the salon touch is not exclusive to Dominican women: Recall the episode of Oprah where a financial advisor was putting cash strapped, debt-laden Americans through an economic boot camp of sorts. The African-American woman with almost 100k in debt who had to explain to her advisor (a very baffled white lady) in very clear terms that she would reject any budget that did not include funds for hair maintenance reminded me of when my mother-in-law told me of a job that she passed up in Puerto Rico because they expected her to work a half-day on Saturdays. “When am I supposed to get my hair done?” she queried.
Dominican salon culture was explored in depth in the 2008 documentary “Pelo Bueno, Pelo Malo”, not only to investigate the reasons why Dominican women have such a proclivity for their appointments at the beauty salons, but also to understand why women from even the lowest socio-economic classes budget hair care into their humble economies.
The film’s producer, Spaniard Miguel Parra explained in an interview with EFE that it was that dedication to hair care, even amongst women who can least afford it, that sparked his interest. One woman in the film explains that a woman who doesn’t get her hair done regularly is pitied because it will be assumed that she must not have any money.
My mother-in-law will tell you that she goes to the beauty shop because she doesn’t know how to do her hair herself, that hair care is best left to the professionals. But I am convinced that a hairdo is just one of the things she takes away from her visits with Maria and the rest of her clients. She comes home sometimes with an entire sphere of a Dominican arepa or a bottle of some product that’s just landed from the island. She returns with gossip, stats on which parts of Santo Domingo have become dangerous, info on how the peso is faring against the dollar, and airline ticket prices.
Her $20 wash and dry comes with a nice dose of home. Any budget can accommodate that.
A four-month trip to the Dominican Republic turned into a two-year residence for Amy Reyes, a Michigan native whose Spanish was just good enough to find a bathroom. She fell in love with the culture, the music, the language and later met her husband and moved to Miami, which is about as close to the United States as one can get without leaving Latin America. Amy Reyes is Assistant Editor at Miami.com and writes for the Miami Herald. She has a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Michigan.