Women walking the streets of Washington Heights and the Bronx in New York or Providence in Rhode Island will find a variety of options to take themselves to a real treat: Dominican hair salons.
What is the mystery surrounding the attraction of Latinas as well as Anglo and African-American women to these natural beauty and relationship building sanctuaries?
I have a friend, Carmen, who travels one hour at least once a month to treat her hair at Belkyis Hair Salon and Spa in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is from Chile and has curly long hair; and nobody other than one of Belkyis’ hair stylists –Paola, Yokaira or Sonia –would touch her hair. “They know how to cut my hair and keep the curls manageable,” Carmen said.
I have never been to one of these beauty parlors myself but Dominican salons have gained an excellent reputation for using non-traditional styling methods, natural products and healthy treatments that leave women craving for more. Well, non-traditional here, in the USA!
Dominican salons promote natural products commonly used in their country of origin such as avocado, coconut or almond oils, milk, honey or other vegetable source such as maracuya (passion fruit), rosemary or wheat germ that replace harsh chemical conditioning treatments. Straightening methods are also usually kinder to the hair than flat ironing or chemical relaxers.
Washing, drying and brushing might include huge curlers as part of the scenery, and so might be “wraps” –wrapping your long hair around your head to make it straight, sometimes overnight; all are methods to keep hair beautiful even in the hottest and most humid conditions.
The secret is that Dominicans know hair just because they descend from a mix of races –European, Indigenous, and African– that produces all kinds of hairs –curly, kinky, or textured–and treating those different hairs takes more than technique, it also takes patience and working with the clients until they are happy!
Knowing my friend Carmen, I know she also goes for the social fun of the salon. La “peluquería” o “salón de belleza” is a big part of the culture, where relationships are built, chitchatting is mandatory and bilingualism is optional. At Dominican hair salons, familiarity is part of the service and getting to know a client and her preferences only increases good business. A client is never a one-time deal. If treatment is needed, they are encouraged to come back once the hair has recovered its natural health and energy. Then it is colored, permed or whatever needs to be done.
There are over 3,500 Dominican beauty salons in the New York metropolitan area, while there are increasing numbers in New Jersey, Connecticut and Florida –including South Florida (Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach) and Central Florida (greater Orlando) with one of the largest Dominican populations in the state. Providence, RI boasts the largest Dominican population in the country and beauty salons are also following this ever growing population.
Pelo!Pelo!, by filmmaker Tracy Grant and Ona Diaz-Santin, hair stylist and co-producer, is a new documentary focusing on Dominican hair salons featuring their owners in different parts of the country. The film profiles Dominican immigrant women opening beauty salons, and digs into their stories in the Dominican Republic: why they left their country of origin and what inspired them to open a business once in the USA, defying all economic odds and creating jobs and security for themselves, their families and for the community to which they belong.