One of the things I was most excited about experiencing here in the DR was seeing what opportunities would arise. Throughout my trip, I hope to share stories of people I encounter whose stories inspire me. My weekend trip to Santo Domingo introduced me to a couple people I want to do mini-profiles of because of the lovely things they are doing and because of the surprising nature of how they “fell into” their callings by recognizing a space for opportunity. Below is the story of one.
People doing lovely things: Santo Domingo
“¡Hazlo con miedo!” Do it with fear!
Carolina Contreras moved to the D.R. to reconnect with her roots, but without being entirely sure what else would come out of it. Since then, her Miss Rizos Salon for natural hair in the heart of Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial has exploded onto the Dominican beauty scene. There’s a troubling tension here in the DR along the lines of color, race, and ethnicity. One way this is shown is through the ubiquitous “salons de belleza.” Part of my pre-departure orientation explained that long, straight hair and lighter skin is preferred. This is hard for me to understand as I’ve always found the variety of different colors and ethnicities one of the most beautiful parts of human life.
To me, the mezcla – blend or mix – of cultural and ethnic backgrounds is the epitome of gorgeous. Nonetheless, here lighter – really whiter – is better. Some of the African-American students I’ve talked with who are here from the states have complained of discrimination or of being on the receiving end of assumptions that they are Haitian. Such actions are partly why many Dominican women of African heritage have been opposed to natural hair or pajóns (puffy hair, afros). Carolina has been changing this stereotype by first blogging in Spanish about how to care for curly hair, and now by opening her salon. By showing women that natural is beautiful and that there are ways to care for natural hair that go beyond straightening, she’s inspiring many to own their own identity, to dream big, and to go after their dreams.
I got to meet Carolina briefly during our group dinner in Santo Domingo. Her words to the students with us were inspiring and humbling. She told a couple of us afterward that she and her roommate have a saying between them: “Hazlo con miedo” which means do it with fear. In this way they counteract the idea of “no fear” or of waiting until you’re sure of success. She told us that although she didn’t move to the DR with the intention of creating a salon, doing so has been amazing. It’s been the hardest thing she’s ever done, but it’s also been extremely rewarding and completely worth the pain. Taking a step to turn a problem into an opportunity also continues to surprise her by how ready others are to help and promote her work. Talking with her reminded me of one of my favorite Paolo Coehlo books, the Alchemist. Carolina would agree that truly when you are doing the hard work of following your path, the universe comes alongside to help you.
Below I’ll include a link to a New York Times article about Miss Rizos salon as well as a link to her blog. I don’t have a good picture right now, but hope to go back and get one during my time here. Crossing paths with Carolina, however briefly, was encouraging and hope-giving. Who knows what can happen!