Sunday, June 21, 2009

Belleza Project

While surfing the internet I came across a dope article (which happen to be written by one of my gal cousins) about Dominican women and there obsession with "pelo malo and pelo bueno" an obsession which roots from the constant denial of african heritage within the Dominican Culture. My cousin who wrote the article has started a project named "Belleza project" which is a collection of photgraphs which capture the issue at hand
*Check her out*


As long as I can remember, trying to figure out the best way to manage my puffy, tangled hair was always a task for both my mother and I. We would visit hair salons often to try the latest techniques, treatments, or hair-dos to help tame my puff. From avocado to mayonnaise to leave-in conditioners, there was always a new magic potion that would outdo the last. My relatives would point out that my hair was a mix of both “pelo malo” and “pelo bueno.” The “pelo malo” or “bad hair”, as they say, came from my father’s super tight curls and the “pelo bueno” or “good hair” came from my mother’s flat, straight mane.
My father, a black Dominican, and mother, a white Dominican, proudly raised their children to appreciate their Dominican culture. However, that did not include a conscious and open embracing of our obvious African heritage. Not that being proud of my African decent was ever discouraged or purposely concealed, it was just never discussed. I was Dominican and there was no need to understand the color of my skin or the texture of my hair. Although it was evident that my skin was dark and my hair extra thick and curly, race was never an issue as a child.
Today, as a conscious black Dominican woman, I have done away with chemically treating my hair. Still, I continue to deal with racial comments that my hair alone generates. Choosing to wear my hair natural stirs many mixed feelings and reactions from my family and community both in the United States and in the Dominican Republic. I have walked through the neighborhoods of Washington Heights, one of New York City’s predominantly Dominican communities, only to receive insults and negative looks.
During the spring of 2005, I stayed in the town of Herrera, Dominican Republic. I noticed that, like in Washington Heights, my natural hair made people uneasy. Men would call me names like, “pajona” or “leona” and the women would give me looks of dissaproval as if walking out of my house with my hair in this way was a big “no-no.” I would have random people come up to me and suggest I visit “So-n-So’s” salon to chemically relax my hair. “She’ll do wonders with that pajon!” they would tell me.
Dominican-owned hair salons are like magical places for anyone who is seeking to transform their wooly hair into silky manes. If they’re lucky, they’ll have someone in their family who has a talent for working the blow dryer or does wonders with the “plancha” which will save them about $45 a week. If not, their weekly appointment at “Salon Yokasta” or “Vilmania Hair Salon” is as religious as going to church every Sunday.
I spent the last three years visiting Dominican beauty salons and barbershops in New York’s Washington Heights and in the Dominican Republic. I have spent this time documenting men, women and children of all ages as they metamorphosis themselves with hair-straightening tools, chemicals, fades, and braids. These beauty-altering institutions are my main subjects in my body of work because of the role they’ve played in helping me discover issues with perceived beauty and identity. I am fascinated by the power hair has in expressing, celebrating and, simultaneously, erasing ones heritage.
I encourage everyone to view my work with an openness and willingness to look a little deeper into what we think is beautiful and ask ourselves, “How will we ever learn to love and accept each other when we fail to accept and love ourselves?”
-(Jasmin ortiz)


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