I feel very privileged to be a woman of color, a Latina, an Afro-Latina, getting to do what I love and what I believe in. I’m very lucky to have found what I love through my own lived experience, something that I can do to change the way things are. I’ve been this activist since I was 13. When I was in Somerville, I was helping to eliminate smoking in public places. So I have been really active in the world, in my community since very young. I always knew I would be doing something that would leave this world a better place than how I found it. But I never imagined that I would be doing what I’m doing now. When I decided to leave my hair natural about six years ago, that changed everything for me.
It all really took off when people were stopping me in the streets, asking me how did I get [my hair] to look like this, or what product did I use. So for me, it was like the people are asking and I’m going to respond. It was the perfect opportunity to do what I love, which is to facilitate women empowerment through hair, to facilitate racial justice through hair in a very fun, a very non-intimidating way. Because I think what happens, too, is that a lot of us go to college, we become “edumacated” and we become a part of the academia, and we go out and we try to teach our people our things the way we were taught in college. But there’s a real dichotomy in the situation. We think because we’re “woke” and all of a sudden proud to be black, that we’re going to go to the next person and be like, “You need to be proud to be black.” That’s not the way you do it. It doesn’t work that way.
A lot of people think that my hair salon, Miss Rizos, is diluted commercial activism. And it’s not; it’s just I speak the language of the people, and I’m able to sort of lead people into this space that’s safe for them to express themselves and then we talk about blackness, and then we talk about the heavy issues. That’s how people will also go through their own process of finding their self love, their blackness through their own hair. Because once you recognize and love your kinks and curls, you’re going to look in the mirror and go: “I have a wide nose and it’s cute. My skin is dark, I don’t need to stay out of the sun on purpose to not get darker. My hips are a little wider than the next, but that’s beautiful too.” So you start with your hair. That’s the beginning of the journey for a lot of us. You start then falling in love with every [other] aspect of yourself.
I posted something on Facebook from Miss Rizos not too long ago. It’s like a really beautiful interactive community on there. And I always post selections on whatever I’m going through or what’s on my mind. I never post because I think it’s going to get a lot of likes or shares, or anything like that. I just post. And whatever happens, happens. So I posted this reflection about how I was sick and tired of my family calling certain people “cara fina” and telling me that I should marry someone with “cara fina” to fix my family. I was sick and tired of people telling me that I shouldn’t marry the “other” person so I wouldn’t ruin the family. I wrote that, and I tied in how I realized that I love my round nose, my round face, my cheeks that are pudgy or whatever you want to call it. And I’m like I love that about myself. And then I talked very briefly about plastic surgery and how you can’t plastic surgery the soul. You can’t plastic surgery the insecurities. When a lot of people go through [plastic surgery], they think they’re going to fix this hole. I touch upon those three things in particular, and it got more than 130 comments of women saying, “I feel ugly,” “I feel this…” Like people just opening themselves completely and recognizing and being vulnerable and saying how they’re feeling or how they also felt like me. And I think that’s really beautiful because we live in a society that wants you to be perfect all the time. “I’m perfect. I’m so empowered, and I am so okay.” And it’s like no. We’re in secure, it’s okay. So I feel very lucky to be able to have that kind of community.
What I do can be very tough. It’s a lot of work. It’s overwhelming. I’m currently trying to figure out how do I balance everything in a way that I’m doing enough self care that I’m not losing myself inside of this movement that is so important for so many people. But sh*t, I want to live too. I want to live a nice life.
The more I travel between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, the more I don’t identify with the way things are happening here. I think wow, “I feel like such an outsider.” Man, it’s hard out here for black people, and it’s hard out here for black Latinos. And it’s hard out here for a Spanish-speaking black, afro’d woman. But what I want to say is, I feel like when I come here I’m a small fish in a very big ocean, whereas when I go to the DR, I feel like a big fish in a small pond, two absolute extremes. I feel that I miss the fact that there’s corruption. And even though there’s a lot of danger for activists in the DR and all these things, I feel empowered with more space for growth and for change. Not just in a activist way, but also in an entrepreneurial way. —Carolina Contreras, Miss Rizos Founder