Elizabeth Veloz, a graphic designer who always wore her hair natural, said the human resources director of her former company criticized her hair shortly before she was fired.
“He told me that curly hair is not proper hair, that it’s beach hair,” she said. “But the worst part is that he’s black, like me, and he cuts his hair really short because it’s kinky.”
Not everyone sees the hair issue in racial terms.
Hair stylist Yoly Reyes said she’s been relaxing her hair since she was 15.
“I am black and that will not change if I straighten my hair. But I think I look prettier with straight hair,” she said. “When have you ever seen (President Barack) Obama’s wife with kinky hair? I don’t think she straightens it to stop being black.”
Women in the Dominican Republic spend an estimated 12 percent of their household budgets on hair salons and treatments, according to “Good Hair, Bad Hair,” which included an economic and anthropological study of Dominican beauty salons.
Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who oversaw the killing of some 17,000 Haitians in 1937 in an effort to expel them from the Dominican Republic, was himself a mulatto who used makeup to make his face lighter.
Trujillo was the first to include the term “Indio” in official documents, said historian Emilio Cordero Michel.
Yet U.N. officials noted in a 2013 report that “Indian” identifiers don’t accurately reflect the country’s ethnicity and expressed concern about the country’s denial of racism. The government’s migration director, Jose Ricardo Taveras, has repeated such denials, insisting any racism is isolated.
It’s a claim that many reject, including Desiree del Rosario, coordinator of the Center for Gender Studies who runs the technological institute’s teacher training program.
Del Rosario said the country’s racism was tied to its troubled relationship with neighboring Haiti, where the population is darker-complexioned and where African culture holds a prominent place in society. Del Rosario summed up the common Dominican mentality as “The Haitians are black, and we, white.”
For Bautista and Morel, however, change is coming one child at a time. After one typically spirited, even goofy show, a dark-complexioned boy with his hair shaved close to his scalp approached Morel.
“I want to be part of your group,” the boy told the two women. “I want to be an Afro-descendent.”