We examined the diverse ways in which Latinx professionals have built their careers, how they’ve navigated notoriously disruptive roadblocks, and how they’re attempting to dismantle these obstacles for the rest of their communities. In support of first Latino Heritage Month collection – which highlights different creators to reflect joy, self-expression, and cultural nuances – we’ve partnered with the retailer to bring you this special installment featuring activist and entrepreneur Carolina Contreras. Contreras discusses why Afro-Latinas should not be ashamed to have curly hair and why it is important to leave the world a better than it found. Contreras also talks about how Latina entrepreneurs can achieve their dreams without limitations.

Many Afro-Latinas grew up hearing that curly hair was “pelo Malo” (meaning “bad hair”), which would lead your mother or another relative to straighten your hair from an early age. Even though these practices were meant to be helpful, generations of women have become ashamed of their natural hair texture.

According to the Pew Research Center, 24% of U.S. Latinxs identify as Afro-Latinx. Many of these people have faced discrimination from their employers if they wear their natural textured hair.

Carolina Contreras considers this a personal shift. Contreras was born in Dominican Republic, but she was raised in the U.S. She has firsthand experience with “pelo malo”, a culture that is based on the Dominican Republic. When she was seven years old, her mother used to straighten her hair. She continued to do this for 15 years because she was under pressure to conform to traditional beauty standards.

woman with brown curly hair

She was fed up with her straightened hair, and decided to cut it off after one Dominican summer. Other women stopped her on the streets to ask how she managed to do it. Contreras relates that she used to talk to strangers for hours on the streets of Santo Domingo where she was living at the time. “That was what motivated me to start an online platform to educate and motivate these women, and to inspire them to love hair more.”

Her Miss Rizos blog was created in 2011. She turned her Spanish-language blog into a salon three years later. This was based on her experience at her aunt’s salon and learning from curly-hair communities and courses. Contreras is now the CEO of two salons as well as the Miss Rizos Foundation. She continues her amazing social media presence via Instagram and keeps it up on Instagram.

Contreras is a natural-hair advocate and entrepreneur who has helped so many people love their hair and become confident in curly-hair.

Take pride in your curls

It can be hard for those of us who were raised with the “pelo malo” narrative to embrace our natural curls. But Contreras is trying to change how Afro-Latinas see their hair. She says that curly hair has been taught to us for so many years that it isn’t formal, it’s not beautiful and it’s not professional.

This mindset can be reversed by family, friends, coworkers, or employers (for the former, Contreras recommends doing research to determine what legislation protects you from workplace discrimination). Contreras starts at the salon, where she teaches women how to curl their hair and “you’re also teaching your clients that there’s nothing wrong.”

Contreras offers a simple, but powerful script and encourages women to use. “My hair is part of me, and I have the right to do what I want with it. I think it would be unusual for me to have it changed to make it more comfortable. This is the way that I feel most comfortable. So I appreciate your respect for my choice to wear my hair as it is.”

Make the world a better environment

Contreras was a young woman who first loved her curls. The self-discovery that followed and the growth that followed were “contagious.” She says, “I had always intended to have my life’s work revolve around women empowerment and community building. It just came together from my own experiences.”

Today, Contreras uses her platform to educate and support other women. She keeps in mind that she is not only opening doors for herself, but also for others – “to lift and climb as I am climbing.”

She says, “We created a comic that we shared with over 12,000 kids and their parents across the country, highlighting our constitutional rights and encouraging them to wear their hair curled at school.” “Things are changing and I’ve been very lucky that, during my lifetime, I was able to see the effects of the work.”

Think big, but do small things

Contreras states, “Too often we want to begin things in a large way.” “One reason my business has been able stay afloat is because I’ve made bold moves and taken calculated risks.” She’s proud of her slow approach to success. First, she started a blog. Then she began a salon with two chairs. Next, she added four more. Finally, she opened a shop with 11 employees. Contreras says it’s about encouraging women to be cautiously optimistic, even though it may be difficult to get started.

black and silver office rolling chair beside mirror

Contreras states that many Latinas don’t want to start their own business or take a leap in the career ladder because they don’t feel ready. She believes that taking the first step, despite reservations, is an essential part of her philosophy to “dream with no limits,” even though she still struggles with it. She admits that she still gets nervous and has fears and insecurities. “We have been told the lie that you will one day be super confident and without self-doubt. It’s about accepting the fact that fear will always be there.”

Contreras suggests that Latinas not let it paralyze them, but instead focus on doing “whatever it takes to make waves.” If your voice shakes, don’t worry. But, keep speaking. Let your hands shake. But, act. It doesn’t matter what, you just have to do it.

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