After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rican Women Embrace Their Natural, Curly Hair
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
After Hurricane Maria hit, many small business owners had hard decisions to make. Could they afford to rebuild? Was it even worth it?
Now we're going to introduce you to a hard-charging entrepreneur named Laura Om whose decision to keep the doors open helped women reclaim a sense of normalcy, and even pride, in the midst of a disaster.
My colleague Tom Gjelten met Laura Om just a few weeks after Hurricane Maria hit. It had rained hard just the day before, and one of her businesses, a restaurant, which had just been cleaned up from the hurricane, flooded again with agua negra - dirty runoff and backed up sewage. She was unsure if the restaurant would survive, but she was determined not to lose her hair salon.
LAURA OM: Yes, yes, yes. Hair salon will happen even if it has to be in the backyard (laughter). I can't leave the island. I love this place, and my clientele is here. I know it's going to take a while. Well, they're - the ones that stay here - it's going to take a while for them to have the money and the attitude to get their hair done. But I do a very specific work and I wanted to influence the Puerto Rican hairstylists.
MARTIN: That's because Om specializes in styling curly, natural hair, something that Puerto Rican women often go to great lengths and expense to straighten with chemicals and blow dryers. Eight months after the hurricane, it appears that Hurricane Maria - and the subsequent power and water outages - created a new market for Laura Om's skills.
Early on Saturday morning, business at Laura Om's salon on Calle Loiza is booming. And Hurricane Maria, in a roundabout way, has something to do with that.
OM: Now because of not having power, a lot of people had to wear their hair natural because they couldn't blow dry their hair. So they had - a lot of people decided to - I'm not going to deal with this anymore. And I don't know what is going to happen next in Puerto Rico, so I'm going to embrace my curly hair and see what I have because a lot of people didn't know - a lot of my clients didn't know what kind of hair they had.
MARTIN: They didn't even really know what their natural hair looked like?
OM: No, no. Some people get straight hair - like, relaxed - since they're 3 or 5 years old.
MARTIN: Do you feel like there might be a movement for natural hair now because people are realizing that, you know...
OM: More people.
MARTIN: I think it's kind of cute.
OM: Yes (laughter).
MARTIN: I mean...
OM: No. I'm very happy that I can help even - mostly, like, young girls to love themselves the way they are. And it's not always easy. It's harder - a lot of the times, it's harder to wear your hair natural if you have a very curly hair, but we help them to get there. And we are mixed, so we are - you know, we have to embrace that, be happy with that.
MARTIN: Isis Berreal is happy with her curly hair. She's here for a haircut. She's gone naturally curly since the hurricane, which was a big departure from her usual look.
ISIS BERREAL: (Speaking in Spanish).
MARTIN: She says she used to flat iron her hair always.
BERREAL: (Speaking in Spanish).
MARTIN: Berreal is 48 years old, and she says she straightened her hair for three decades. Laura Om says that's a cultural norm that's been reinforced on the island for a long time.
OM: You know, Latinas and Caribbeans, we are educated that if you don't have straight hair, you're not well put together.
MARTIN: That view is starting to change.
OSCAR SEARY: My wife is getting her hair done.
MARTIN: Sitting on a chair next to a wall of hair products, Oscar Seary watches sports on the phone while he waits. Oscar says that before Hurricane Maria, his wife did not embrace her natural hair.
SEARY: No, she had it straight. She's a businesswomen, so that's kind of the style they use. But when we met 24 years ago, she used to have curly hair. So I'm glad she's got her groove back.
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