Identity Rebirth: Interview with Diosas al Natural

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diosas-MEDIUM1Diosas al Natural works to grow the natural hair movement in Puerto Rico. This interview is a companion piece to my “How I Joined the Curly Hair Movement.”

“Between ‘unlearning’ negative thoughts instilled in us through the media and our environment, to dealing with the reactions of family, peers in school or at work, and even strangers in the street, it can be an up & down journey.“

How did Diosas al Natural get started?

The idea of Diosas came up in a conversation that we had when we first met while Joaquin was on vacation in NYC. Joaquin knew that I was a natural hair enthusiast, and told me about his vision to bring the natural hair movement to Puerto Rico. His main goal was to help empower and encourage women on the island to rock their natural hair despite the stigma that comes with it. He had been inspired by the abundance of women with natural hair in New York, and thought it would be a “good look” on the island. I told him that if he didn’t make it happen I would and we decided to work together! We decided to start it off with a photo project, as we both have a love for photography, and we agreed that it would be a cool and different approach to empower and combat the status quo in the media by showcasing images of natural women from Puerto Rico and throughout Latin America. Seeing images of yourself is very important. And throughout the media, it goes without saying, you see a homogenous idea of what is considered beautiful, but that is changing now.

Diosas AnniWhy do you believe the curly hair movement is important? Also, why is it important forLatina/os of color?

The curly hair movement is important for many reasons. Communities are created to support one another, share information, and empower. The Natural Hair movement has done just that, and has organically grown into a cultural revolution world wide. With all that said, it was a top priority for us to bring Puerto Rico into the mix.

The movement is important to Latinos of Color for similar, if not the same reasons that it is important for people of color throughout the Diaspora. While the thought of wearing your natural hair seems so simple, it can be a very emotional process both internally and when dealing with the public. Between “un-learning” negative thoughts instilled in us through the media and our environment, to dealing with the reactions of family, peers in school or at work, and even strangers in the street, it canbe an up and down journey. Not to mention, many are learning how to work with their texture for the first time, which can sometimes be frustrating until you figure it out. The community help gives you that confidence and the information needed to learn and love your hair, if you are willing to take that step.

Many are familiar with the terms “pelo malo,” or talk of covering your “raices” by getting a relaxer. Whether it’s a loved one ora stranger, it still hurts when someone has something negative to say about your hair, or your appearance in general. Ifyou have a certain texture you have to cover your raices and get a relaxer. It’s very important for the reason of creating a community to share information of sisterhood, bonding and even brotherhood as there are men who support us as well.  It’s important for Latina/o’s of color to be included in that dialogue. It can be intense, it can be enlightening, it can be emotional, it can be all of the above. There are so many different experiences for different women with natural hair. The most important part is that women, girls, and even men are encouraged to believe that there is nothing wrong with how our hair grows out of our heads. We must learn to embrace it, love it, learn how to care for it, and work to transform the idea of what “beauty” truly is.

Diosas PR Gran Corte

Have you received any discrimination (or know of any), toward women or men wearing their hair naturally?

After creating Diosas, of course. Every now and then we get a few comments from people who have very negative things to say about natural hair, what we’re doing, etc., but that is even more the reason why we keep the movement going. We also hear stories of women getting hurtful statements from family, friends and people who they encounter. Most notably we’ve gotten a few from people who have had issues at the workplace with management requiring ”non-textured” hairstyles. The beauty of it all, is that many of the women are taking control of their image and their sentiments towards it, and are owning it. Once you get to that point, no one can stop you.

In Puerto Rico, when did the movement take off, or has it always been around, but has greater reach now?

I will humbly state that the movement took off in November of 2012 when we launched the page (wink, wink). But of course, there were women here rocking their natural textures before then.  We came along to bring everyone together as a collective and encourage the movement to grow here on the island, as well as show the world that Puerto Rico ‘Naturals’ are representing!

What type of feedback have you received from the community?

The feedback has been great! The word is spreading like wildfire. We hosted the 1st Natural Hair Meet-Up in Puerto Rico back in April, and meeting everyone who has been inspired by the page was a great experience. Not to mention, so many of the attendees were on cloud nine from the positive energy and sisterhood that was taking place at the event. People were sharing tips, taking pictures, meeting new Diosas, and even the support we got from a lot of men who recruited their curly lady friends to the page was amazing. We are working on the next big event to take place before the end of the year. Time to bring the Diosas together again.

Does Diosas al Natural have any ties to the U.S.?

Oh, yes! Kali is from New York, and we got a lot of love from “Diosas” from the U.S.! Of course, much of our inspiration also comes from the movement that really took off in the U.S. We are working to continue spreading the movement throughout Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and Latin America. It’s beautiful how big the Community has gotten. We’re global!

We have also been working with Juan Carlos Coates, a photographer based in NYC, to capture some of our natural supporters in the Big Apple. That collaboration has resulted in some beautiful images, thus far.

Who organizes Diosas al Natural? Also, tell me a bit about your background.

Kali Blocker and Joaquin Medina are the creators of the movement. We both do the photography. I edit the videos, and he edits the photos. We share responsibility for running the page, event planning, etc. We are working on some merchandise for the Diosas, as well as a few events, one coming before the end of the year.

Kali:  I split my time between fitness, natural hair and cultural events. I’m a personal trainer and have had my hand in the natural hair world for about 10 years. I do photography, v-logging and event planning. I graduated from Hofstra University, where I studied International Business with a concentration in Spanish. I’m originally from Queens, New York, raised throughout the East Coast. I currently reside in Puerto Rico.

Joaquin: I was born and raised in Humacao, Puerto Rico. I have a bachelors degree in Business Administration. I do administrative work by day and I am a photographer with a special interest in Afro-Caribbean culture, hip-hop, and sports.Diosas Tank

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