CLARIN

Buenos Aires Postcard: Why Dominican Barbers Conquer The World

Their close cuts, unusual trims and friendly demeanor have made Dominican barbers a hit in the Argentine capital, after making their name in the U.S. and Europe.

Imperio Flow barbershop in Palermo, Buenos Aires
Imperio Flow barbershop in Palermo, Buenos Aires
Nahuel Gallotta

BUENOS AIRES — The Dominican barber is like the Peruvian chef or Buenos Aires tango dancer: He can work anywhere. If they are so sharp, it's because they have plenty to keep them busy: People back home in the Dominican Republic go to the barber or hair salon every week, or even twice a week.

Historically, they have preferred to set up shop in the United States, then Europe, where Latino communities have thrived. In recent years they have also moved south, through the Americas. They began arriving in Buenos Aires a decade ago, as well as in cities in Peru, Chile and Uruguay. Their first shops were in the Constitución neighborhood of the Argentine capital, though they were soon expanding across the city and its suburbs, establishing their very particular style of shops. Displaying the Dominican flag, these are more American-style "barber shops' than the European-style parlors typical in Buenos Aires.

"Argentine barbers are very good with scissors, but we're the best with clippers," says Andrade, the owner of Imperio Flow, which now has four shops in the capital. He opened his first shop in the Balvanera district, before opening others in Palermo, Belgrano and Villa del Parque, reflecting the pattern of Dominican expansion in the city. "Even though there are more and more barber shops, there's still work for everyone."

The Argentine market used to be just a "stopover" for Dominicans, saving money before moving on to North America and Europe. Now they are settling down, especially given the economic stagnation in some European countries.

Each business typically has three or more barbers able to cut and trim hair and beards, and sometimes also girls to braid hair or do manicure and pedicure, which Dominican men like. Big television screens blare out reggaeton or Caribbean hit songs, always at full volume.

People back home in the Dominican Republic go to the barber or hair salon every week, or even twice a week.

Wander Sosa, aged 24, says his best birthday present, at 13, was when his stepfather let him work one of the seats at his barbershop in Dominican capital of Santo Domingo. His first customers were shoeshine boys his own age, with whom he bartered services without charging. He practiced on them on friendly terms for a year. Now working at Imperial Flow in the Belgrano district, he says Dominicans really begin learning this craft much earlier, "looking on as a child."

After six years working with his stepfather, Wander followed the example of other relatives and migrated to Buenos Aires. He opened a shop in 2012 in Once, a sector of Balvanera, then another in Wilde, a district south of the city. "Once you try a Dominican barber you won't want to go back to the Argentinian one," he says.

You get used to seeing yourself impeccable.

Sosa says Buenos Aires people have quickly adopted Dominican hair and beard styling, thanks in part to seeing them on soccer stars. Argentine customers are even starting to talk like Dominicans, using terms like "Hi bro" (Hola, hermano) and "blessings' (bendiciones) as they leave.

Carlitos Rodríguez is another Dominican barber, who arrived in Buenos Aires in 2009. He opened a shop in the district of Monserrat, and says his customers were initially compatriots, Colombians or Venezuelans, before Argentines started flocking in. For many, he says, getting a haircut becomes a compulsive need. "You get used to seeing yourself impeccable, and people looking at you another way. Your self-esteem goes up. I have porteños (city residents) coming up to twice a week now ... They like our culture and environment, the way we always receive them with a smile, and the salsa and bachata music we put on is relaxing."

Rossana Jiménez, or Rossy to her customers, does women's hair. She says Dominican women are her most assiduous clients, then Colombians, and "the Argentine woman comes when she has something going on. The Dominican woman comes every week just to do her hair."

"The hairdresser trained in the Dominican Republic is ready to work all over the world," Jiménez declares. "We cut all kinds of hair in my country. That is our advantage." Her little parlor, Sahaloon, also doubles as social club and emporium. Customers eat their own food and watch Mexican soap operas while waiting their turn. She only puts on loud music on weekends.

Recently, she says, her older son opened his first barbershop in the Chacarita neighborhood. They are settling in well, but the dream of all Dominicans is working hard, building some savings and returning to set up shop back home.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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