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.
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, andsays 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.