Tell me about the inspiration behind Diosas al Natural (Natural Goddesses)? How did it all start?
Joaquin: Every time I went to visit New York or Philly, I'd see so many natural women proudly rocking their hair. I also saw the natural hair movement in the U.S. through Tumblr, Facebook etc. and I thought: I wish we could have a movement like that in Puerto Rico.
While on vacation in New York City in 2011, I met up with Kali and she had this gorgeous natural hair. We started talking and I told her about some creative projects I had in mind. One of them was to start a natural hair movement in Puerto Rico.
She asked: "Why don’t you do it?... Let’s do it!” She got me hyped and pushed me to get going. I bought a camera and took photography classes at a University. And Kali had been into photography for years, so that helped get the ball rolling. She moved to Puerto Rico in 2012 and we became partners on the project. In November, we launched the page on Facebook and Tumblr.
Why focus the project on natural hair?
Joaquin: Natural hair is a topic we are passionate about. For me, I've always seen naturally curly/coily hair as beautiful. I especially love the African presence in my culture and my people. There was no major movement/community for women with natural hair in Puerto Rico going yet. So, we decided to create it ourselves. We are not exactly bombarded with images of women with naturally curly-kinky hair in the media or in the community, so it was time to even out the playing field on the island!
What was the atmosphere like during the photo shoots?
Joaquin: Every photo shoot has a different vibe. The women and girls love it. We make them feel comfortable and they exude confidence for the most part. Usually, we try to show the character of the woman we are shooting.
And what kind of impact did you hope the project would have?
Joaquin: We want to inspire women on the island and throughout the Americas to feel proud of their hair and their roots. There is a term called “pelo malo,” which translates to “bad hair.” That term is used commonly when referring to curly/kinky textured hair. It represents an ugly perspective and history. We don’t want young girls growing up thinking they were born with something “bad.”
We also want to give encouragement to teenagers and adult women who are faced with society’s pressures and ideals of beauty daily--to keep strong against ignorance and ill-will that they may encounter. Beauty is diverse, it’s important that there are images reflecting all aspects of our heritage and the beauty within it.
How do you think the project influenced perceptions of natural hair in Puerto Rico?
Joaquin: On the island, the natural hair movement is pretty new. So, many women are seeing the beauty and versatility of their hair through the Diosas that we have shown, thus far.
Outside of Puerto Rico, there is a very limited idea of what a Puerto Rican looks like. So, it’s nice to show women on the island a more diverse image of themselves while breaking stereotypes with those who live outside of Puerto Rico.
How was the project received, especially by the natural hair community?
Joaquin: The response has been great! We pass our cards out to natural women we encounter. Seeing the expression on their faces when we hand them the card and explain our purpose makes it all worthwhile. So many Diosas have stories about their experiences with their hair and identity as a whole. It's great to provide a platform for them to share what they’ve been through while encouraging each other. Now, we're getting messages from people who are doing the big chop or transitioning because of our page. And that is pretty dope!
Any new projects around the corner?
Joaquin: We are excited to be planning the first official natural hair meet-up in Puerto Rico--set to take place on Saturday, April 13th.
...Thinking a trip to Puerto Rico is in order...
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