My mom has been working in a hair salon since she was fourteen. When she moved to New York City, she knew she could find a job working at a hair salon. In Washington Heights, there is a hair salon on almost every block. Every spot wanted an extra set of hands, so my mom had a lot of places to choose from. She ended up working for Blasina. Blasina had short blonde hair and always had the biggest smile on her face. I’ve known Blasina my entire life, she was always there. I remember when I was younger confusing her for family, I thought she was my third grandmother. My mom always told me she decided to work at Blasina’s hair salon because as soon as she walked in she felt warmth, she felt at home and she knew Blasina cared for her and for me. Over the years, Blasina became our family and so did her kids. Her daughter became my “tia” and her son, my “tio.” By just being at the salon my family grew, and I loved it. I’ve always wondered why Blasina invested so much of her love into my mom and me. This weekend I finally asked her why.
Blasina moved from Santiago, Dominican Republic to New York City when she was twenty three years old. She was recently married and couldn’t wait to leave her small town and start a new life. She knew no English but she was determined to make it work. She had one cousin who was already living in New York, who had agreed to open her home to Blasina and her husband, Jose. When Blasina got here, she was fascinated by all the different people and cultures. The life of someone in the city amazed her compared to the life she led back in Dominican Republic. Everything was so new and she was excited to learn more. Blasina’s first job in New York was cleaning the floor of a hair salon after it closed. She didn’t love the job, but she loved the people. Even though she didn’t really interact with clients, her boss would always offer advice about living in the city and Blasina appreciated that. In the salon, she met her first friends in NYC.
About a year later, Blasina found out she was pregnant. She was beyond excited. Blasina came to New York to start her life, and she was finally getting the chance to do so. She continued working at the salon slowly taking on more serious tasks and eventually becoming a full-fledged hairstylist. Blasina and Jose saved up some money everyday so that they could move into a bigger apartment and continue to expand their family. Although tough at times, Blasina loved her life in the city.
A few years later, Blasina’s boss announced her retirement and that she was selling the salon. Blasina was overcome with sadness knowing that the first place and person that made her feel at home was no longer going to be the same. Jose knew she was sad and told her to use their savings to buy the salon from her boss. At first, Blasina said no. She knew it was risky, especially with her first child on the way. But, Jose reassured her, they were going to make it work. When Blasina bought the salon she promised herself she’d make it a place where young people could find their place in the city, just like she did.
I don’t think my mom ever expected for Blasina to become our family but she did. Every Thanksgiving I look forward to her warm hugs and her home-made sweet potato ice cream that is sometimes just too sweet to handle. Every summer I look forward to her end-of-summer barbecue and making s’mores with her grandkids. And everytime I walk by Blasina’s salon I look forward to the instant smile on my face.
In all the years that I’ve known Blasina I never knew her story but I’m glad that now I do. If there’s one thing I learned from my third grandmother it is that you can always make it work especially when you have the love and affirmation from the people in your life.