Mirror Beauty Cooperative wants to be a safe space for Latinx and LGBTQIA+ workers

After years of discrimination and fear, the trans immigrant women who started Mirror Beauty Cooperative in Queens, N.Y. knew that their top priority was to create a welcoming space for anyone and everyone. The women also wanted the workers to work for themselves, which is where “cooperative” in the name came from. There are no managers or bosses or business partners. 

“I work in my own business. I didn’t need a business partner, this is a collaboration that’s very important,” co-founder Joselyn Mendoza said at a panel hosted by SOMOS and PRISM, the Latinx and LGBTQIA+ resource groups at Verizon Media, respectively. “All of the workers, we all have a voice and we vote. We distribute the work among everyone so the process goes to everyone. It’s not only for some people — that’s why this is collaboration focused, especially on immigrant and undocumented people.” 

Mendoza and her co-founders Lesly Herrera Castillo and Jonahi Rosa hope to build Mirror Beauty Cooperative into an economically independent entity for Latinx and LGBTQIA+ members to feel freedom from discrimination. The beauty world isn’t necessarily all that inclusive to those communities and Mirror Beauty Cooperative wants to change that.

At the panel, Mendoza and Geraldine Monroy Mercado spoke with Yahoo Lifestyle producer Nurys Castillo about the progress Mirror Beauty Cooperative has made and, of course, couldn’t help but spill some beauty tips.

Credit: Verizon Media

“I like that when my clients leave the salon, they leave liking themselves,” Mercado said. “Everything we would go through to get where we are makes us better people.”

“We are here to help,” Mendoza explained. “That’s what we need, an opportunity. Right now we need support, to provide community services because there are many people who don’t have a job, who have no documents, they have no benefits. We want to support them and provide free community services.” 

Castillo asked the women about violence against trans communities — particularly in Latin America, where it’s increased — and how that impacts the women personally and professionally.

“We always hear that someone got killed, a neighbor who was raped and dropped at the highway or a woman disappeared for 15 days and they are dropped in a different state,” Mendoza said. “We have to be aware and make people understand that we are not dangerous, [we] don’t represent danger. We want more inclusion. We want to be included into the community because we are like any other person, like any one of you. You have us as your allies.”

For Mercado, there’s absolutely no excuse for the misinformation about transgender people in this day and age — especially when people are holed up in their homes because of quarantine and have access to all sorts of information on their laptops and phones.

“If you don’t understand, you can research. Social media, the internet — we have so many systems for people to use it for important things,” Mercado explained. “It’s not that people don’t know, it’s that they don’t want to learn.”

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, more than one in four transgender people have lost a job because they were transgender, and more than 75 percent of transgender employees polled have experienced some form of workplace discrimination. 

It’s unclear what the ethnicity breakdown of these statistics are, but in an interview with HuffPost, Mendoza said, “White trans women have always had more privilege in every area of employment … Latina trans women always have multiple obstacles in the way.”

Thus, not only is Mirror Beauty Cooperative a safe space for LGBTQIA+ members, but employees also don’t have to worry about being fired or discriminated against over where they come from or how they identify. Unfortunately, Mendoza and Mercado have experienced enough discrimination to last a lifetime as is.

“I’ve been in the beauty industry for over 23 years,” Mercado explained. “I suffered at a young age. I didn’t finish school.”

Mendoza also made the argument that Mirror Beauty Cooperative allows customers to connect and build trust with their trans female hairstylists or makeup artists. 

“It is very important to give this kind of space instances where people understand that we are like any other people, that they can talk to us,” Mendoza said. “When you go to a salon and you trust that person, that person becomes a part of your life.”

Mendoza’s point of trust between the customer and salon employees is an actual psychological fact. Our physical appearances are tied to our emotions and our sense of control, so when we have a bad haircut, we feel awful and embarrassed, even if no one else notices it. That’s why people tend to visit the same stylists and barbers over and over again — there’s an establishment of trust and a relationship. That same psychology is the foundation of a successful beauty business.

Beyond trying to create a successful business though, the women of Mirror Beauty Cooperative need that support for a greater purpose: to help eliminate the “mistrust” of transgender people. 

“It’s important for us as a community to receive that support,” Mercado said.

While the current pandemic continues, Mercado and Mendoza said the best way to support the cooperative is by following their Facebook page or supporting their GoFundMe. 

Even though the cooperative might not be open, beauty hasn’t stopped during quarantine. 

“It doesn’t matter if you only walk around the house, it is important to remember that we have to first look after our physical health,” Mercado said. “We have to follow the instructions. We’re living a new kind of life where we have to look after each other.” 

For stressed out, hectic days, the ladies recommend taking a warm bath — not too hot — and sprinkling leaves or relaxing essential oils in the water. For a DIY, mini facial, try rinsing with rice water or hold potato slices up to your face. If it sounds weird, just know that the folks at Mirror Beauty Cooperative doesn’t like to use chemicals or harsh products on either the hair or the skin, so they are familiar with these natural alternatives.

Even when it comes to applying makeup, the women are gentle. Mercado gave a mini tutorial on Mendoza, explaining that people don’t have to “paint” their face with makeup. Soft makeup application and “highlighting the expressions” can do wonders for any face type.

For those wading into the beauty waters for the first time, Mercado advises to stay away from trends and instead “get to know your skin.” 

“You’ll learn from mistakes,” she said. “Learn your face and then you will understand that you don’t need so much.” 

Even amid the pandemic, Mirror Beauty Cooperative is working towards establishing themselves as a mouthpiece for their community. That’s why their final advice for the panel attendees was all about reflecting, staying healthy and, most importantly, advocating for change.

“To be healthy and independent is a great advantage,” Mercado said. “We have to feel better about ourselves. Treat ourselves, love ourselves — two very important things.”

“The pandemic’s affected all of us and we all want to go out to talk to people [and] work,” Mendoza agreed.

“Let’s hope this translates into an evolution,” Mercado continued. “I’m a very positive person, we’re all sad, we all have needs. We are all living very difficult times, but that’s the advantage of being a human being. We think and we can apply the positive thinking to make the best out of ourselves so this is not a waste of time.”

You can support Mirror Beauty Cooperative here. Check out this In The Know interview with deaf, transgender model Chella Man, where he shares how to be a better ally for people with disabilities.

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