The following quotes have been translated from Spanish to English, and edited for style and readability purposes.
On Tuesday, March 19, Delmis Hichez, a mother and attorney at law in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, received a call from her 11-year-old daughter, Omara Mia Bell Marte, explaining why she was denied access to her regularly scheduled classes at Ciudad Juan Bosch Elementary School.
“That day she walked into school with 90 percent of her hair cut off, it was natural,” Hichez told BET. “When I got to the school, they demanded I cut [Omara’s hair] even more, because the way it was currently styled called too much attention.”
School officials cited “institutional behavior” as reason for why students should refrain from “drawing attention” with their afro-textured hair, as if wearing one’s hair the way it naturally grows from their scalp fails to adhere to the school’s “code of conduct.”
Hichez and her daughter together refused to oblige, which sparked the then director of Gender Equality and Development at the Ministry of Education, Marianela Pinales, to issue a natural hair PSA celebrating Black hair. The flagrantly suspicious firing of Pinales thereafter was followed by a national protest championing afro’d hair and demanding federal legislation ban hair discrimination in both public and private schools around the island.
“The objective of the protest is for my daughter, and therefore all children, to recognize their right to personal integrity, free transit, and to stop discrimination in schools,” Hichez doubled down via email, explaining her daughter’s conscientious decision to protest as well.
“I raised my daughter with strong values. She understood from the beginning what aligning with my position meant, that it is not forbidden for her to wear her hair as it is. She agreed to stand by me and make it public.”
The political climate in the Dominican Republic is one of racial and social inequality and a lack of equal opportunity, to say the least. The Caribbean nation is not only plagued by government corruption, it is, above all, failing its citizens on an educational level, where students like Omara are robbed of academic integrity and quality teaching.
“We score very badly in the PISA studies [Programme for International Student Assessment], with one of the worst educations in Latin America,” Hichez said. “A recent study established that only 12 percent of our students understand what they read, while four percent of the federal budget allocated to education is embezzled.
“Corruption and impunity have the country submerged in abandonment — lack of health, bad education, high unemployment — but nothing is known because the government has bought all the media and have long campaigned against honest journalists,” continued Hichez, referencing the case of Altagracia Salazar, a locally acclaimed journalist who resigned from her position at morning news show Enfoque Matinal because her platform was to be shared with pro-government reporters.
“I want the Dominican government to fight against corruption and to end impunity in the State. Corruption has kept our hospitals in poor conditions. And the quality of education? You’ve already seen what that looks like. They are more concerned with how our children appear on the outside.”
As for the end goal, Hichez aims to fight toward equipping the Dominican youth with the tools that will grant them their human rights or, at the very least, with the knowledge to recognize when they are being treated unjustly:
“I hope that we inspire a social conscience, that the Ministry of Education installs a national campaign against child discrimination, and that the subject of human rights be added to the educational curriculum.”
To support and/or follow the anti-hair discrimination campaign, Hichez is asking that you use hashtags #FreeMyAfro or #CeroDiscriminación (Zero Discrimination) to bring awareness to the cause and what is happening in the Dominican Republic.