A Popular Hair Salon Closes, Dreams are Dashed


Arcelia quietly operated a hair salon for seven years.

The clientele was diverse. She had Mexican and American clients. They liked her work and they were loyal customers.

“There was one client that would come all the time,” Arcelia said. “He was an older American guy, around 75 years old. He said he wanted to try out a haircut with me because he had always thought his head was deformed because of the way his hair had been cut.”

Her skills with a pair of scissors earned her a new client.

“Every month he would come to me after that. And just like him, many other Americans would come to have their hair cut with me.”

Arcelia is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Within the walls of her hair salon, the rancor of the immigration debate didn’t seem to matter. Arcelia and her salon were part of the community. But the passage of HB 56 threatened to destroy her business and shatter her family.

Arcelia’s business permit expired in September. At the end of the month, when provisions of HB 56 took effect, she received a phone call from an official informing her that if she didn’t renew her business permit, she would be fined $10,000. She was warned that if she decided to work without a permit, she could be arrested.

It was Friday. She had until Tuesday, the official told her. When she went to renew her permit, she was asked for an identification from Alabama and her Social Security card. There was no way she could comply.

“I told them I have those things in my car, but then I went out to my car and never went back,” she said. “I left with my self-esteem so low. I was so depressed that they wouldn’t renew my permit.” She decided to close up shop. She couldn’t risk being taken away from her three daughters, all of whom are U.S. citizens.

“I thought [it’s] better to stop working, because who will take care of my girls if someone takes me away?” she said.

It looked as if HB 56 had claimed a small town’s business in the midst of tough economic times. A law that some supporters claimed would stop undocumented immigrants from coming to Alabama to claim benefits they don’t deserve had left Arcelia unemployed.

She cleaned out her shop and locked up the items in a small hutch behind her trailer. Other items sat in her yard. Life was on hold. The hopes and dreams she and her husband had for their family began to crumble. The family had their eyes on a house. They had saved enough money for a down payment and were about to buy it when HB 56 passed. With one of the family’s breadwinners out of work, the money they had saved quickly evaporated.

“Everything fell apart,” she said. “There was nothing more to hope for.”

Arcelia’s clients also missed her.

“My clients keep calling me and calling and asking when I’ll be back to work,” she said. “I did the work to help my family, but I also loved my work. I loved my clients, all of it. This is why it has affected me so much.”

Arcelia was eventually able to return to work. As the legal battle against HB 56 continued to play out in the federal courts, it became possible for her to receive her business license with no fear of arrest.

Arcelia could cut hair again.

But a few things have changed. A new salon moved into the location of her old business during the time she was unable to work. Arcelia opened a new salon in a nearby town.

She said it’s like starting over. When she was out of work, she kept her chairs and some other equipment in her front yard where they were damaged by the weather. It cost her about $4,000 to get new equipment and start over. She also has to find new clients since she’s in a new town.

It’s all part of the lingering effects of HB 56, which turned her life upside down. And there’s always the possibility HB 56 may affect her life in the future.

But for now she’s keeping a positive attitude.

“Sometimes a door gets shut and then another opens,” she said.

Photo and video by Sarah P. Reynolds