This story was printed in the DAWN issue.
Secure your copy here.
While this past presidential election left thousands of people with a bad aftertaste, there is one woman in particular that caught our eye and fascinated us with her story of “empowerment” rather than “victimization”. Sandra Saenz, Mexican-born, citizen of the US and practicing Muslim, tells us her story and how she manages to keep focus while this whole political fiasco targeting Muslims and Mexicans cools down. Is America still the land of the free? Could a covered Muslim woman make it to be the first agency represented makeup artist on the USA? At 8 months pregnant, Sandra tells us her story of how it feels to be a Mexican raised – Dallas-based – practicing Muslim makeup artist working in the beauty industry and trying to be the first covered girl to pave the way for other covered artist in the industry.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND.
Sandra: I’m a Mexican Muslim makeup artist that’s hijabi. A bit complex huh! In less complex terms I’m an M&M! (note: Hijabi = a woman that wears the Islamic head covering, whereas hijab is the veil itself). I call myself an M&M because most people like m&m’s. Sadly, nowadays not everyone likes Muslims or Mexicans (especially down south) but most…if not everyone loves chocolate! So it’s definitely a good conversation starter/ ice breaker. As far as my career, I’ve always contemplated between a career as a plastic surgeon or a painter. I dreamed of a way to bring the best of both worlds together; the ability to improve one’s physical appearance and confidence, but with the ease of painting. Fusing both professions, Is how I found my passion in makeup artistry. So far, it’s been 15 years + since my passion for helping women look and feel more beautiful has grown more than I knew was possible.
HOW DID YOU FIRST LEARN ABOUT MAKE-UP AND HOW TO DO IT?
S: I started playing with makeup at a young age (14 to be exact). Drug store cosmetic markdowns and clearance items were my very first products, along with mom’s lipsticks and lip liners. I taught myself how to do makeup by looking at CD and magazine covers, but mainly by watching TRL’s MTV top 10 music videos. I was totally influenced by 90’s pop singers and alternative rock bands. Women singers looked so powerful and strong back then! There was something about 90’s pop divas that made ME wanna wear makeup and want to put makeup on EVERYONE so we could all feel that same girl power. As far as male grooming, the scruffier and more unkept they looked, the better! Plus a little guy liner was my tip for guys at the time because of Billy Joe Armstrong.
WHEN DID YOUR PROFESSIONAL JOURNEY START?
S: I was 19 years old. Right after I realized cosmetology school didn’t have anything to do with cosmetics, rather everything to do with hair. I attended cosmetology school in Mexico, where I did about 1,500 hours of cosmetology to just get a few (2-3) hours of makeup training! The lack of makeup schools in Mexico made me relocate, once again, to the US where my parents lived (Chicago) at the time. I interned for Estee Lauder for a few years and then enrolled in a makeup school with their help. My teacher at the time was Catherine Zeta-Jones makeup artist (which I thought was pretty cool). After graduating, I worked on several local fashion shows as a makeup artist and later on hosted several beauty segments for the nation’s second-largest Spanish-language network.
WHERE DID YOU MEET YOUR HUSBAND? HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?
S: My family relocated from Chicago to Dallas due to my dad’s work, so instead of venturing into what seemed like a fruitful makeup career about to take off in the windy city, I chose family instead and relocated. Luckily, what seemed like the right thing to do… became the best thing ever! I met my husband a few years after and not only did I meet my best friend, but someone I could share religious views with since I had converted to Islam a year and a half prior to meeting him. While many assume I converted for him, I didn’t even cross paths with him until after I was introduced to Islam through a series of dreams where I “wanted” to become a Muslim, but didn’t quite know how. After dreaming over and over about Islam, I started researching and learning/reading more about the religion and as time went by I started reaching out to other Muslims for answers, until I finally walked into a mosque and looked for guidance. By the way, I met my husband through a charity program through the mosque, lol a bit cheesy.
SO WAS IT LIKE ONE DREAM TO CONVERT OVER?
S: No. At first, dreams were just dreams and I didn’t think much about them. It was not until they started feeling a bit “too real” that I started researching online a few words I had dreamed about (that I never have heard of) but that somehow had similarities to things written in the Quran (Islamic holy book). All in all, It was a series of events that started happening in my life that truly led me to start looking into Islam, what it teaches, what it was about and how it was relevant to me and this dreams. After much search, I embraced all Islam stood for, but most importantly, I started applying its teachings in my life and interaction with others. It is truly a religion of peace and balance! People started noticing and they all agreed I became a better person for the best, even though many had no clue what I was going through, for I kept it a secret at first.
WHAT DO YOU FEEL YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES ARE BY BEING A MUSLIM MAKE-UP ARTIST?
S: There are no challenges because of me being a Muslim make-up artist. However, there is challenges because I am a hijabi one! You see, no one cares if I am a Mexican Muslim, however a ‘hijabi’ Mexican Muslim is where some people can draw the line. Many choose to believe that “their perception” of what Islam or Hijab is, is, in fact, my reality, but it truly isn’t. Media doesn’t help much highlight who and what Muslims stand for, but I definitely can! I choose and love to dress like a practicing Muslim by wearing hijab and keeping it modest because I love when people can physically see what I stand for. I believe it helps or can help break the wrong stereotypes once they meet me and with me it’s all about making that change. I’m all about answering questions and talking about any misconceptions people might have in regards to Islam. Challenges are not mainly about the religion, It’s about people fearing what they don’t know about my religion.
SO WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING MAKE-UP ARTIST OF DIFFERENT CULTURES WHO ARE BREAKING INTO THIS INDUSTRY DURING THIS ERA?
S: Do you, embrace you, be and feel powerful! Expect nothing from anyone! Always and forever remind yourself of “why” you do what you do. Your answer will forever evolve! However its important that when you are feeling down or a bit beat up (because life and the industry will do that to you, for its very competitive and everyone is in for the win) just remember that NO ONE can do things like you! You are unique, you matter, and you go honey! As far as the business aspect of it, use all platforms possible to tell your story, and venture in ways you never imagined. We are only clicks away from other countries and people nowadays, the access you have to others is never ending! Use it wisely!
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT RAISING A CHILD IN THIS ERA AND BEING A MIXED IMMIGRANT?
S: I bet raising a child nowadays is hard, not that I would know because my baby isn’t born yet (I am eight months and have one more month to go), but I can only imagine. I’m sure every era had its difficulties, but humans always seem to look past that and make the best out of it somehow. We can only hope that our children will be raised in the best of environments, but if the environment isn’t ideal we can only try to make it as best as possible within our limited resources. The goal is to raise beautiful, loving and caring human beings that will contribute to society in a positive way so we can better it, instead of decay it. As far as being a mixed immigrant, I’m not sure I can answer that one, I am not mixed nor am I an immigrant. I’m full blooded-Mexican-born and raised with an American citizenship.
AS LONG AS YOU’VE BEEN IN DALLAS, WHO HAVE BEEN THE PEOPLE YOU FEEL YOU CAN LEAN ON, AS FAR AS PROFESSIONAL WORK AND HELPING TO GET YOUR ART OUT THERE?
S: To be quite honest with you, I’ve learned that NO ONE will ever help you more than you can help yourself. You can rely on others to help elevate your work (example: a talented photographer, an amazing stylist, a hands-on assistant, a skilled hair person) but everyone individually has a goal and it would be selfish to assume that you can “lean on them” for help to get somewhere. Simply, because the moment they don’t (which I’ve personally experienced), your heart breaks and nobody has time for that. You’re gonna need that heart, later on, to wisely choose your circle of colleagues that best fuel your concepts and ideas, anyone who does the opposite (drains them or trunks them) aren’t your people. There are a few people who have always been supportive of my work, and they know who they are because we’ve been working together for years and continue to create amazing work whether they are still in Dallas or making it elsewhere!
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU EVERY MORNING TO GET UP AND DO WHAT YOU DO BEST?
S: Obviously, my son, even though he has not been born yet, he is now my fuel and reason of being along with my husband. My two loves. However, the “need” for someone like ME to make others feel that someone like THEM, can and could belong in this industry is what truly keeps me going. There is a lack of people that look like me ( hijabi Artist) in the fashion industry and I can’t wait to break through! Someone has to do it, and that someone can be me! Too many hijabi girls with dreams can’t go unrepresented in our industry. We “cupcakes” need our platforms too! I call hijabi’s cupcakes cause cupcakes are muffins that believed in miracles!
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This story was printed in the DAWN issue.
Secure your copy here.