Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

As a first-generation Latina, I was taught to embrace and accept who I am and be proud of where I come from. Merriam-Webster defines heritage as the traditions, achievements, beliefs, etc., that are part of the history of a group or nation. It is what makes us all unique, having different heritages. Although a century ago, Hispanic/Latino culture may not have been celebrated or accepted the way it is now. Let’s go back in time for more history on how this event came to be. Hispanic Heritage Month was first introduced in June of 1968 by California Congressman George E. Brown, who represented a heavy Hispanic population area. The celebration actually lasted for a week but later gained attention throughout the peak of the civil rights movement as well as growth awareness of the United States’ multicultural identities. On September 17, 1968, Congress passed Public Law 90-48, officially authorizing and requesting the president to issue annual proclamations declaring beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Week to be observed with appropriate ceremonies and activities. President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first Hispanic Heritage Week presidential proclamation the same day. In 1987 U.S. Representative Esteban E. Torres of California proposed expanding this observance to “properly observe and coordinate events and activities to celebrate Hispanic culture and achievement.” On September 14, 1989, President George H.W. Bush became the first president to declare the monthly period from September 15 to October 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Celebrating and honoring those who continue to impact the Hispanic community to show the value of their success and conquering the obstacles they faced to make a difference in the world today. 

Since this is a blog about beauty, I will be sharing the development of the Beautyblender and highlights of its founder and CEO, Rea Ann Silva, a Latina veteran makeup-artist-turned-businesswoman who demonstrated the struggles women of color endured to make their mark in the world of beauty. The iconic pink egg-shaped Beautyblender sponge has become popular among makeup professionals and makeup enthusiasts no matter their background, a brand sold globally, winning 10 Allure Best of Beauty Awards and projected to do $215 million in retail sales this year alone. It began when the hand-cut, egg-shaped sponges were invented while working as a television makeup artist in the early 2000s to help give her clients a perfect complexion, becoming an expertise in working with women of color. Brushes wouldn’t work because they caused streaks, and powder products didn’t mix well with liquid makeup. She started by taking standard triangular wedges and cutting the edges off to give them a round shape. She experimented with various shapes and sizes, but nothing worked as seamlessly as the egg shape. From that moment, actors began “stealing’ the sponges during set; she then realized the attention it had gained from that small creation. “I thought, well, there must be a retail possibility for this product,” she said in Know Your Value, an MSNBC empowering community helping women to grow their career. After the little egg-shaped sponge, it inspired her to create a beauty startup named Beautyblender, forming an LLC in 2003. However, it wasn’t until ten years later when the company went nationwide in Sephora where sales skyrocketed. The Los Angeles native didn’t plan to pursue a career in makeup artistry. Her mind was drawn to fashion illustration, enrolling as a student at The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, ”I wanted to become a designer until I realized that my favorite part of my fashion studies by far was sketching,” she told Spotlyte. Soon, she saw herself in a tough situation after an unexpected breakup and becoming a single parent. After leaving school to make ends meet, with “no job, no money and no skills,” she began working as a perfume seller at a local department store, later transitioning to the cosmetics counter which opened up a new direction for her life as a makeup artist. Being a Latina in the predominantly white beauty industry also had its up and down, Silva experienced discrimination due to her ethnic background where directors refused to work with her. By the early 2000s, her makeup artistry challenge began while working for the UPN series “Girlfriends” where actors were under high-def. “Suddenly, in HD, you were able to see every pore, you were able to see every bump. You saw everything on the skin, as opposed to film, where you blast a lot of light and you, you know, you wear 5,000 pounds of makeup” said Silva. Airbrushing was the most natural way to correct makeup but to avoid the hassle of carrying the entire airbrush compressor, she needed to find an alternative way to be able to touch up makeup hence, the Beautyblender was born.

A sketch of Beautyblender

Working with people of color allowed her to gain more awareness in emphasizing diversity in the industry. Actors and actresses of color have expressed that makeup artists and stylists hired in the industry have no idea how to work with different hair textures and skin colors. “I am Mexican, Portuguese, Spanish, and Irish. My children are black. My career has been centered around women of color, and I became known in Hollywood, and really around the world, as one of the first makeup artists that really understood ethnic skins, learned how to really match those skins, be creative in ways to create the colors that just didn’t exist. I’ve been in the union for over 20 years, so there weren’t people that really specialized in those areas, whether it’s hair, whether it’s makeup, and I’m happy to say that I think there’s a little more diversity happening now, so it’s good, yeah,” said Silva in an interview with Business Insider.

The release of Bounce Foundation and other makeup products 

Due to the Beautyblender’s massive success, it enabled Silva to launch her own foundation line in 2018, Bounce. The line initially released 32 shades, now comes in 40 shades, far more than the limited shades offered for people of color back from when she worked as a makeup artist two decades ago. 

The biggest fail for makeup applications for many years is that there weren’t enough shades for women of color to actually look natural with makeup on, so you had to learn to become like a mixologist,” Silva said. She remembered blending lipsticks and blushes into the foundation to get the right undertones, and even heard stories of makeup artists using shoe polish to darken shades. “They would all be from light to a little bit darker, not really going into other ethnicities, the Latin colors, or African American colors or Asian colors,” she recalled.  

In April 2020, Silva was one of eight women featured in a new Smithsonian, National Museum of American History exhibit called The Only One in the Room, to celebrate female game-changers in different industries like manufacturing, finance, marketing, and beauty in a time when women were prohibited from taking leadership roles within companies and relegated them to positions with low status and little decision-making power. 

Today, she has a variety of makeup products and sponge cleaners available as well as different sized blender sponges proudly Made in the USA.

Silva credits her Hispanic heritage with giving her an eye for color while acknowledging her own work ethic “I always try to do the most and not the least….Being Latina, we are a very colorful people. We are not afraid of color. We embrace color. And we celebrate color,” says Silva. Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 but Silva says her family honors their heritage every day.

I live and breathe beauty, but when I look at my life, it’s more than just the industry and my business.

-Rae Ann Silva

Did you know? September 15th was the chosen date to begin the celebratory week due to the Independence Day of five nations or as President Johnson would call, “Central American neighbors,”—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua whom declared their independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. Coincidently, Mexico also declared its independence from Spain on September 16, 1810. Chile also celebrates its independence from Spain on September 18, 1810, and Belize declared its independence from Great Britain on September 21, 1981. 

Cover image: Rae Ann Silva copyright

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Beauty

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