On Global Filipinos: Hairstylist Gloria Cabrera hanging up her scissors after 50 years

Fifty years in New York City’s Gramercy neighborhood. ‘We were able to survive.’ The FilAm photo

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

In May 2023, Gloria Cabrera Salon & Spa  celebrates 50 years, an amazing story of the owner’s hard work, resilience and passion for making people look their best.

This American Dream started in Lubao, Pampanga where Gloria was born to Blas Santos, a farmer, and Lauriana Lugtu who sold vegetables in the public market.

Gloria from the start wanted to be a beautician. After graduating from high school she decided to enroll in a technical school called Aguinaldo Institute in Ilaya, Divisoria. She worked in a beauty salon in Manila, and because she did her best to service her customers, she developed a faithful group of clients. One  of them encouraged her to come to the United States to work.

She asked help for her visa from then-Congressman Angel Macapagal from her district. Her father’s nephew was secretary to the congressman. She told the U.S. Embassy she would go to the U.S. to take up advanced courses in haircutting and that Macapagal would “be the one responsible” for her. That was how Gloria was able to secure her visa.

Gloria with family. Left photo, with late husband Ben at the wedding of their daughter Caroline to Hector Perera; grandchildren Charlotte and Isaac. Courtesy of Gloria Cabrera

Upon arrival in New York in 1967, she got a job as a hair shampoo worker at Thomas Barrata Hair Salon. “It’s a huge salon,” she said proudly.

She worked initially  as a manicurist and shampoo girl because she did not have a license.  One day, she told the receptionist who had become a friend of hers  if she could work on clients’ hair  if other hairstylists are busy.  She was given some customers,  but was later told to stop because the salon might get into trouble. The owner saw her skills and urged her to go to school at night and get a license. She went to school where the teacher was a  Filipina. Because of her prior experience,  Gloria was only asked to complete  300 hours of class work instead of the 1,000 hours required.

“I took the written and practical tests, passed, and got my license,” she said.

At a party, she met Ben Cabrera, a Filipino aeronautical  engineer who frequently visited  the apartment she shared with her roommates.  Initially, each of them did not know who Ben was interested in until the day he asked Gloria on a date.

She attributes her success to her Faith. The FilAm photo
At work microblading eyebrows. Courtesy of Gloria Cabrera

They were married in 1973. Shortly thereafter, they bought an apartment at the complex on 22nd and 23rd street which also had a vacant store for rent on 23rd. On May 1973, she got the rental for 10 years. Ben and Gloria began construction work and opened for business shortly thereafter.

Initially, her clients were mostly Filipino nurses and doctors. Her kind and compassionate manner coupled with her ability to make them look and feel beautiful won her more customers over time. Today, she has more non-Filipino than FilAm customers.

Ben and Gloria have one daughter, Caroline, who married Hector Perera, who is a finance executive on Wall Street. They have two children, Charlotte and Isaac. Sadly, her husband Ben died in 2017.

The Gloria Cabrera Beauty Salon & Spa has survived the stock market crash of 1987, the World Trade Center attacks of 2001, the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 and the direst pandemic years from 2020 to 2022. She attributes this success to her faith in God and always doing her best to serve her customers with respect, competency, cordiality and efficiency.

After 50 years of operating the beauty salon and having turned 82 years old on October 20, Gloria Cabrera is contemplating hanging up her scissors and selling her business. Her customers would be at a loss if she retired completely, but knowing Gloria, she will find a way to stay connected with them even on a part-time basis.  She would love nothing better than to make people look and feel beautiful.

© The FilAm 2023

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