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Conversations with the Inspiring Denisse Villalvazo Gutierrez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Denisse Villalvazo Gutierrez.

Denisse, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was brought to America when I was 6, and raised by a single mom. I remember going to the first grade and not speaking a word of English. I made friends by drawing pictures and giving them to classmates. I learned early on that art is universal language and connects people. As I grew older, I discovered hair and makeup as artistic mediums. When I graduated high school, I went to makeup school and started working freelance on films, commercials, and music videos. I’ve been fortunate to work with big names, but it hasn’t been easy. The film industry is hard to break into and being undocumented just added another level of difficulty that I had to overcome.

I always wanted to go to cosmetology school to get my license to color and cut hair but never thought I could afford it without access to financial aide. I was going part time to a community college but it was taking a long time, I was uninspired, and I didn’t feel like I was learning. As soon as I took a tour of Toni & Guy Hairdressing Academy, I knew I had to go. I was incredibly fortunate to gain a private scholarship that covered most of my tuition and I’ve been attending Toni & Guy since February!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I’ve always had big dreams and aspirations. Unfortunately, the problem with being ambitious, with my legal status, is that you can only go so far before hitting a major roadblock. I’ve missed out on amazing opportunities, been the victim of wage theft, and been vulnerable to work related abuse.

This year, I decided to pursue my love of hair and toured Toni and Guy Academy. It was my dream school and knew I wanted to attend, but the quality education they offered came with a large price tag. Because of my status, I was unable to receive financial aide or assistance. I searched and signed up for private scholarships. I was so fortunate to receive the “Sydell and Arnold Miller-Fashion Forward” scholarship through Beaty Changes Lives. Thanks to this scholarship I can afford to attend my dream school! To top the cherry on the cake, my first month into attending school I received the notice that I had qualified for president Obama’s DACA program for dreamers. I am now able to legally work in this country without the fear of deportation. My hope is that once I graduate I will still have freedom and protection under DACA in order to pursue my career in cosmetology.

My advice to young artists is not to let anyone limit your dreams. It would have been easy for me to feel victimized and believe that I wasn’t deserving of success. But everyone deserves happiness and the opportunity to prove their worth. If you’re passionate about something be persistent, have gratitude, and always be willing to learn. As long as you’re alive ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Toni & Guy Hairdressing Academy – Los Angeles story. Tell us more about the business.
I’ve been freelancing as a makeup artist and styling hair for many years, so that’s my first love. Now that I’m in school I’m really falling in love with color. I love that color theory is the same with hair, makeup, and painting. My favorite thing to do is putting foils in hair. The process is so engaging. It puts me into a meditative state. It’s my happy place. Once you’re done and get to unwrap them, and it’s so rewarding. I’m still new but I think what makes me different is how meticulous I am. I like making sure everything is neat and impeccable. I just want to build a career giving people the color of their dreams. I want to give women confidence and bring color into their lives.

Who do you look up to? How have they inspired you?
My mother has always been a huge inspiration to me. The fact that she sacrificed everything for me to have a better life is something I’m so grateful for. She has always encouraged me to follow my passion and has exemplified kindness, strength, and resilience. She is someone I strive to be like.

Oprah Winfrey because she came from nothing and she is a powerhouse. Not only is she a total boss, but she has given back so much and has empowered women to strive for greatness.

Lastly, Jose Antonio Vargas (Define American) His NY Times article “My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant” changed my life. It gave me the courage to speak out about my status and know that I’m not alone. It also thought me the importance of creating dialogue in order to educate and incite change.

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