Would-be mechanical engineer turned hairstylist
For Eduardo Raya, growing up poor in Mexico City was a way of life—until not having his own toothbrush and wearing the same shoes in spite of growing feet became intolerable. He was supposed to be the first in his family to graduate from university. He was supposed to be a mechanical engineer. But his heart yearned for something different.
So on October 1988, just before reaching his 24th birthday, Eduardo took a leap of faith and moved to Los Angeles. He didn’t know anyone there. He didn’t speak English. He didn’t even know what he was going to do, but the move felt right.
His home for the next three months was MacArthur Park, a hot spot for criminal activities. Eduardo found a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant near UCLA, a school that made him yearn for his own classes, books, and aspirations.
“I thought how lucky those people were. I realized how dedication is part of the key to success,” Eduardo says. He recalls how a group of customers at the restaurant once called him over. When he asked if he could help them, Eduardo says, “One guy with a malicious smile answered, ‘Yes, could you help us solve this calculus problem?’ My satisfaction was that, yes, I could and did solve the problem with ease!”
“One of the things that make me different from the rest of the hairstylists is that in hair there’s a lot of math involved. There are angles, measurements, elevations, and colors. We sometimes talk about chemistry, and that I understand very well,” Eduardo explains. “The best part of my career is to make somebody happy with their looks.”
Eduardo fell in love with cosmetology after an old roommate paid for his first month’s tuition. He then cleaned the school in exchange for his tuition. Back in Mexico City, he would have been stigmatized for being a male hairstylist. But in Los Angeles, he could freely use his creativity and skills.
After graduating from Los Angeles Beauty School, he spent the next couple of years working at small shops. “Everything changed when I was encouraged, by the person who is today my 92-year-old mentor, to apply for a position at the world-renowned José Eber Salon in Beverly Hills,” Eduardo says.
Eduardo’s skills took him to great heights as a celebrity hairstylist. He recalls working on Pierce Brosnan’s hair, not knowing who he was, only that he was good-looking man.
Still, Eduardo remains humble. “My only goal working while in Beverly Hills was to deliver the best service. I think my best advantage was in not knowing who these clients were,” he says.
After about 20 years in California, Eduardo and his wife made the move to Texas to be close to her family.”I love it here,” he says. He’s been a hairstylist at Merle Norman Studio & Salon in Georgetown for just about a year, where he strives to give each customer individualized treatment. He’s decided that Georgetown is the place where he’ll retire. He’s building a home from the ground up, something he’s longed dreamed of doing.
And he hopes that his story about working hard to achieve a dream will inspire others to follow—and reach—their dreams, too.