I have been tattooing for eighteen years this June. I started on Miami Beach and I apprenticed under a good friend of mine and awesome artist named Anderson Forth. I feel like people come in and get tattoos that represent their culture or heritage often. I’ve done so many tattoos. When you’ve been tattooing this long they stop sticking out; I have been to so many different places and I’ve worked all over. Throughout the world, people get things tattooed that they identify with.
People identify with their culture, their heritage. A lot of people get flags of their countries — I’ve done a lot of Puerto Rican and Cuban flags. Irish too. I have some tattoos that identify with my heritage, more in a personal manner. I’ve got a big Indian girl on the back of my calf because I’m part Native American, but not enough that I know all that much about it. I have a lot of commemorative tattoos of places I’ve lived, all over the east coast mostly, from Miami to Maine. Maine’s very French, Miami’s very Latin.
My mother is French by way of Canada, she’s a first generation American. My father, his family’s also French, but they came over by boats with sails, and they’ve intermingled with the Native Americans because they’ve been here so long. I know that my grandma worked during the Depression era. They were small town farm people, factory workers from Maine, poor more than anything else.
I speak a little bit of French. I spoke it better when I was younger, but I moved to Miami and then started learning Spanish there because everybody speaks Spanish. I confuse them, but I can get by. I went to Paris but I didn’t actually do any tattoos there, I was tattooing in London though.
I grew up in a really diverse community. My hometown, St.Paul, has a high refugee and immigrant population, especially the Hmong and East African communities. I was never taught about where my family came from in a meaningful way. We would do heritage projects in elementary school, and I was only given the basics. There was no real sense of pride about where my family came from before they came to the United States. So growing up and going to school, where my peers celebrated and cherished their heritage, there was a blinding difference from how I was raised. It’s upsetting that I don’t know more, and in a way, I feel it’s a little irresponsible. I know that I was born on third base. I wasn’t born into poverty. I’m white and an American citizen. All of those cards I was dealt each come with a great deal of privilege. I can’t change the cards I was dealt, but I am certainly in control of the doors I can open because of that privilege; and once those doors are open for me, I can hold it open for my community to come through.
The tattoo I’m getting today is inspired from one of my favorite Tupac songs. The last verse always resonated with me. “You see you wouldn’t ask why the rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals. On the contrary, we would all celebrate its tenacity. We would all love its will to reach the sun. Well, we are the rose – this is the concrete – and these are my damaged petals. Don’t ask me why, thank god, ask me how!”