I’m working on a project based on the premise that the worst four-letter word in the English language is THEM.
Yeah, I hate that word. Who is THEM, really?
Now it becomes complicated because sometimes people on the other side of what you believe become THEMs, too.
Yeah, they’re passionate about their cause also. But I don’t like to label THEM because it’s very easy to become THEM. All it is is the way you think, [so if there is] a situation that touches you personally then you flip the script. So you have to be very very cautious about [seeing people as THEM].
Do you ever feel like a THEM or think when people are looking at you or talking to you that they’re casting you as a THEM, whatever that might be?
I try not to let myself feel that way. I have too much—— I don’t care. I never do, because when you come at me, when you talk to me you can’t, let’s say come with foolishness. You understand, I don’t entertain foolishness. If that’s where you’re coming from then, ‘Oh, got to go.’
I actually don’t have many problems about being stereotyped now.
I used to be homeless for 4 or 5 months from drugs and alcohol. People are funny, when you’re homeless you are invisible, they don’t want to go near you. Most people who are homeless are telling lies anyway. Sometimes they don’t even know it’s a lie, about needing money to buy a ticket or something, because they say it so much they start to believe it.
When I was a server in a restaurant I was also invisible.
Now I am the sommelier at one of the top restaurants in the city, and people are always asking my advice, either telling me that they don’t know anything about wine and don’t want to make a mistake, or they are very knowledgeable and appreciate a lot of specific information about the vineyards.
I think at one point everybody feels different, racially, culturally.
So how do you feel like you are stereotyped?
You know, it depends on what situation you find yourself in also. Like education-wise, work-wise, sometimes depending on the situation. I don’t really know how to explain it.
When somebody sees you, what do you feel like they see?
Well, a Spanish person. That would be the first thing.
When somebody is stereotyping you, just seeing you as a Spanish person, if you could tell them one thing, what would that be?
Ignorance is no excuse, that’s what I would tell them. But you know, you have to educate yourself and always try to get to know the person before you fit them into that stereotype.
I’ve got a lot of friends that are gay. I’m not, but I’ve got a lot of friends that are. And without knowing that, some people just see me as an anti-gay person.
I don’t know. I have no idea. But the first time I got a comment like that I felt it was one of the most offensive things I ever heard. They were like, ‘Oh you must be a gay basher.’ And I was like ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ I said, ‘How about asking me a question first?’ You have no idea. You know what I’m saying?
What brought you to work here? Or are you just hanging out? It looked like maybe you were out—
No, I get that a lot, every time I go to places.
Just because you’re standing like right here, it looks like you’re on break.
No, everywhere I’m at people think I work there. I was at a friend’s bar having a cigarette and people were coming up to me with their IDs and I was like, ‘I don’t work here.’ And they were like, ‘Oh, you look like a bouncer here.’ No, I’m a tattoo artist. I’m just hanging out.
…it’s more like a culture thing.
Like how do you mean, culture thing?
You know like where you’re from. That’s always—I think that’s stereotyping because we don’t look white American so we’re not Americans. So it’s ‘Where are you from?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m from New York.’ Oh, but where were you born? ‘Out West, South West.’
Where out West?
San Carlos. In Arizona. It’s Apache country. So they’re always saying ‘Where are you from? Where are you really from?’ And I’m like, whoa wait a minute. What do you mean? I mean, they’re always like, ‘Well, you look Mexican.’ Well, does the Mexican look Native American? I sometimes get Asian, too. Even Japanese, right?
So do you know your ethnic heritage?
No, I’m a quarter, my mother’s half. And my grandfather is full blood.
And then what is the other part?
Asian. South East. Like Pago Pago. It’s always like we don’t look American enough so it matters where you come from.
It’s known as the Star of David, but long before it was the Star of David, this was an ancient Hindu symbol. I have a doctor who is Jewish. He teases me when I wear it. He says, ‘What are you doing with this devil worship symbol?’ This is a devil worship symbol, too.
My mother’s white, Jewish. The other day my sister, she said, ‘You think you’re white.’ And she’s whiter than me. She’s much more fairer than me. ‘You think you’re white. Jew boy, Jew boy, Jew boy.’ That’s what she said to me.
Your genes are very funny you know. You’ve got your genes and your environment. I was not raised around white people; I was raised around people of my kind. But I got my mother’s genes.
I came to America when I was three years old from Jamaica. I was raised in North Carolina, very isolated. Most of the people down there, my race they mixed with Native Americans.
I don’t feel like I get stereotyped. Maybe some people do, but I don’t have that feeling. I really don’t feel like it. But I suppose many people are.
I’m from Austin, Texas, doing this project. Before I put on a suit and tie, people were treating me like I’m homeless. They would walk further away on the sidewalk, so I’d be like ‘Hello, good afternoon’. Never begging, just like saying something nice. But they’d just walk by without even looking in this direction. The craziest one was in Nashua, I was sitting there drawing and I saw some girl. She obviously liked what I was drawing and so she tried to come over and her friend grabbed her arm and was like ‘Dude, he’s homeless.’ I was like, if I was homeless that would be a really messed up thing to say. Just because someone’s homeless they’re not going to check out what they have?
And the tie and jacket undoes that?
Pretty much. I mean, I still get asked if I’m homeless.
You know even though everybody can feel comfortable with their views of people, when we all get together [we see that] we’re all still alike. You know what I’m saying? Like we can all laugh and joke and even though I may normally just only talk with black folks, but when we all get together, we’re all still just people. That’s the hard part, you’ve got to find a common ground and something that we all agree on and we all feel good about.
So what would be like a good thing that you could think of that could like—
Help bring people together? I think food and music does. Food and music brings people together. At work, I can say that when we have like potlucks and people come out, and music—- I think food and music, you’ve just got to find more things that bring people together than keep them apart. I think that’s the catch.
Do you feel like there’s still prejudice and stereotyping going on?
And what would you want to say to people who are prejudiced and look at you and see whatever you feel like you’re stereotyped as?
I would like to say they need to get to know people, their background and how they live, things like that. That way they get to know them better.
You would like to be treated fairly for who you are, not for the color of your skin.