PUBLISHED IN ISSUE 17
INTERVIEW & PHOTOS BY JUNE CANEDO
STYLING BY TESS HERBERT
June Canedo speaks to two of her favorite first-generation women on life-choices, immigrant parents, self-love, and freedom on the internet. Remy Fox was born and raised in Los Angeles, Slayrizz in New York. Both women are taking to the internet to inspire other women of color to love themselves as they celebrate their differences. While others have systems in place to navigate their lives, first-generation women have to draw their own maps from scratch. That is exactly what these women are doing, building maps for their communities. The visibility of women like Remy and Slayrizz is essential to the success of younger first-generation women. Not only is their visibility contributing to the narrative of successful women of color, but as our communities continue to grow, it confirms that women of color are built for success.
Tell me your story. How did you get to L.A.? What happened with your parents?
My mom came to America. Her story is a little bit harder than mine. She was 12, literally swimming across the river with a newborn baby, my brother, and trying to avoid immigration. She failed a couple of times, but managed to come here, and was here for a little while until she got caught and was sent back. She waited until my brother was a little older to try again, and left him with my grandmother so she could come work. She met my dad a little later and became pregnant with me. Once I was born, we flew back to Mexico immediately so that I could be considered born there, and so I would have dual citizenship. She raised me there for a little while, and I remember having some of the happiest memories of my childhood. She got her citizenship when I was 15 or 16. We studied for the test together since I was learning some of the same things.
What was that like? Being in middle school and having an immigrant mom? Do you remember lying to friends or pretending that she wasn’t? Because I definitely did that when I was younger.
Yes! I would always say that my mom was white. I’d have my mom pick me up away from the school. I only had about five good friends that knew she wasn’t white. I’d lie to the popular girls about it and to people I didn’t know. I grew up with a lot of Latinos, but I transferred to a mostly white school later and that’s when I started doing it. My dad is dark-skinned and has a heavy accent and wears his cowboy boots, and I definitely didn’t want my white friends to see that.
Did you ever experience bullying because of it?
I didn’t because I was pretty light-skinned. The school put me in speech therapy class to get rid of my accent because it wasn’t good to have an accent. We called it ESL, but we all knew it was for the Latinos and maybe a Korean student here and there. I was put in from pre-school all the way until high school. My accent was so hot. I sounded like Penelope Cruz, and now I sound like…who the hell is white? Um, like Ben Affleck! White as hell. I’m so mad.
Do you have distinct memories of specific race-related things that happened to you? Tell me about some of the early experiences.
We were doing a project about babies and pregnancy and the teacher said something so racist. She said, “You guys need to get ready,” and pointed over at all the Latinas. That type of shit. That was one of the first ones. It was 6th grade. I just remember always asking myself, “Why are you saying it like that?” It’s always the small stuff that sticks with you.
What about guys? Did they discriminate against you?
No, not at all. It was just as bad though, because I was treated like a fetish. Even as early as the 6th grade.
I remember my brother working at this shoe place, and his boss was white, and once he accused my brother of stealing when we were all there because I grabbed a pair of shoes and wanted to see if he could buy them for me with his discount. The boss started accusing him of stealing out of nowhere and called us wetbacks! He said, “All you wetbacks are all the same!” He was saying this in front me, my two-year-old sister, and my mom, who didn’t even speak English.
Do you feel like those experiences affected your sense of identity? Did they force you to figure yourself out earlier than everybody else?
It caused me to waste years on becoming someone I was never going to be. I wanted to fit in with all the white people. They had all the nice things and nobody yelled at them. They got to do whatever they wanted. They were the teacher’s pets. They had a lot of advantages. I didn’t want my brother to be stocking up shoes. I wanted him to fucking own the shoe stand. So, I was always sad that I was born Mexican. As I got older though, I learned how to appreciate my culture and the way I was raised. I wish I could have appreciated it then.
Do you feel like the internet has influenced the way you view yourself and your Mexican background?
Yes! It’s helped so much! I see so many people coming out and being so proud to be Mexican-American. It made me realize that I shouldn’t be ashamed. There is this community on the internet that supports Mexican culture. It made me understand that there are so many people that grew up in a similar way. I thought I was alone for so long.
What else has the internet brought to your life?
I think it’s helped in finding my voice and identity. I’ve always been a loud mouth girl on the internet. There is no filter on there. It’s like my own personal diary, but I’m sharing it with everyone. There are girls that message me saying that I’m like the little voice in their heads, but they are too shy to say some of the things that I say. That feels nice! Latina girls that were ashamed about being Latina, they thank me for helping them learn more about our Latina roots. It’s cool!
Is it more about celebrating specific aspects of your culture rather than educating people?
For now, I use it to show appreciation. Maybe in the long run I’ll add more educational aspects, but right now I just want to appreciate. I’m also still educating myself! I bought a Mexican calendar and am trying to learn about Mexican holidays! Yesterday was Dia de Los Ninos, when we just celebrate kids’ lives. In Mexico, they have big parties at schools. We don’t have that in America. I got my son a toy and special food, and took him to a park where he got a henna tattoo. It’s an extra birthday, his day!
And for people who are just starting to figure out that their culture and heritage matters, particularly Latinas, what would you say are some of the first steps?
Learning where your family comes from, regardless of what generation you grew up in. Look at the roots! Look at what they eat and try to learn how to cook it. Start going to festivals and parties, looking at calendars and other ways to find them.
Living in America, do you find that it is necessary to connect to your culture in order to survive?
You know, I feel like it’s not. I’ve met a lot of ignorant people that choose not to acknowledge it. People who are mixed, you know, ignoring one side or celebrating one more than the other. It’s sad, but I get that people need to do what they need to do to feel safe.
It’s so hard to advise people when you know that the journey, no matter what route you take, will be a painful one.
You have to do what you can to survive here, that’s for sure. Sometimes I pretend not to speak English. I’ll tell them that I just got here and walk away.
Have you come across any changes in L.A. because of the new administration?
What I have seen is a lot of unity between people of color, so that’s amazing. My son is half white so I’m just trying to teach him all about Mexican culture.
How do you celebrate the white culture?
Honestly, I don’t know what culture they have but I’m trying to figure that out.
Maybe I’ll feed him a spam sandwich. Haha, I literally have no clue.
Do you feel like you have a duty to tell him that he’s brown and that he’s going to have a particular type of experience?
He’s super young so I’m not putting that on him, but when he becomes self-aware, I’ll probably start mentioning things to keep him safe. He doesn’t understand skin color yet.
Read June’s interview with SlayRizz HERE.
© 2019 The Editorial Magazine