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.
Talk me through your upbringing and the culture in which you come from. How does that have an affect on the decisions that you make today?
My parents were both born and raised in the Philippines. They met there, but they got together in America. My mother came as a nurse and was transferred from San Francisco to New York. It was always her dream to be a New Yorker. My father had another life in the Philippines, so he just came here to see what opportunities there were. Mom was in school most of her life, but she left before college. She was never comfortable there. She couldn’t see herself happy there. She worked so hard and took care of her entire family. She still takes care of her entire family.
Carrying the weight, as women of color do.
Yes, of course. My father is laid-back. I have older parents and there was a massive generation gap. I was not interested in old school traditions. The culture is instilled in me as if I was raised in the Philippines, though. They never taught me about America, all they knew was what they saw. They came here in the 80s, so they were afraid and tried to protect me from everything. I went to Catholic school for 10 years. It was strict.
What are some of your earliest memories there?
I remember everything. I remember my first day of Pre-K—so scared, cute little bowl-cut—and I didn’t connect with the white kids at all. There was only one other Asian. My parents never sat me down to tell me that I wasn’t white or what to expect being of color in America.
Do you think that that conversation would have helped? I feel like if kids were just warned about racism they would be more prepared to face it head on.
I remember a lot of the girls had beautiful long hair, but my mother always cut my hair super short. I tried so hard to play with them and the dolls, but they were so mean. The first thing they said to me was, “You can’t play with us because you don’t have hair.” I didn’t understand what that had to do with me playing with the dolls. These are 4-year-old kids! They are conditioned at such an early age, so I knew I was fucked from the beginning. They pulled my hair too! They asked me if it was a wig. I never knew there was something different about me until that day. So, I played with the black kids and we had a great time! They were my friends first, but they ended up leaving the school, so I didn’t have friends for a minute. I always had problems with the white kids.
When did you start learning how to talk about this stuff, or to build the vocabulary?
Building the vocabulary and being able to speak about it without getting super emotional, only within the last year. Up until now, it was only through performance and music. I knew how to convey emotion before I knew how to articulate it. Every time I talk about this, I still want to cry. Only now am I strong enough to hold that back. I’m surrounding myself with more people who are open to hearing me and who relate to my story. What I do is super glam, so I didn’t feel like there was space for that conversation. I started incorporating Tagalog into my lyrics because I want to open up that conversation, and to tell our stories as people of color in the way that we want to.
Do you feel like the internet has contributed positively to your sense of self-expression and identity?
I have to be thankful for this digital age because being in a strict household I was blocked off from reality. I know that most parents do that to keep their kids safe, but you’ve got to explain to your children why it is that you’re keeping them from things. They need a point of reference. The only information that I was receiving was from the internet. I was in Queens, not allowed to go to any other boroughs. I never even went to Times Square and I’m from New York! The only place I could express myself and keep track of what was going on in society was through the internet. I started developing my identity as a performer when I was 15. I started through Myspace and it opened my world to people who were doing dope shit. Now it’s all normalized, but it wasn’t like that when I was 15. I found so many inspirational people of color and it was so refreshing because I was just around white people all the time. I found people that were celebrating their Asianess in things that already existed, like hip-hop. They gave me the confidence to find myself in those spaces. I always got shit for being Asian, so I finally had other references. In California, there was a movement that was Asian, and American, and proud. They were expressing themselves through their Asianess. I’ve been chasing that my whole life. I’ve never been to Asia, so I’m always chasing that. But being in New York makes my story a little different. That’s what Slaysian is about.
It’s made it possible for people of color to be less controlled by white media, that’s for sure. Specifically, for Asian-American women who are going through those pivotal years of searching for their identity (middle school, high school). What are some of the first things that you suggest they do to become more comfortable and confident in their Asian identities?
I wish I had paid attention to what they were trying to teach me in school and understood why they teach you certain information. Learning about Asian history specifically—compare the two and you’ll notice the difference in realities. I think that kind of knowledge gives you a sense of understanding about what has happened, and still happens to your people. Learning as much as you can about history gives you a point of reference, because it allows you to understand what is going on now. What they taught me in school took me away from reality.
Be careful, always do your research! Learn Asian history because all you’re going to be taught is American history through the white man’s perspective. Try to understand your parent’s perspective. A lot of Asian parents don’t explain themselves, and they often say no to pretty much everything, like sleeping over at someone’s house, when that’s such an American thing to do. Why won’t you ever let me do something American? Don’t be afraid to ask your parents why. If they say no, ask for an explanation.
It took us so long to figure out where we stand, if our parents would have just explained a little bit more, we wouldn’t be so lost.
I almost think that they hoped it wouldn’t be passed down. They hoped that the same kind of shit they had to deal with as people of color wasn’t what their kids would experience. The reality is that racism is passed down through family, generation after generation. Unless someone in the family puts an end to it, the cycle will inevitably continue. Just watch Oprah’s shows on racism in the 90s, it’s literally the same thing we see today. Those racists passed their racism to their children and now their children are adult racists.
That is part of the struggle as a first-generation immigrant. For most of my cousins, and my Filipino-American peers, it’s taking them a long time to come to terms with their Asianess. I transferred schools when I got to high school and that saved my life. For the first time, I had access to all types of people from all neighborhoods who were just on another level. They were kids from Harlem and the Bronx, and they were so proud to be what they were and so aware of what was going on. I didn’t live my life until then. There was so much culture hitting me so fast, I had to figure out where I stood amongst it. I rushed it for sure, and I had to catch up. There was pressure to know yourself. I had to make sure I was next level all the time. I challenged my creativity every single day. It’s been 10 years and that talent is now a skill, but there was a lot of pressure to do that. You can’t rush certain processes, but it’s New York. I had an expectation of myself, but I’m not there yet. Now I’m taking the right steps. I’m not rushing. I’m focusing on becoming the best artist I can be.
I think to make the type of work that reflects the person that you are and the complexities that come with growing up in that environment, it’s like first things first, who are you? Finding your identity takes a long time because we don’t have any help and we are told we’re crazy!
I got started before thirst-trap culture. I was one of the first people posting photos of my body and loving myself on the internet. I didn’t have an identity locked in, but I knew I’d slay. Everything this new generation is doing, posting photos of yourself online and getting booked through that, I was one of the first people to do it.
Read June’s interview with Remy Fox HERE.
© 2019 The Editorial Magazine