Defining the Margins We Exist In
Sea Punk, Mexican-American-ness, Benicio Del Toro and Hair Problems
M y wife was clicking through the screen on her work-assigned MacBook staring at a Google Image search for “sea punk”, endlessly scrolling through thumbnails of blue and green and pink hair. She doesn’t want to look like Kylie Jenner, with bright candy-colored extensions but maybe more like Grimes dirty green or a softer version like Annie Clark’s white with purple tint. A faded mixture of bleach and washed out color, like somebody who went swimming in the ocean immediately after dyeing their hair.
Her hair is a version of mine. It is wavy-curly, nearly black, thick, voluminous hair. After years of dating and now marriage, we discovered a mysterious knowledge gap in styling her own hair. She was never shown by her mother, who has straight hair, how to contain it, other than straightening it, but most of the time her hair fluctuates between out of control and bound up. We jokingly referred to it as her “lion’s mane” look for days when she just didn’t have time to do something to it and it looked somewhere between the Cowardly Lion’s curls and James Hetfield circa 1984. And so she’s in a constant struggle to define herself, to express who she is through her outward appearance.
Her skin is brown because her mother’s skin is brown and her father’s skin is brown, though she is maybe a shade darker than I am. It’s not really a problem for us except that we often have to temper our expectations when we see a look or person we’d like to emulate in some way only to find that certain things just look different on stark white skin than on more earthy tones.
In looking through page after page of girls with blue and green and peach and purple hair she was faced with the decision to either try to bleach her hair first before coloring it, or look like Kylie Jenner or another Mexican girl who worships pinups.
It isn’t a real struggle, it’s just a daily reality for her and I to have to accept that we sometimes look different than the people we admire. I know it just as well as her, how frustrating that is. It isn’t institutionalized racism or at least I don’t personally hold animosity toward the things we aren’t. Whether she wanted to be Beth from Best Coast or FKA Twigs, the realities are still the same.
If anything, the most difficult thing for us is in finding fellow Mexican Americans within the music, film, TV, magazines, models or whatever culture we feel most tied to. Carles used to call them MexicAlts but in some ways that referred only to emo, screamo culture that, in Southern California at least, had crowds of kids like us, flat ironing their hair, putting on eyeliner and for some reason dyeing their hair a slightly darker shade of black than it already was and that time and age group has long been in the rear view mirror for us.
It’s not a real problem even on the level of the Oscars not nominating any African American actors for major awards. The Latino, or Hispanic or Mexican-American community is too varied, scattered and indifferent to itself to ever really be definable into a shared experience or look or attitude or cultural expression. Even within my own family with a common history, being of Mexican descent means a lot of different things.
Some speak Spanish, some don’t. Some wear the white baggy t shirts with shaved heads and a mustache, some wear Bro-ey UFC gear and flat-billed caps, some look like George Lopez, some look like Louis CK. Some live in nice areas, some live in the same place they grew up.
The nice thing about not having a strongly defined culture is that each individual can decide for themselves what that means. But the hard part is that we’re kind of in it alone. Seriously though, who is the agreed upon, coolest, most relevant Latino, Benicio Del Toro, That guy who always plays the gang member in movies, the Most Interesting Man in the World? So when my wife and I see something we want to wear or something fun to try out, we always have to pull back expectations or risk frantically searching for answers that just aren’t there.
It’s a stupid thing to admit, but when I found out for sure that Carles was Latino, I took a lot of pride that somebody like me actually did something interesting and was good at it. We’re honestly probably around the same age and even though he gave up ‘relevance’ for ‘buzz’ and then ‘Auth’ and now ‘nothing’ and judgmental white ‘bloggers’ love to retrospectively ‘shit’ on him because they never understood what he was doing or why it could be sad that his voice is gone except for a few Motherboard articles, what he did at the height of HipsterRunoff was incredibly influential to me in how I came to understand my own identity.
And that’s all we really want to do - have a sense of self and express it without looking like a cheap knockoff of someone it suited better.