Thursday, August 8, 2013

Q&A with Lady Rose

“And although you gave me my last name, I took your first, so that Roosevelt Hampton could still walk the earth.”
~ Lady Rose
Bio: La Toya (Lady Rose) Hampton, a native of Portland, Oregon, is a poet, spoken word artist, educator, and youth mentor. she interweaves imagery of mirrors, Christianity, and sensuality into her writing to explore what it means to be a woman, Black, and Christian in the 21st Century. She has performed on stages in Portland and Los Angeles and recently completed the production of her first one-woman show entitled "Holes of a Piece of Me: An Introduction to Lady Rose."

I met Lady Rose (LaToya Hampton) while doing shows in Portland. We would rap after last call and she would tell me about her desire to be more bold in her creativity and performance. I had an opportunity to see her perform at Mo's February art gallery opening. Though somewhat quiet and reserved in conversation, her performance was so genuine and passionate that she kept captive the attention of everyone's eyes and ears. I began to see Lady Rose's fire and hear the emergence of her story. In the desire to abstract her story further, I asked Lady Rose to participate in an experimental Bio Abstraction Series. This Q&A came out of our first interview for the series. I figured I'd shoot my questions out of left field in my provocative, satirical fashion and see what she could do with them...a playful challenge. However, after reading her responses, I was floored by Lady Rose's witty candor and youthful honesty. Ladies and Gentlefolk, I present to you, Lady Rose. 

Outside of being a poet,

Blue: You recently completed a one woman show entitled “Holes of a Piece of Me: An introduction To Lady Rose.” Why only introduce the audience to the holes of your piece? What can I do to get a whole piece?

Lady Rose: “Holes of a Piece of Me” refers to not even getting a whole piece of the puzzle that is the make-up of me. To get a whole piece requires genuine interest in and acceptance of me as a person and artist, and the desire to keep coming back to collect more pieces to fill the holes of one’s curiosity and understanding. As we continue our journey of interaction and interplay of sharing and being affected by the other’s experiences, more pieces will be collected and more holes filled, creating a deeper and clearer picture, though the puzzle will never be complete as long as my audience and I continue to co-exist.

B: You were once told that you were not black enough for the name La Toya. Since you are not black enough for that name, what will your new name be and why?

LR: My ethnic background is diverse, as well as the personal circles and “adopted” families/close friends I’ve had across my lifetime. There was a time when I was totally immersed in Latino culture.

Even prior to this period in my life, I was regularly mistaken for Latina, being approached by strangers speaking Spanish to me. It’s funny, because the “La” being a part of my name, along with being thought of as having “Hispanic brown” skin also contributed to folks assuming I was Latina.

Over time, I learned to speak Spanish from various sources. That, coupled with my “adopted” Latino family and their friends accepting me into their families, just made it more automatic and normal to feel at home and embrace the culture as mine.

I think the name Mireya describes me well. “miracle”, “God has spoken”, “admired”, “adorable”, “to wonder at”. I feel I’ve experienced some miracles in my life, with my life being spared several times. I also think that some people, for better or for worse, are perplexed by me, though, I am fortunate to have those who openly express admiration and support of my intellect, work, generosity and talents.

For 18 years of my life, I was also “adopted” by friends from the Middle East, Syria and Lebanon, to be exact. Again, parts of the culture became second nature. And while I picked up basic conversational Arabic from my best friend at that time, I went further to take a formal class where the instructor expected us to not only learn to speak, but to read and write the language as well. My friend was impressed and wanted to join because while she spoke fluent Arabic, she could not read or write it. She ended up dropping the class before I did.

One of the foods I remember being introduced to was Baba Ganoush, whose translation is “daddy’s girl”, which I definitely was. So, in sum, my new name would be Mireya Baba Ganoush Hampton.

B: When you were 10 years old, you were bamboozled by 3 way phone gossip. Apparently, a girl got you to speak ill of another girl at your school while she was on the 3rd line unbeknownst to you. The next day, all those girls decided to whoop your ass. How did you survive this ordeal?

LR: Gosh, the day in question I remember about 4-5 girls each being posted at different exits of the school waiting for me as school let out. Now, admittedly, there was a time when I didn’t hesitate to give or even initiate a good ol’ fashioned ass-whoopin’, but hey, even I couldn’t handle all of them. And although I can’t remember clearly what transpired to get out of that situation (sans not getting my ass whooped), I imagine that I snitched big time. Yes, kiddies, snitching is necessary and should even be required sometimes.

I do remember, though, having a day of reckoning with one of the girls one-on-one, behind the portables at recess, with the rest of her clique and some male classmates cheering her on, poor thing. She got me one good time, landing a “punch” with the use of the “eyes-closed, windmill, charge-like-bull, wing and a prayer-style” of fighting, but the rest was all me. The boys had to intervene to get me off of her and that folks was a wrap. 

La Toya in High School
B: A boy at school once tried to throw you into a garbage can because you were small and he was an asshole. In an effort to save yourself, you grabbed his gold dookie chain necklace. During the altercation, his chain snapped after which he yelled, “My chain!! My chain!!” What possessed you to break a black man’s chain? What the fuck is wrong with you? Don’t you know that you don’t break a nigga’s chain??

LR: The dramatic breaking of the dookie chain was not my intent, but hey, nothing is off-limits when trying to save your 4-foot-ish self from being dunked in the garbage can as part of an initiation of a tiny, harmless 6th grader. Just imagine, being a cute and innocent somewhat excited and nervous novice 6th grader all dressed-up in new school clothes all of the sudden hearing, “Get her!” and boys running toward you to put you in the garbage can. I had seen that ish on television and now it was seemingly about to become my reality. But remember, my earlier offerings of survival. Now, once again, understanding that I can’t necessarily fight-off bigger and faster guys, I could only think to delay it and hope someone would come to the rescue, so I used the dookie chain as a means to slow him down. I grabbed and hung onto the dookie chain with my little feet hanging off of the ground. That joker was intent on getting me to the garbage can. I was intent on it not happening.

Then it happened—the chain snapped and I fell to the ground. It was like time stood still. Everyone stopped, looked and gasped. He looked down at the chain that was now on the floor and me. His face changed from a semi-smile to rage and I took off to save myself. I must have been faster than he had anticipated, because he gave up on trying to put me in the garbage and opted instead to bring the garbage to me. I tried to shake him, but with no reprieve, alas, he caught up with me and dumped the contents of the garbage can on me.

Luckily, it was first thing in the morning and nothing much besides dust and shredded paper was in it, but it was still traumatic all the same. I picked up a few more enemies on that day and had to watch my back for a while. Message: leave little people alone or the outcome may involve broken dookie chains and irreparable egos.

B:  Having been raised by a church family, you have developed value systems that include abstinence until marriage. You expressed that you would like to have a child. You are currently not married, yet your clock is ticking. How do you plan to rectify this dilemma?

LR: As a consequence of my Christian upbringing and it being very important to me to do exactly as I understood the church , Bible and my mother demanded of me, I lead just about a life of perfection as one could and it didn’t lead to the outcome of marriage and children. And yes, the clock is ticking, so in keeping with the same attitude that prompted me to report my own mother to DHS, I have decided that I am grown and it’s my decision to have a baby when I want to have a baby should everything be in working order and meant to be, that is.

I have struggled with the notion of deviating from such a black and white interpretation of the Bible and tunnel vision idea of Christianity, but to satisfy what I feel will add to my own life, I plan to have a baby within the next couple of years. I had considered adoption or sperm donation, with the outcome still being a single parent. I figured if being a single parent in this way is looked upon as acceptable, then, why not have a baby the old fashioned way that is half of me and someone that I know? If he wants to be a part of his/her life, then that’s great, but if not, then that’s fine, too, since that would have been the same outcome in the case of adoption or sperm donation and plus, you can’t guarantee that your mate will stay around, even in the case of marriage.

I know that this may seem quite shocking to many, and I totally get it, because it’s even hard for me to believe sometimes that I am actually talking myself up to do this. I would love nothing more than to meet my soul mate in the next couple of years and create life out of love, but if that should not happen, I still want to experience part of what I feel I was created for—to give life and have life more abundantly. And for me, that means having a child.

B: You have been told that you would be so pretty if you let your hair down. Why won’t you just let your hair down and stop bullshittin’? Don’t you know we love light skinned girls with long hair? You’re already light skinned. Why let the long hair go to waste?

LR: Some people find their self-control in what they eat, how they dress, with whom and how they have sex, etc. My control is in my hair. I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea that my hair gives me some sort of real quality as a human being. I didn’t do anything special to get it and I don’t do much to maintain it. It adds nothing to me of any real substance as a person.

I am also uneasy with the racial stereotypes and attributions that go along with skin tone and hair. Even as a child, the girls did not like me because the assumption was that I thought I was “all that” because of my light skin and long hair. Variations of this still happens as an adult and it pisses me off.

I wear my hair in a bun 99% of the time and when people see the waves in my hair, I frequently hear that they wished they had my hair and then they go on to say what all they would do if they had hair like mine. Thing is, how do they know what kind of hair that I have? They haven’t seen it down. Have they combed it? Why not like YOUR hair? What does that say about you that you believe these damaging messages that have been put on us?

Then there’s the whole idea of beauty associated with it. If I can’t find a man because I don’t wear my hair down even though it’s neat and clean, then, well, I guess I will be man-less. What if I had a condition that caused me not to have hair? Or I decided to say fugg it and cut it short or shave it all off? Would I not be worthy of having a loving companion, then?

In truth, there are a couple of reasons I don’t wear my hair down. 1: I am follicle-ly challenged when it comes to doing anything more with my hair than just washing, moisturizing and combing it. Also, while people see waves on the surface, underneath, the texture of my hair represents equally the different bloodlines I have running through me. Although I prefer natural hair, it would not be uniform if I wore it down without at least blow-drying or flat-ironing it, which I do maybe once or twice a year. I have no desire to regularly get up an additional 1-2 hours early just to do my hair and sweat and be frustrated the whole time and be dissatisfied within a matter of an hour or less. No thanks. 2: The fact that people keep pressuring me to do it, as if they are going to help with the upkeep either literally or financially combined with all of the judgments they put on it, just fuels my opposition. If you want to come and serve as my stylist for free, then by all means, I will be that light-skinned long hair that’s whipped 24/7 chick.

For now, I’ve decided to keep it. It’s there should I decide that I—I repeat—I want to do something different with it. Sade has her trademark pony tail and complementary forehead. I have my bun. Mind your business.

B: You have mentioned a young man who you are interested in. He keeps actin’ all shady, but when he speaks Spanish, your heart turns to mush. What is it about Spanish that makes an otherwise shady muhfuckah become lovable and sexy?

LR: I am not proud that this is my kryptonite, but it’s true. Perhaps it can be likened to Chris Rock’s observation of Black women in the club dancing to a beat no matter what the words are saying? Spanish is one of the romance languages and though I’d like to think that I’m immune to playalistic scandalistic feudalistic bullshit, I turn into a girl and swoon when there’s a 6-foot, Afro-Latino who is funny, intelligent, plays a myriad of instruments and speaks three languages one of which is Spanish rolling his “R”s with a low growl in my ear saying, “Dejame amarte.” Okay, I’mma sucka. Next question.

B: You had a great relationship with your father who passed in 2000. How do you think that your relationship with your father has influenced your writing?

LR: First, I take my stage name of Lady Rose from my father whose name was Roosevelt and nick name was Rose. We were very close. He was, without a doubt, my favorite person on this planet. Just to see his face brought me such happiness. He was my provider, protector, teacher and best friend and the loss of him has left a great hole inside of me. A big part of me died along with him and leaves me with a great sadness. That overarching cloud is reflected in my writing that tells of the longing to find true happiness again, to understand my purpose for life and why God allows certain things to happen.

I also have some pieces that are specifically about and inspired by him. One is called Ambition, where I talk about being taught how to ride a bike by my father and the struggle for him to not be too overprotective, let go and allow me to have the total experience, even though the result may be literally falling flat on my face. I liken that to going through life in general. Taking what your parents or other loved ones have imparted to you with and then using it as best as you can or not and them trusting that you will learn what's necessary from the experience.

Another poem, My Right Hand (Man), talks about how integral my father’s existence was in my day-to-day life, how basically his life being taken away, took mine also and the struggle to find a reason to live with purpose again.

Not all is so heavy, though. I have also used my writing to honor my father. One poem I originally wrote for a friend and at her suggestion, it ended up being the poem on the back of his obituary and was renamed for him.

On Episode 11 of Uranus Is Blue, we listen to the lovely LaToya “Lady Rose” Hampton as she presents her poetry amidst a natural landscape. Original music by Phoenix Juggernaut. 

Rose (Daddy)

The black gold of the Sun,
your rays beam down to prevent the lurking shadows
from creating cold in my soul.

The warmth you give smothers the sting of disloyalty.
Your thoughtful kindnesses smolder in my mind
And flare up when I need them most.

A constant reminder that
out of all of the world’s ugliness, there is always
one consistent beauty—
your smile.

La Toya A. Hampton/Lady Rose © 1999

Learn more about Lady Rose at
Listen to Declaration Of Independence, a poem by La Toya Hampton (Lady Rose)
Watch the trailer to Black Girl In Suburbia featuring a poem by La Toya Hampton (Lady Rose)

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