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Sunday 19 May 2019
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Nothing up his sleeve

My name is Jonathan “Jay” Chee Young and I’ve stopped working as a tattoo artist.

I come from a big family, a very big family – although I’m actually an only child. My extended family goes beyond “big”; like, on my mother’s side, her grandfather had 43 children. I have cousins I’ve never met.

I come from the East, Arima born and raised, when Arima was very nice and calm. We were in the city, not the countryside. I went to Centenary Government School. I finished at St Augustine Community College.

School was something, if you see a future down the road and you want to get there, you endure it! It’s not something to be enjoyed, really. I still remember the morning of my

Common Entrance was very intense.

I was christened Catholic and then kinda branched off into Pentecostal. I think I don’t believe in religion any more.

Jonathan Young... "It’s a necessity now for women to learn some form of martial art."
PHOTO BY MARK LYNDERSAY

I’m a spiritual person, I do believe there are energies but most forms of religion are there to control and manipulate people. Like mosque-shootings

and so on are religiously influenced crimes. And government is based on religion, too. Most of these laws people live by could fuel hatred.

It’s also true that most religions were devised to keep women subordinate.

To relax, I would do sketches and painting – this is where the tattooing came in.

Most tattoo artists in Trinidad are sort of connected. I had a few friends who were tattoo artists and I was interested in the tribal tattoos and how in-depth the significant meanings behind the tattoos were.

From about 2009, I worked as a tattoo artist for a few years, on and off, probably about five years steady. Most of the time it was more of a learning experience.

I was taught by a guy by the name of Jason – I wouldn’t mention his full name – who learnt abroad.

I could do most tattoos that anyone would want.

Everybody has a different style, a different meaning they would want to convey, so you have to have a deep conversation with them. You have to get to know your client at different levels, to have a feel of what they want. Your tattoo artist probably knows more things about you than your husband or your wife.

I talked people out of getting tattoos all the time, all the time. Most tattoo artists are supposed to, because tattoos are permanent. Okay, there are laser treatments – but those are more painful than the tattoo.

A lot of people today are taking what I call, “advertised tattoos”: you see a pop star with a tattoo, like Rihanna had the stars, and everybody wanted the Rihanna stars.

And then, two years down the line, they don’t want it any more! Rihanna not in style, why do I have this? I want it covered now!

Jonathan Young has quit working as a tattoo artist.
PHOTO BY MARK LYNDERSAY

So now is a bigger tattoo – they may not even want that tattoo, might just want to cover the old one!

I have tattoos myself but mainly in places where they can’t be seen. I keep my tattoos more significant for me, rather than to expose those for the world.

I have a tattoo of my mum, Coralie, on my back. She’s still with us but I just love her so much – I’m an only child!

People are unhappy with their tattoos all the time, all the time. Most times, I would get coverups to do, because the old practitioners would use matchstick and needle. They just don’t look like what we have today.

You get different types of tattoo clientele. They have a whole set of gangsters whose tattoos have meanings to them. Even if they don’t want it, they have to get this particular tattoo, because they’re part of a clique.

For some people, getting a tattoo can be relaxing. They’re like in a trance, endorphins and so on. I’ve had people fall asleep when I’m tattooing them – mostly females; they have a higher threshold for pain!

For most people – I wouldn’t sugar-coat it – getting tattoos hurts! I mean, is needles! You just have to make your mind up and take it.

I decided to stop doing tattoos mainly because of personal reasons. Tattoos are more of a luxury than a necessity. If you want something done really well, you go by someone referred and you pay your money.

Even when the economy isn’t good, someone will save for something significant they want. But most people just want cosmetic tattoos. Financially, it wasn’t rewarding.

There are so many tattoo artists out there, some might not even be good, but they might have a cheaper price, so people go there. Typical Trinidadians. Plus, the economy has gone down and a lot of people, if they have a few bucks, rather pay their rent than get a tattoo.

I was worried, too, about health purpose-stuff – some of the inks coming in, I wondered about the chemicals in them.

Everybody’s body is different, no two people are the same. Your body could reject something (another person’s doesn’t). You could be allergic to vitamin B!

The best thing about working as a tattoo artist was when someone had an old tattoo that was giving them some mental discomfort and you could cover it with something beautiful and relieve them of that stress.

Unless they don’t like it and then you have to cover that one as well.

I’m very worried about TT. In Trinidad, anything could happen anywhere, anytime, with desperation. Especially growing up in the East, a lot of people migrated due to the crime levels.

I feel very unsafe in Trinidad – and I’m a martial arts instructor. Women are being victimised now in crime, kidnapping of women, all these (assault) crimes.

It’s a necessity now for women to learn some form of martial art, some form of self-defence, to be able to at least literally give themselves a fighting chance. That’s

the reality we face.

I’ve been robbed at gunpoint in Arima. It took seconds, broad daylight, on the pavement behind the police station. Big grown men, come talking to you like normal, stick a gun in your waist.

In a crime situation, just hand over everything, don’t make a noise, don’t scream. Act normal. You could get another wallet.

Money isn’t the root of all evil. Poverty is.

Whether is white-collar crime or you go out with a gun, crime is crime.

A Trini is multicultural, multitalented, everything we want to be. We’re a pelau!

TT means home to me.

Read the full version of this feature on Wednesday at www.BCPires.com

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