The Next Cut

His brown eyes deliberately stare at the motionless head in front of him, like a lion preying on a helpless gazelle. A buzzing sounds echoes and ricochets off the asylum-colored walls. Every cut is precise and on point. Nothing can distract the professional and steady hand of the newest barber at Stuntastics, a barbershop in the Lakeview district of San Francisco, California.

A dab here, a dab there of aqua color peroxide are the finishing touches on the Picasso-like masterpiece of Jeremy Sarmiento. Ebert and Roeper would give the work two thumbs up and customers second the motion; with no words exchanged, Sarmiento simply lifts up the mirror, the customer looks from left to right, up and down, then gives a nod of the head. The work is accepted.

Taking a break, crunching on potato chips and savoring every liquid drop of soda, 21-year-old Jeremy Sarmiento seems like your regular young adult eating breakfast in the morning… but that is not the case. Sarmiento is not your normal Filipino American guy, dancing like Usher or displaying his new Air Jordans. Sarmiento is a barber in a black-owned barbershop.

Say what?

In some San Francisco neighborhoods like Bayview Hunters Point and Lakeview, black barbershops have a little twist; the community of hair cut seekers seem to be more impressed by how well someone can cut hair rather than what the barber looks like.

It's no surprise, given our capitalistic society and abundance of different cultures and ethnicities, that if you are good at a certain craft, no matter if you're white, black, gold, or green, your talent will be appreciated on all levels -- even if you are a Filipino barber in a black barbershop.

Mark Bautista, a 26-year-old youth empowerment specialist, says that the high concentration of Filipinos who reside in the Bay Area is the reason some have taken on the craft of barber in a black shop. Bautista, who also has a masters degree in Asian American Studies adds, "We [Filipinos] share the same community space and even experience with our African American brothers and sisters. We share the common identity of being colored, working class people. Thus we will always be working side to side with one another. Filipinos working in black owned barber shops is not the first or last time that Filipinos and blacks unite," says Bautista.

When groups begin to interact with one another, adopting each others' styles, language, and ideology become the norm. Hip-hop culture is a blatant example of this blending of cultures. Once an art form created mostly by African Americans, hip-hop has blossomed to what some would call a universal genre for all.

"If someone has skills, then at a certain point, it shouldn't matter what you are," says 22-year-old Fredrick Roots, a political science major at San Francisco State University who attends the barbershop on Third Street in Hunters Point of San Francisco. The shop has a Filipino barber of their own.

For those who are not aware, the black barbershop has served as a space for black men to discuss the world around them without being censored, a space where they are allowed to be themselves and gossip about anything and everything, such as politics and who is going to win the game later on that night.

When Sarmiento started work as a barber, he wasn't specifically trying to enter the black community. Cutting hair wasn't even a hobby or a profession that he was considering. "The thing is, I wasn't event thinking about cutting hair a couple of years ago, but I thought I was going to have a kid, so I had to get into something fast," explains Sarmiento.

It took him about a year to finish barber school. During the first six months, students would be in class learning how to shave with a razor, shampoo hair, and perform other basic skills of hair stylists. The next six months were dedicated to cutting hair on a manikin or a live person.

"It was uncomfortable at first because I really didn't know how to cut hair, but the other students helped me out a lot. I mean that's how you really learn about cutting hair, you learn from the people around you," says Sarmiento.

At the Sixth Street Barber school, Sarmiento's clientele were mostly drug addicts and homeless people, allowing him to interact with different people from his normal everyday life. After transferring to Bayview Barber School, Sarmiento's clients were predominantly black; the interaction would later surface as a stepping-stone for him becoming a Filipino barber in a black barbershop.

After about one year of school, Sarmiento had no problem finding a gig at a shop because the owner of the school owned a couple of barbershops. Soon Sarmiento was tossed right into Stuntastics.

His transition of becoming a full-time paid barber was what some would say easy, but in the words of Sarmiento, "It was real cool." He had luck on his side because when he first started, the other two barbers were Filipino. "They were really good so I really got my skills from them. I picked up quick."

The two barbers served as mentors, telling him how it was when they first started at the shop; Sarmiento would also eventually pick up on their cutting skills and become a premiere barber at the shop once the other two left for different jobs. "They used to tell me how people would just walk right by them and not want a cut from them. Eventually people saw how good they cut and they were impressed."

It took 21-year-old Brandon Landry about an hour and three hair cuts until he was convinced to let one of the Filipino barbers cut his hair. "I wasn't real sure at first, so I just watched. I saw what skill they had, so I had no problem in letting one of them cut my hair," says Landry.

"If people never been to the shop, they look at me funny, but my work speaks for itself," proclaims Sarmiento about how black customers view him when it's their first visit. He adds that the community has welcomed him with open arms and have been real nice about the unique situation.

"It's nothing new, people still go to the barbershop because it's part of our community," explains Cameron, a 17-year-old high school student who lives in the area.

Everyday new barriers are broken. The barrier could be large like gaining access to vote or small like in the case of a Filipino barber working in a black-owned barbershop. Whatever the barrier, someone and someplace is affected. In the case of the small barbershop on Randolph Street, 21-year old Jeremy Sarmiento and the Lakeview district seem to be doing all right with their unique setting. "This is what I got going for me right now, but I wouldn't mind doing it forever."


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