WOC. BIPOC. POC. Or even, Filipina American. This is the first year I’ve started associating myself with these identifiers. It doesn’t come naturally, yet. And after talking with metaphysical boutique shop owner Lauren Krygier, it seems I’m not the only one. After I share my background, Lauren shares hers.
“I’m Native Hawaiian, one quarter Filipino, and recently found out I am Chinese too. My mom is white. Lately, I’ve been investing in ancestry work. I actually just mailed my Ancestry DNA kit yesterday. I think opening the shop is influencing me. I believe our ancestors are with us all of the time and it’s important to communicate with them. I have an ancestor altar at home. It’s full of people from my mom’s side because that’s what I have record of. On my dad’s side, I have two photos and a big family tree that a friend of my dad’s did. It traces all the way back to the very first Chief of Hawaii.”
I didn’t intend for our conversation to start here, but it does and I listen intently as she continues to share herself.
“I didn’t grow up around my dad. He’s a musician. My parents divorced when I was three so my life was super white. My mom’s white. My aunt’s white. All the people I grew up around are white, but I was never discouraged about acknowledging my background. My mom gave me books about Hawaii when I was little. I’d complain about my wide nose, hips and flat feet when I was a girl, but mom lovingly reminded me it was because I was Hawaiian. When I was in my 20s, I joined a halau and started doing hula. But there’s always this disconnect because my dad’s over there and I’m over here. I’d like to be closer with that side of my family. I hope I get to ask more questions and meet more people in the future, but for now I’m starting with the genetics and seeing where that takes me. I mean, I forget sometimes I’m a person of color. But I think it’s important to acknowledge this part of us, even if we didn’t experience it when we were younger.”
We’re 15 minutes into the conversation and I start to sweat. I had to take my socks off and hike up the bottom of my pants. Her story was similar to mine in so many ways. I’m trying to work on listening to others without focusing on how I relate, but it’s all too familiar. We were both raised by our white mothers in Portland, OR and we even look a bit alike. My dad is a musician too and like Lauren’s parents, mine met when my dad was playing at a bar. They divorced when I was five years old and my mom moved me and my siblings up to Oregon from California; from my dad. Like Lauren, I’ve been exploring my identity more. I did a DNA test last April and learned that 50% of me is 100% indigenous Filipino Ilocano blood. I’m also talking with relatives to piece together the stories of my extended Filipino family as a way to honor my heritage and document the stories before it’s too late.
Why search now? Well, until recently talking about my color made me and those around me, uncomfortable. Being a teenager in the “Love Sees No Color” decade, made me dismiss my brownness even further. I didn’t want to be in the “other” category. Non-white. Minority. Marginalized. A hyphenated American vs. just American. It all felt negative and focused on being less than something or someone else. And as a bi-racial woman raised by my white mom, well that just complicates things. So I lived my life without checking any box.
But you see, the world puts me in boxes whether I like it or not and that comes with challenges I must overcome. At 41 years old, I am now ready to own it. To be proud of my brown skin tone, wide flat nose, wild curly hair, and almond shaped brown eyes. Sure, our mothers are white, but Lauren and I are not. It doesn’t make me any less my mother’s daughter, but recognizing, healing, and embracing what makes me uniquely me honors my ancestor’s legacy and gives me the kind of self-love I’ve been missing. And we’re not minorities. We’re minoritized.
2019 US Census data, as analyzed by William H Frey, tells us, “In 2019, for the first time, more than half of the nation’s population under age 16 identified as a racial or ethnic minority.” It also reveals the Asian American population (including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders) make up 6% of the population. I share this context to express the uniqueness of meeting Lauren, which was the direct outcome of me wanting to connect with other WOC in my community. She and I are a part of the growing majority and at the same time incredibly rare.
I tell Lauren all this and we laugh at the similarities of our family make up and the chances of the two of us meeting. In that moment, it was easy to forget the purpose of the call. I just want to get to know her more. I try not to force where the topics go next.
“My dad is the youngest of 11 kids. His dad, my grandfather, came from the Philippines. He and his brother worked as laborers for Dole cannery. My dad and most of his relatives still live in Hawaii. My mom’s from here though. All of her family is in Oregon. When my mom was 19, her and a girlfriend sold off all their stuff and went to Hawaii. She left Hawaii when my parents divorced. Unfortunately, I don’t get the chance to visit much. I have a 20 year old and 5 year old sons. If we go back, we all need to go and it’s expensive.”
She gets me thinking. My Filipino grandfather traveled to the US in the late 1920s and then again in 1945 after serving in the US Army in WWII. My grandma came in 1948. The immigration act of 1965 brought an even bigger influx of Filipino and Mexican workers. When the ships left the Philippines, the first stop was always the Hawaiian Islands because Filipinos had experience farming pineapples, coconut, and sugar cane. The remaining were dropped off in the California ports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland. The majority worked in farm labor camps or hospitality roles. Some even led and organized historic farm worker movements on the west coast including the Delano Grape Strike that went on between 1965-1970.
The history is all top of mind for me, since I’ve been researching family stories. Who knows? Maybe Lauren’s relatives and my relatives were on the same ship. Either way, our grandparents’ USA beginnings have similarities. I want to discuss this more with Lauren, but it’s a topic for another time.
Lauren continues to layout the life steps that brought her to WOO and how she believes she shouldn’t be here [sitting in her own shop] right now. Her background is in finance, but even before that she was in Bridal for 10 years and then Marketing before landing at a wealth management firm. It was a job she really wanted, but it was incredibly demanding. The money was good though and she was getting money put into her retirement account every year. Her career was going well and then she found out she was pregnant with her youngest. With the workplace and work pace not designed for new mother’s, Lauren struggled.
“All my time off was used to take my son to the doctor, or stay home because he was sick, or stay home because I was sick because he got me sick. And then trying to pump in the supply closet. I was getting home angry and tired all the time. It was awful.”
I can relate with all of this. But how does this get her to WOO?
“Being a stable dual income household for awhile, my husband and I decided it would be best if I leave the firm and stay home with Julian until we figured something else out. During the fires of 2016, I needed to get away from the smoke. I took Julian to the beach and I started doing bead work and making jewelry to give myself something to do. All of sudden people wanted to buy it and a year later I launched Joujoux.”
A trip to be near the sea sparked exactly what this Native Hawaiian needed to forge her new path.
“When visiting a friend, who worked in a blue building around the corner from here, I happened to meet the landlord. She asked me if I wanted to do a pop up. I said yes, but there was no way I could fill the whole space with just my jewelry.”
To figure out what to do next, Lauren put her energy in the power of intuition, manifestation, and her connection to spirit. Tarot cards and crystals were the start of that journey. That is how she decided what she wanted in her store.
“I started to connect with local vendors to fill the space with things I like from the artists and crafting community I knew. And then I was open.”
Lauren’s grand opening was on September 27, 2019, but when the Covid pandemic hit the landlord sold the building. Luckily, she was able to rent a space down the street, but this also meant setting up shop (literally) all over again. For the second time, she has done a beautiful job creating an inviting and inclusive space for even novice customers who are curious about magical practices from around the world. She sells crystals, tarot cards, books, candles, cards, tea, jewelry (including her own line), and local handmade crafts. Her white shelves sparkle with wonder and the hanging artwork features such strong woman of color faces keeping watch. When I visited, Lauren showed me a picture of her mother’s mom. It sits framed by the register.
Grandma Juanita (Prideaux) Rudeen was a catalogue model at first, but then joined her husband’s Engineering and Art Supply firm, Shannon and Company. She eventually became the President and completely turned the firm around by making it a central, comprehensive graphics outlet with thousands of products and clients throughout the Northwest and into California. In 1982, Juanita was quoted for saying she has a sixth sense. Grandma’s Juanita’s impression and influence is evident her granddaughter.
Even though Lauren may think starting WOO was improbable, from my vantage point it all makes perfect sense. Her store is a tribute to her ancestors and another step in her journey to get to know her full self even more. It’s authentically her. She is using the talents she gained in the Bridal, Marketing and Finance industries, while living out her ancestors’ legacy. Inspiring. There is so much about Lauren that I truly admire. I am so glad we met.
Thank you, Lauren Krygier for sharing your story.