Miles Regis: Multimedia Artist From Trinidad | KCET
Miles Regis: Multimedia Artist From Trinidad
Each week, Jeremy Rosenberg (@LosJeremy) asks, "How did you - or your family before you - wind up living in Los Angeles?
Today we hear from gallery artist and musician, Miles Regis
"From very early, I saw Los Angeles as a place I could call home.
"I was born in San Fernando -- there is a "San Fernando" in Trinidad as well as the San Fernando here in L.A. My mother's side of the King family and my father's side of the family (the Regis' and the Shurlands) are each from San Fernando. When my younger brother was born in April of 1971, three-and-a-half years after I was born, my family moved to Petit Valley, which is a suburb not too far from the capital of Port of Spain.
"My parents were very big on travel and exposing us to different realities and cultures. Fortunately for us, that meant that almost every summer we got to jump on a plane. When you are from an island as small as Trinidad is, with 1.5 million people, travel usually involves leaving the island but it did not always seem necessary. We did enjoy such an amazingly well-rounded, healthy childhood. I mean, there we were in a tropical paradise - our weekends were filled with trips to the beach and what I now understand to be rather exotic escapes from day-to-day routine.
"But my parents thought it was really important that we explored the world. Trinidad was once a British Colony until we gained independence in 1962 -- so my parents' idea of travel is interestingly different from mine.
"My idea of travel is quite different, so there are a whole lot more places I would choose to go to. But for my parents, it was mainly North America and Europe, and a couple other Caribbean islands and that was it. So, for our vacations every summer, we would go visit their siblings and relatives who lived on either of those continents.
"My father had his two youngest brothers in Toronto. My mom had her siblings in the U.S. Her brother, Lewis, who also is my godfather, lived in Los Angeles. I was so fortunate as a 10-year-old to get to discover Los Angeles.
"It definitely was a life-changing experience, an out-of-body experience almost, visiting L.A. It was almost as if I immediately sensed that I would live here. We had been to Toronto and New York and Washington, D.C., but L.A. was different. The climate felt very similar to that of Trinidad. I fell in love with that. It was almost like I knew I would spend the majority of my life here. Which now, I have.
"Thanks to my uncle, I was exposed to so much during my early visits to LA: The Watts Towers, for example, and the creativity coming out of that community. And I will never forget visiting St. Elmo's Village. What a cultural experience!
"I was also very fortunate to gain an early sense of social awareness as a teen because of my visits to L.A. My summer job would be spent interning at The Charles Drew Medical School and MLK hospital in Compton. Working with inner city youth heightened my sense of awareness to the plight of the black population in Compton and opened up my sensitivity to the realities of Los Angeles' sociopolitical landscape.
"My internship group discussed topics such as gang relations and we witnessed, hands-on, the harsh realities facing black youth in the mid to late 80s. I'll never forget the hospital's trauma unit victims and the sad reality facing victims of the horrific gang shootings that were prevalent at that time.
"Staggering statistics and the cruelties facing the less fortunate truly hit home for me, as it was so foreign to me as a Caribbean teenager; it formulated in me a unique understanding of community that I continue to carry with me today. And being a creative person, being an artist and a singer, a songwriter and musician -- just being around my uncle's L.A. crowd was incredible. He was close to Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who also has Trinidadian roots. My uncle knew a lot of people in the entertainment industry. We would go watch recording sessions at people's studios and visit the movie studios like Universal and Disney.
"Since I had lived on an island where American culture is so much a part of one's experience, I was aware of so much in American culture already. Then you get here and see up close that this is where the creativity comes from. The root. The source of it all. Although if left up to me I probably would have moved here when I was ten, I had to wait until I turned twenty-one. When I was fourteen, my family spent a month in Europe. We had a Eurail-Pass and we jumped on the train and spent two days in several major cites. That too was a life-changing experience. But after having done that, I remember on the plane ride back to Trinidad, my parents asking, 'So, where do you want to live now?'
"And I said, 'You know, Amsterdam is a close second, but I want to live in L.A.'"¨Cut to five years later. I'm still not in L.A. yet. I had finished high school and I was working as a computer operator. I also performed with my band at night. I had entered a national songwriting competition at 18 and I was getting attention as a serious professional musician in the Trinidad scene.
"I was approached by Carl "Beaver" Henderson, who was the head of a band called Fireflight. The band had been around since my childhood -- I think it first came on the scene in 1979.
"Fireflight was a fifteen-piece band with full-on costumes -- sort of like Trinidad's answer to the Earth, Wind and Fire, or the Commodores. The music fused Trinidad's local music -- which is soca -- with the soul and funk from American culture.
"Beaver Henderson asked me to become one of the lead singers. I toured with the band and it was quite an incredible and empowering experience as a teen. There were three lead singers. We performed probably three or four times a week. I did tons of commercial jingles that played on TV and radio.
"After two years of that life, I was dating my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife. We looked at each other and said, 'You know what? We have done all that we can do in Trinidad. We need to create our own reality, define our own truth.'
"And so we decided that we would head off to North America. At the time, she had family in New York so she had a support system there. She is a few years older than I am and had already gotten her bachelor's. So she went off to New York to get her master's and I headed to Los Angeles."¨"¨
"My uncle lived in Culver City at the time. I arrived at his house in July 1989 and he welcomed me and said, 'Well, what are you doing? What's the plan?' And I said, 'To go to college.' He goes, 'Okay, so have you applied to and been accepted by any?'
"No, I told my uncle, I hadn't yet applied. My uncle said, 'Well here's the number for the RTD' -- you know, which at the time was the public transport system. And he jumped on a plane on a business trip. 'You have use of my house but go explore.'
"So literally the next day after I came to L.A. I took the bus and went to UCLA and turned in an application. And then the following day I did the same at USC.**
"There, I visited the International Students Association. The girl at the front desk asked me where I was from? When I told her she said, 'Oh my God there is someone in the office from Trinidad!' I met this woman -- Jillian. She said, 'I hardly ever see any Trinidadians in our office.'
"I got accepted into USC. Some of my closest friends were in the Caribbean Club -- my L.A. family, I would call them. You know: there were Jamaicans, Antiguans, and Barbadians and a couple people from other islands. The Club really was a saving grace for me because it was an immediate home away from home situation.
"Right away, I thought, 'Okay, you have a cultural support system.' And although it is not like the east coast situation like in Brooklyn -- where, I mean, I walk on Flatbush in Brooklyn and people from as far back as my elementary school go by. They shout out, 'Hey, Miles!' It's like, wow, am I in Trinidad?
"There isn't in L.A. a central sort of Caribbean neighborhood per se. But there are a ton of Caribbean folk living here, just spread all over, from Covina all the way to Long Beach.
"People immigrate here even though Trinidad is an amazing and cosmopolitan place. But you are sort of limited as far as options are concerned, especially where career is concerned. And especially as a creative person. A lot of the musicians I grew up around, they did something else as well to support themselves. Music sort of was something that they did on the side but you know they had to have a day job.
"I had another uncle -- not the one who came to Los Angeles -- who was an amazing, flourishing artist in Trinidad. But my uncle was limited in comparison to the realities of a Los Angeles situation. He worked as a teacher, he was a professor, and so even though he was such an accomplished artist, art was almost viewed as more of a hobby. Things may have changed dramatically in the few decades since I have been gone, but for me, as a child, you just didn't say, 'I want to grow up to be an artist.'
"I'd like to end by sharing this quote that I stumbled upon. It's a quote by Henry Miller from Stand Still Like the Hummingbird. It says:
"Well, that's me. As a husband and father and Los Angelino, and how I strive to heal and how I strive to be the most that I can be and affect change in the most positive of ways. I hope that as I live my life in my truth and I express my truth on canvas and through my music that I am touching people in a way that affects a change for the better."
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)
**Jeremy Rosenberg works at USC
Do you or someone you know have a great Los Angeles Arrival Story to share? If so, then contact Jeremy Rosenberg via: arrivalstory AT gmail DOT com. Also contact or follow Rosenberg on Twitter @LosJeremy
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