Kai Santiago - Makeup Artist, Aspiring Student Affairs Professional
Kai Santiago is a Makeup Artist at Sephora and aspiring Student Affairs professional based in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the moniker the Honey Beige, Kai pays homage to the first foundation he used and celebrates his beautiful shade of brown. Makeup Artistry has given Kai a creative outlet to share stories that he wants to share, bring light to the Queer experience, and help others look and feel their best. Kai’s artistry is beautiful, with drag as another form of art and expression, and Kai draws inspiration from the spirit and energy of others. Growing up, Kai found it difficult to embrace his Fil Am identity, but Ethnic Studies classes at SFSU helped Kai decolonize his mindset and brought him to pursue a degree in Psychology. Pin@y Educational Partnerships gave Kai a community of educators that do the heart work and uplift Fil Am youth. These experiences in education brought Kai to apply graduates schools and work towards a career in Higher Education and Student Affairs. Kai creates beauty and his beauty and love definitely shines from the inside out.
When did you begin drag? What attracted you to the art form?
I began doing drag at the beginning of 2019 & it was honestly to challenge myself as a Makeup Artist. I always was intrigued with how drag queens transformed & how similar to Artistry, you can bend rules & make it your own. I also used to be very engaged in Musical Theater (through Westlake School for the Performing Arts) & Filipino Folk Dance (through Barangay Dance Company of San Francisco) after high school. Performing has always been something that fuels me as a person & I figured drag could give me an outlet to remember my passion for performing arts.
Have you always been interested in makeup artistry?
When I was in elementary/middle school, my Mom would catch me playing with her makeup which she kept in the bathroom. I would get in trouble because she would tell me that makeup was only for girls & that boys couldn't wear it. (Conservative Ilokano Moms be like... lol) Fast forward to my freshman year of high school where I was required to wear foundation on stage, then going into my first year of college, I decided to create "thehoneybeige" for my Instagram handle because it was my first foundation shade that started it all. Neutrogena Healthy Skin Foundation used to carry "Honey Beige" & so did the L'oreal True Match powder, so I figured I would embrace my shade of brown by using it as my social media handle. I applied to work at Ulta in 2011 and was rejected, but I applied to Sephora inside JC Penney as a Seasonal in 2013 and the rest is hxstory. :)
Where has make up artistry taken you? (in life, professionally)
I worked as a Makeup Artist from 2013 - 2016, then came back at the end of 2017 with many different positions at SEPHORA. I have been honored to be a Lead at both locations I've worked at, but my passion has always been to create a valuable experience for clients through artistry. Since 2015, I've been a SEPHORA certified Makeup Artist & have worked as a Freelance Makeup Artist for several opportunities. My first gig was with San Francisco State University's Fall play in 2014, then I went on to doing event makeup for friends/colleagues at SFSU. Since last year, I've done several weddings in the Bay Area and occasional photo shoots/graduations.
On a personal level, I struggle with mental health issues (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and bouts of Depression due to trauma from my upbringing, but makeup has always given me an outlet to be creative, to use myself as a canvas to inspire others, and to show whoever I encounter that men wearing makeup doesn't harm anyone. It's a form of expression and is something that I hold very dear to my identity. In the last 5 years of working in the Beauty Industry, I have seen more and more male makeup artists embrace femininity, breaking boundaries, and shedding light on the Queer experience in America, as well as all over the world. Makeup Artistry has allowed me to share stories through my looks and has given me purpose to help others not only look their best, but to feel their best.
How was it like growing up in the Fil Am community? And how did Pin@y Educational Partnerships influence you?
Being from Daly City, California, I always held this internalized oppression towards my Fil Am community. I never wanted to associate with being Filipino because almost everyone in this part of the Peninsula was. At home, I would partake in the customs of my Filipino heritage, shared cultural experiences that many other Fil Ams can attest to, but outside of home, I wouldn't be proud to represent my community. It wasn't until I went to San Francisco State and took ethnic studies classes in 2014 - 2017 that I was helped to decolonize my mind from a very toxic mentality. I was actually inspired to get my degree in Psychology in the hopes of going into Counseling/Mental Health work because of how impacted I was from the Asian American Studies/Ethnic Studies courses I took that introduced me to works like EJR David's "Brown Skin, White Minds".
Pin@y Educational Partnerships introduced me to a community of educators, many of whom have done tremendous work to empower students who may actually be experiencing what I did growing up. Working with high school students from an under served part of San Francisco & teaching what I have learned from my undergraduate career, while sharing experiences from my upbringing really grounded me as a person. I will not be the first to say that being an educator is difficult. The amount of heart work that goes into creating lesson plans with your barangay (teaching team), the vulnerable conversations that need to happen to ensure the livelihood of your community (teachers & students included), and the pressure you put on yourself to deliver your best is the kind of work that humbles you. I am proud to say that I have been able to grow in my personal teaching philosophy through this community, and only hope to continue to strengthen ties with more of the Fil Am/Queer community.
Do you have any favorite memories of Dr. Dawn Mabalon?
Manang Dawn was a huge fan of Filipino Men in Makeup. On the last workshop she delivered for 2018 PEP Summer Training (TIBAK), she spoke about how Filipino History is going to involve Fil Am Men's impact on the Beauty industry, Patrick Starrr and Bretman Rock being some of the biggest names to move our community towards representation. She truly was the Godmother of PEP in a sense that she always saw every single person in the room & would connect with you even if she hadn't spent more than 5 minutes with you. When I first purchased my copy of "Little Manila is in the Heart", she signed it "For the Ancestors". Something about that idea, of doing what we’re passionate about for the ancestors, spoke volumes to me. Her loss was announced while I was a coordinator for PEP, and moving forward with the organization struck such a chord for all of us. We were reminded in those few months who we do the heart work for. I am reminded today why I use social media as a platform & what influence can really do for others because of people like Dr. Dawn Mabalon.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from others the most. Other people's energies, their spirits, I feel them. I've always been told I feel very deeply & that is something that I used to consider a weakness. Thankfully I now realize that it is an absolute strength of mine since not everyone in this world is very good with empathy. I also have been very inspired by other artists when it comes to my own artistry. I try to piece together certain techniques to create my own color stories. When I need a break from people or distractions in general, I look to nature a lot. I went to the Philippines after I graduated college at the beginning of 2018, and I was mesmerized by the country's natural resources that indigenous people are fighting so hard to maintain. I came back to my makeup and was so inspired to just create. I've experienced this several times after all of my travels. Seeing colors that the world naturally molds together in nature is something that can easily be taken for granted but I try my best to put all the distractions down & remember my purpose as a creative.
How does your community uplift you?
In the last few years, the way I define my community has changed. To be completely candid, I drew back from a lot of folx in the Fil Am community because of my mental health needs. I completely deleted all my social media towards the end of last year, and recently came back to only Instagram in the beginning of this year like I had mentioned previously. I put an unnecessary amount of pressure on myself that many others have expressed as well. There is a stigma when it comes to social media & how we compare our lives to others that becomes toxic. I thought that because I was taking such a big step away from my community, I wouldn't be met with welcoming arms. Although I have definitely lost touch with many people from the Fil Am community, I can genuinely say that those that have reached out/responded to my outreach have given me so much to be thankful for. I have also gained so much support from local drag queens, performers, photographers, creatives in general who support my craft as an artist and an entertainer. My community is not just involved with Fil Am folx anymore, but also Queer folx, and fellow Artists. These people help keep me grounded, remind me of what my best self looks & feels like, and push me in positive directions.
Do you have any upcoming events or projects you are excited about?
At this time, I'm applying to Graduate School to pursue a career in Higher Education & Student Affairs so I do not have any projects coming up. HOWEVER, in the Fall/Winter I will be doing the last of my photo shoots from this year-long process with my photographer, Tragic Glamour, and am hoping to do drag performances post-application season. I have also been working to partner with other non-profit organizations that do creative work with the community & am excited to expand my horizons in terms of getting more folx to come out & embrace their creativity!
Photos by Tragic Glamour and courtesy of Kai Santiago