Rocky Santiago – Wings

interview by ToneSwep
images by Nikki Gomez
mua by Eve Chen for Melange NYC
styled by Justin Xavier
hair by Priscilla Jay
shot at a Private Estate – SEXEE Mansion – Bedford Hills, New York

(SEXEE) Your journey started in Northern California, Nor Cal. Share a little about you early childhood with us. Where are you from? What were the Santiago household’s family values like?

(Rocky Santiago: Rocky) Yes, I grew up in Nor Cal, born in the Bay Area but raised a couple hours north in the middle of nowhere. I grew up pretty much barefoot, climbing trees, and always at the rivers. Huge tomboy. I had to be tough so I could hang with my brothers. I have six older brothers but grew up with five. My mom was a single parent for the first part of my life until she met my amazing step dad. And to be honest, we didn’t really listen to her. Like, she tried grounding me when I was like 14. And I said ‘What’s That?’ and I left for my friends house (Laughs!). She never grounded me before so why start then, I thought. Rebellious, always a rebel.

(SEXEE) What are some of your earliest childhood memories? What types of arts and activities were you innately drawn to as a young girl?

(Rocky) We had this huge oak tree in our front yard, and we had the DOPEST swing on it! I’ll never forget that. I grew up in a super small gold country town. We had only a few stoplights in the whole county. I liked to go on adventures through the woods and build tree forts with my brothers.

(SEXEE) Recently, we watched footage of this 5-10 model chick killin’ the New York Fashion Week runway in the Bound By The Crown collection. Were you always a pretty, confident girl growing up? Honestly, it’s hard to imagine you being any other way.

(Rocky) Yes! I got to walk in one of the NYFW runway shows! I never thought I would get to check that off my bucket list. I’ve always been very confident. I was homecoming queen back in high school. It’s just my nature to take the lead and show people how’s it’s done.

(SEXEE) Talk a bit about your ethnic background. Santiago is a Spanish name, but the Latin diaspora is so continentally diverse the name could have origins in Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Portugal, Puerto Rico. What is your Latina hybrid?

(Rocky) I am a hybrid of Italian, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, and Japanese. Nobody ever knows what I’m mixed with.

(SEXEE) What are some of the challenges you faced as a teenaged girl coming up in Cali?

(Rocky) I would say that even though I had all this outer self-confidence, I was definitely lacking it on the inside. I don’t think I believed in myself as much as I should have when I was younger.

(SEXEE) You’ve lived in Cali, Atlanta, and now New York City. Let’s talk about city girls. What’s the glaring difference in mentality and approach between ladies from those three places?

(Rocky) I also lived in Florida and Kansas.

(SEXEE) Kansas? What the fu…

(Rocky) … (Laughs!) I know. My oldest brother lives there, and I moved out there after high school. I mean, every woman is different: Cali I feel like we are laid back. In New York they are hard, and in Miami they are kinda cookie cutter personalities. 

(SEXEE) What about with guys from those three places. What would you say are the major differences between these guys and how they treat women?

(Rocky) Well, this year was the first time I got back with the opposite sex after five years dating women. I think guys are going to be guys and it doesn’t really matter where they are from.

(SEXEE) Reading “My Glass Diary”, your Insta-blog, and you openly discuss your bouts with alcohol and being surrounded by the drug culture; that world. What do you feel led you down the path of substance abuse?

(Rocky) Yes, My Glass Diary is going to be an open book. I’m going to share some things, but not everything since I’m working on putting a book out early next year. But, I want to be in a place where I can speak to other women and men who have gone through some of the same things as I have. I want it to be a place of self-healing. I loved the high alcohol gave me, that’s all I wanted to do was drink. There’s been many voids in my life, and any of them could have been the root cause of my drinking problems. I was depressed, and alcohol made me feel better. If I had a problem I would drink it away. I would drink away any feelings I didn’t want to feel, or any thoughts I didn’t want on my mind.

(SEXEE) How on earth did you overcome addiction? One of the most difficult lifelong challenges one can face is battling addiction. You not only rebounded, Rocky, but excelled to even greater heights.

(Rocky) I was never abusing drugs or addicted to any drug, but I did find myself friends with people who either sold it or had it all the time, so it became a thing like… If I hang out with them, I know I’m going to do some shit! It’s the same thing with drinking, everyone was drinking around me besides my family, but all my friends did. All in all it took a lot of self-love and the want to change. The will to change. I didn’t want to be numb anymore, I wanted to feel again; feel happiness, even feel sadness. I would be sad on occasion but couldn’t feel it, and that was the scariest experience I’ve ever had before. Not being able to feel.

(SEXEE) Why do women so often tolerate abuse in relationships? Where does that tolerance derive from? It’s like the same type of addiction.

(Rocky) We automatically think – ‘What did I do wrong to make that person hit me or talk to me like this?!’ – We blame ourselves instead of understanding nobody can make anyone do anything. Only you have the power over you, you don’t have control of anyone else’s actions. I stayed for two years in mine, and I think we were both lost. And I do know I wasn’t an angel. I was fucked up, too. I take responsibility over my actions and I completely understand that. Whatever you let someone do to you without leaving or ending it, it’s always going to continue and get worse. That whole “I’m sorry baby, I love you, it will never happen again” is bullshit. Some people will break you down so they can have full power over you, so you don’t have a backbone to stand up for yourself and have no voice. It’s also a really scary thing for most of us women, when you feel so low about yourself until you feel like you need that person as if you are nothing without them. It’s a mental fuck, all manipulation.

(SEXEE) You made an impact and instantly became a fan favorite on Bad Girls Club. How was your experience on the show? You were kicking everyone’s ass!

(Rocky) My experience was extreme! (Screams!) I went from one abusive setting to the next. But Bad Girls Club saved my life. Even though I was getting bullied and attacked all the time, I felt safe there and I know that sounds crazy but it’s true. I felt safe. I did my thing and that was that, I had a lot of fun. People want to judge me for being on that show, calling me ratchet. But they don’t know how grateful I am that I was on a ratchet show, because if I never got cast I know for a fact I wouldn’t be here to this day.

(SEXEE) Do you still have friends from the show who you keep in contact with?

(Rocky) Yes, I keep in contact with Shannon (Sarich) of course. And I hang out with Jada (Cacchilli) and Gigi (Lopez) all the time; a few others as well.

(SEXEE) You came out on the show. How difficult was that to do? How long had you sort of been harboring that truth?

(Rocky) I don’t know… I grew up in a conservative town, so lesbians weren’t a thing. I def’ messed around with a few girls at some parties and was always making out with girls. But overall, I wasn’t too worried about coming out. I just have to stay truthful and real to myself, and that was being who I was. I think I’ve always been bi-sexual, I just never experimented like that until the show. Then I woke up and was gay (Laughs!). Then here I am five years later, I’m an open book. I see no labels when it comes to love.

(SEXEE) Is there still a discriminatory stigma surrounding the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-gender population? Or is there now greater acceptance and open-mindedness?

(Rocky) I think the world has changed so much, and people are still going to have their own beliefs. But I think for the most part people are way more open now. Being stared at is like the most awkward thing ever. It’s like, you can allow the attention to make you uncomfortable or you can be flattered that they are giving you all their focus. People’s perceptions of you don’t define who you are. Remember that. You can’t be free if you judge people.

(SEXEE) You are currently one of the busiest 20-something in New York. Talk a little about your business endeavors at present. And share a sneak peek into what’s next.

(Rocky) Hey, I always got to keep going. New York City has been a hard place to make it, and I legit came out here on my own. I had a couple friends but for the most part it was just me and my cat. No matter how tough things get, no matter how many doors are closed, just always have that faith and that fire to keep you going. So, I’m actually working on a book right now and it’s going to be really deep. I’m going to pretty much open up my diary to the world, raw and uncut. I want people to be able to relate to someone and I’m far more personable than most people think. I also have a couple business deals lined up that I’m super excited about. I’m really just putting myself out there again as the new and improved me.
(SEXEE) What is your approach to business? Are you an artsy girl who is incorporating her creative interests, or strictly about your paper?

(Rocky) I’m definitely a little bit of both to be honest, Tone. If it’s about money I’m all in but I’ll always try and put my own twist on it.

(SEXEE) You have so many different looks – short hair, long hair, lingerie, bikini, glam, street, girl next door, video model. Talk about being SEXEE, how it empowers women to be independent and in demand but also some of the challenges associated with being SEXEE.

(Rocky) I do have many looks (Laughs!). You have to be versatile and approachable from all aspects of life. I would say SEXEE is more of a feeling you have about yourself. Self-confidence and self love. It’s important to not attract attention for all the wrong reasons. I get harassed by guys every day, I could be wearing a paper bag over my head and some sweatpants. And they still be staring or saying slick comments. Honestly, I just smile and keep it pushing.

(SEXEE) Do Raquel and Rocky always get along? Can they coexist? Seems like they are two very different young women.

(Rocky) Yes they definitely do. For the most part I feel like Rocky and Raquel aren’t too different from each other. Rocky is a little more tough and turn’t up though!

(SEXEE) SEXEE Scenario: Leonardo DiCaprio approaches you and asks you to be his date on the red carpet at the Oscars, but then Rihanna asks you to be her date on the red carpet at the Oscars as well. Who do you attend with?

(Rocky) I would totally pick Rihanna. Hands down! That’s bae!

(SEXEE) SEXEE Scenario: Selma Hayek, Jennifer Lopez, and Eva Mendes roll up to you and Rihanna on the red carpet and say they need a fourth bad ass Latina so they can shut the clubs down. Do you leave Rihanna alone on the Oscars red carpet and go hit the clubs with them? Or turn them down and stay with Ri Ri?

(Rocky) Roll with the Latinas!…. Bae will understand (winks).

(SEXEE) How does it feel to be happy?

(Rocky) Happiness is the essence, the most essential feeling one can ever have. It’s so peaceful. My mind is my friend. I get along with my thoughts. Most people don’t, and so they are just slaves to themselves. Free your mind and happiness will follow.

(SEXEE) You know how to write as well. Those close to you are very familiar with seeing your thoughts on paper. Can you share any excerpts from your unpublished book?

(Rocky) (recites a stanza from one of her poems)

Lost in thought 

what’s her next move?

is fear her motivation? 

or is it making her lose?

head held high she got wings she can fly 

but when life gets Rocky and everything seems in a tangle 

she looks down at her own shadow and reminds herself that she’s an angel…

(SEXEE) Lastly, I wanted to ask you about your Wings – your signature tattoo covering most of your back. What are they symbolic of? And where have those Wings helped a fly girl fly away to?

(Rocky) I feel my tattoo gives me strength. It’s proof that I can get through anything no matter how hard things can get at times. I won’t ever stay down and I’ll always rise above. I’ve always been a gypsy child moving here and there, I can never stay in one spot. So after I’m done with New York I’m looking forward to where these wings will take me next.

(SEXEE) This is one of the deepest cover interviews we’ve had at SEXEE. Nothing shallow about Ms. Santiago.

(Rocky) Deep is all I know.

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