Orange County, CA- “My grandfather was bald, so was his Da… so is mine,” Jake Collins tells me as he runs a tattooed hand across his shiny pink scalp. “It’s kinda a family trait, like diabetes, quick tempers, and tattoos,” He pulls up his sleeve to show off more of his ink, then frames his face with hands marked HATE and EVIL, then flashes a quick smile that’s equal parts gold and mischief.
“Great grandpa Seamus, the first Collins to call America home was more of a dabbler when it came to working the needle. He worked a hot brand for the K Ranch in Kansas City, markin’ steer for his keep. Tattooing for him I think was just a release valve. That is, until grandpa Jack came around and took an early interest in the craft.”
“My daughter Kaylee is no different. She designed this in kindergarden,” he says, and shows me a lopsided hopscotch board that covers his right forearm.
“For show and tell I went to her classroom, and she showed off the design to the kids in her class. They were so jealous. That was a really awesome day. Later on that night, her principal called me up to tell me that a lot of parents had reached out to her. Some of them were upset, but the overwhelming majority were interested in finding out if I could do tattoos of their kids art too! Fucking Hipsters,” he says laughing. “I did uh… eight or nine tatts because of that show and tell alone. Big ones too.”
“Even one of the angry ones who called to complain later got a piece. That lady grooms my dog to this day. I’ll tell ya, its a crazy life.”
In the few minutes I spoke with Jake Collins, I met a lively man who loved to tell stories, talk about history, his family, and his devotion to a tradition that has been with the Collins’ for more than three generations. He is very proud of what his family has accomplished since immigrating to this country from Ireland in 1887. Jake understands he is an important part of his family’s legacy. Unfortunately for the Collins’, it’s not the only thing his family is known for.
“People been mistaking us Collins’ for skinheads and white supremacists since before I was born,” he shrugs, and shakes his head.
“It all goes back to a story about Seamus; and him getting an invite by some Klansmen to one of their rallies, while he was working a ranch down in Texas. As the story goes my grandpa kindly accepted the invitation, then went to the nearest town and rounded up a group of Mexicans he’d met at a different ranch a couple of days earlier. Being fluent in Spanish from his days at the K, he told those Mexicans what was going on, and asked ‘em if they wanted to help him out with teaching the Klan a lesson.”
“They waited til it was dark, and while the Klansmen were up on a hill preoccupied with burning crosses or whatever it is they do, Seamus and his new friends snuck up to the ranch with lit torches, and burned the whole thing down. He even left ‘em a note. It said “yall ain’t welcome here.”
“Of course things were different back then. Now I’m not saying my grandpa was wrong for hating those racists. He wasn’t. Racism has no place in this world, and we should not tolerate it. But burning down a whole ranch… I don’t know. That’s kind of extreme.”
I asked Jake what he does when he’s approached by members of hate groups such as skinheads or neo Nazis. “If it’s in the shop, I just point to one of the six large signs we have posted that say, ‘Ya’ll ain’t welcome here’ with an crossed out swastika. On the street though… it sort of depends.”
“When I’m by myself, it’s pretty annoying to get “zeig hailed” by a passing car, or to get a head nod from a group of good ole boy’s when I’m out shopping. I mean, it’s embarrassing. It’s not like I’ve got to return the nod for people to automatically assume I’m a racist too. Generally I’ve learned to tune that out.”
“It does get a bit more complicated if I’m with my family and one of them comes up. My wife Karen is black, and Kaylee is half. When that happens, things can get a little dicey. Last week I was approached by a young skinhead who started chirpin’ me up about my ink. Then he saw my wife and kid approach and he dropped an “N bomb” loud enough for both of them to hear.”
What did you do?
“Well… Let’s just say I did what I thought old Seamus would do. I gave in to my temper.”