By Nadia Trinidad, ABS CBN North America Bureau

Reno, NV – Theirs is a story that started when a college quarterback in Nevada walked in a tattoo artists’ shop and looked for a Filipino.

“Pagpasok ang laki, ang tangkad. Kako mukhang seryoso, marami kong mata-tattoo dito. (When he walked in he was tall and I told myself, I can do lots of tattoos on him),” a chuckling Nes Andrion recalled his first encounter with a young Colin Kaepernick.

The athlete introduced himself as “Kap” to the artist Nes. They got along well, finding common ground in a dream.

“One day kako, itong taong ito sisikat. (Back then I knew that one day he will become famous),” Andrion added.

That was six years ago.

Fast forward to 2013, on Superbowl Sunday, Nes’ artwork was on display before a global audience of over a hundred million on the arms 49ers quarterback Kaepernick.

It was a long way from the doodles he made as a kid growing up in the Philippines.

“Mahirap na mahirap lang kami talaga sa Pilipinas. Nasubukan ko lumaki na walang kama. Yung tinutulugan ko sahig na fresh na ano lang, lupa. (I grew up dirt poor in the Philippines. I didn’t even have a bed then. I slept on a cardboard on the ground),” he said.

Nes was less than a year old when his mother left him in Olongapo. Raised by relatives, he said he knew so well what hunger felt like. When he was ten, his mother returned and took him to the States. Back then he had promised himself that he would use his art to change his life.

“Ang ginawa ko sinulid saka yung karayom ng mommy ko. Kinukuha ko sa tahian niya. Dini-dip sa ink, so gumana. So gumawa ako ng marami pa tapos tinawagan ko yung mga kaibigan ko. Yun tusok tusok. Sobrang tagal nga. Pero pinagtiyagaan ko yun. (I started with needles and thread from my Mom’s sewing kit. I’d dip it in ink and experimented on myself then my friends. I was self taught but I persevered. So I guess it worked out),” he explained.

Nes now owns Endless Ink, a studio in Reno that employs a team of artists and two apprentices. His schedule is so full, one would have to wait three months to get an appointment.

They say his is a classic story of a fulfilled American dream. But Nes would be the first to say that it’s not all about the money. Sure, he appreciates not having gone hungry in a long time. But he says nothing beats getting up to come to work every day, just because.

“Yung ginagawa kong trabaho talagang di ko tinitingnan siyang trabaho eh. Talagang yun ang paborito kong gawin eh. (The work I do is not a job. It’s my favorite activity),” he said.


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