Secret Life of a Mermaid
Their lavish costumes and group swims provide a community they could never find on land — so much so that they don’t identify as human.
Photos by Kristen Angelo | Edited by W.M. Akers
The mermaid sits with perfect posture, delicately nibbling a croissant in a Portland, Oregon, cafe. Her fingernails are long, painted a bluish green. Her dark hair is cut in a crisp A-line bob. She introduces herself as Una the Mermaid, though her given name is Gina Ricupero. She is a 39-year-old mother, works in education at a prison, and is one of Portland’s most well-known mermaids. As she sips a cappuccino, she talks about the path to finding herself, a story of hurt and healing, of pirates and sirens, of toxic masculinity and the power of play. She recounts the moment she realized that though she may have been born on land, an ordinary human, her true identity revolves around the sea. Through a gap-toothed smile, she talks about the beautiful things she’s experienced in the community of mermaids, a world where imagination flourishes and weakness turns to power. A world in which a homemade tail can bring both joy and solace. “I know i…