“I came from immigrants. I immigrated myself – well not technically myself – my mom brought me over in her arms. I grew up in pretty bad neighborhoods. I grew up in a chaotic world because my parents were always working,” says Raul Mejia while talking to TUBE. about how he became the producer of a major Sacramento art show, Love Is A Verb.
Mejia continues over a light lunch at an empty restaurant somewhere on Broadway, “My parents picked the fields. So for me, it has always been really important to ‘live up’ to this life that they gave me. They’ve always told me ‘you can always do better; you can always be better. We brought you here for a reason, and the reason isn’t just to be a bum’ kind of thing.” Mejia talks about his parents with obvious love and respect. “You know, I’m an artist, so sometimes I’ll come [home] a little raggedy. And my mom will be like, ‘we didn’t bring you here to wear those shoes and look like that.’”
“I’ve had some big shoes to fill because my parents sacrificed a lot to get us here.” Love Is A Verb, might just fill those shoes, with the work over 20 different artists hand-picked by Mejia covering the two floors of the Penthouse Lounge in the old Elks tower at 11th and J, on February 10th.
The story of how the show has come together is reflective of Mejia’s growth as an artist, as a person, his strong connection to the culture of the country he was born to, and recent events in the country he calls home.“I’ve been involved in the arts for a long time. But for me, a big change happened when Donald Trump became President. Mainly it was the rhetoric, the words that were being used against my people and the people who I find myself similar to,” he said. “I became really depressed and it lasted for about two months. And then I started asking myself, ‘what is it that I can do to change things? To change the language? To change people’s perceptions and ideals?’”
“And I kept hitting this brick wall. Until I realized that what I have to do is be my true and honest self and start weaving the things that I like into the fabric of America; and in doing so it would also show that Latin American people – and Mexicans, being Mexican myself – are not that way. We’re not ‘rapists’ we’re not, like, crazy fools. Even though there are bad people in all cultures, the rhetoric that was being used was very specific, to a specific people. So to me, it was very damaging.”
With all the hate and negativity thrown at Mexico, Mejia believed he would face the same fate. “I was always thinking, ‘what if they don’t like my art? What if they don’t like me?’”
He decided to turn away from the negativity and instead focus on the audience he had worked hard to build. He asked himself, “What rhetoric is it that I am going to use?”
His answer? “The rhetoric is love.” He realized his favorite musicians, artists, and activists: John Lennon, Bob Marley, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X all had a similar theme. “They all united people under the same thing… love, and they want to be treated equally and fairly.”
He says this show “really gave me a reason to no longer be afraid … [of] where society is headed and things of that nature.” Taking some action gave him some positive energy to try to inspire change in the negativity he was feeling. “I feel like I’m a mover now. Instead of just sitting back and watching things happen, I now make things happen.”
“This show is a call to action,” says Mejia, hence the title, Love Is A Verb. He hopes this show will pay some role in helping more people “put themselves out there,” and in uniting communities to have discussions and “potentially change the world a little bit at a time.”
This is a big show, but Mejia also has a lot of other things happening that he is proud of. He loves to create jobs for himself by talking to people and cold-calling boutiques to work out consignment deals, including places like the Midtown boutique Kulture which has been carrying his work for years. When the art sells, he has happy customers asking for more and has been able to get his art out to a broader audience. Many of the people who appreciate his work know him through word of mouth, not social media.
The upcoming show Love is a Verb is a big deal, but what really makes Mejia perk up and puts a twinkle in his eyes is his personal passion: his “Mexican Legends” projects.
The negativity coming from the Trump campaign motivated Mejia to think of “a positive way to spin that around.” He started creating “Mexican Legends” that were done as stylized pop-art, and it has been exciting, “Because in Mexico we don’t have that. So, for instance, Americans have Andy Warhol who produced a lot of pop-art, a lot of beautiful work that has become a big part of American culture.”
He makes the pop-art in a very dynamic way, using iconic Mexican legends that may be fading from memory but still trigger waves of nostalgia in the older generations and pique curiosity to learn more in the younger generations. “The response has been overwhelming,” he says. “Everyone is coming to me with stories about them growing up.”
Through Kulture, Mejia met the owner of Chando’s Tacos, who has come to appreciate his work enough to commission a Mexican Legends mural on the side of the new 15th street location. “Chando is now giving me new characters that I have never heard about!” Mejia happily exclaims. “It’s this constant learning that I love about being an artist and being an artist and being a creator of Mexican History.”
And through his visual art and the exploration of his culture and history, Mejia came to understand a greater truth about that self-doubt forced on him, “the more I learned about them, the more I realized – why are we keeping ourselves from greatness? What prohibits me from being whatever I want to be? I started realizing that those thoughts and perceptions were always someone else’s about who I should be – not my own.”
“The beauty of it is that I have the freedom to create as many of whatever I want however I want and I’m able to sustain my family and pay my bills. I work my butt off, but I get to do it,” Mejia says proudly.
Mejia says the best advice he ever took was, “go to college.” His path to a Bachelors in Web Design took him through Sacramento, the Institute of Technology, and finally graduating from the Art Institute of San Francisco.
He says it grounded and supplements the art that comes from his heart with some graphic design work to help out friends and family and others that find him through word-of-mouth. “I’ve done artwork for taco trucks and things of that nature and I’ve done billboards. I’ll be asked to do work for someone’s babysitting thing or whatever people got going on, I’ll create logos.” Using art to help the community comes in different forms and Mejia is happy to share his talents as needed.
However, getting back Love is a Verb and explaining why the show is not in an established gallery, Mejia says he just happened to know someone at the Elks Tower and jumped at the chance to put something together in such a unique space. He and his fellow artists get to take over the two floors of the Penthouse Ballroom – there will even be an installation using the stairwell and DJs on both floors.
As the time with TUBE drew to a close, Mejia pondered a final wrap-up question, “My message would be before you judge anybody, or anything – take a second look. There’s more behind just the surface. And even beyond those small fragments, there is more behind that.”
Love Is A Verb is on Saturday, February 10th, from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., at the Elks Tower located on the corner of 11th and J Streets. Twenty-three visual artists, two DJs, and your host, Raul Mejia, invite you to come meet people, dance, and drink on top of the Capital, and share in the experience of love. Admission is free but donations are welcome.
Words: Sullivan Hargrove.