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Joaquin Lopez fuses music, poetry, storytelling in local performances

COURTESY PHOTO - Local Latino folk community artist Joaquin Lopez (right), along with others, will perform music and other entertainment centered around Valentines Day at the Walters Cultural Arts Center on Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m.Local community leader, artist and performer Joaquin Lopez has a deep love for the connectedness of music, poetry and storytelling. The Latin folk community artist with Washington County roots will take center stage at the Walters Cultural Arts Center, 527 E. Main St., on Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m. to perform music focusing on love, valor, humor, longing and compassion.

Lopez, who grew up in Beaverton and graduated from Aloha High School, came from a Latino family that settled in Oregon in the mid-1960s after migrating back and forth from Texas during the harvesting seasons.

“As a kid, there were not too many Latinos in Beaverton, and I didn’t learn what Latino meant until high school and college,” he said. “As a kid, I did hear other kids make fun of Mexicans on the playground in front of me, I remember feeling ashamed — when you’re a kid, you don’t wanna be different, you want to fit in.”

As Lopez bloomed out of childhood, he began to realize he wanted to sing and act in high school, and pursued his education at Southern Oregon with a BFA in theater arts and moved to Hollywood, Calif. for a little while after graduating from the university in 1998.

“I was not ready for the onslaught of criticism and rejection; I was too vulnerable and sensitive,” he said. “Although I had a great look and talent, I was told by a particular management company they wanted to represent me but that I was not Latino enough and that I came across as gay.”

Lopez, who came to terms with his homosexuality at the age of 14, endured a lot of bullying, but fortunately had supportive close friends, teachers and family. Keeping the fact he was bullied away from his parents, he applied for an exchange program to study in Mexico for his junior year in high school as a means to escape. He eventually traveled to Spain, strengthened his Spanish, learned a few things about the world and experienced what it was like to belong and fit in — something he described as a healing experience.

When he moved back to Oregon after his time in Hollywood, he continued to sing and write while living with his parents, who opened up La Bonita Restaurant in the Alberta Arts District in Portland.

“I took voice lessons and started playing out and about,” he said. “Then, in 2003 I began writing songs in Spanish — many of them penned with my father. I learned and became inspired by Latin American folk. My heart opened.”

After taking voice lessons and performing at open mics, he finally found his footing in the world of music.

“I taught myself guitar and have taken a few lessons. I use the guitar as a songwriting tool,” Lopez said. “Although I am competent and perform solo with the guitar, I enjoy collaborating with other musicians. I see myself more like a performer who uses music and story as paint brushes.”

Lopez has been an increasingly visible figure in Portland over the past decade, most recently as the keynote presenter for Oregon Heritage Conference and Oregon Humanities IdeaLab. He credits the Regional Arts and Culture Council as being an instrumental part of his growth as a community artist.

It is through their grants process, workshops and conversations with grants officers he learned how to effectively communicate and conceptualize his projects, including Voz Alta, an evening of music and poetry founded by Lopez in 2009 for Portland Latino Gay Pride that celebrates the Latino-American experience through poetic narratives that feature the lives of Portland’s Latino community, performed by actors and orchestrated live with Latin American folk songs; and Cinescopio, a film series that presents classic Latin American cinema at the Hollywood Theatre. Lopez is also on the theater’s board.

Several guests will join Lopez on the Walters stage, including actor Nurys Herrera and poet Octaviano Merecias-Cuevas, who was featured with Oregon Poet Laureate Peter Sears last year during the Walters Spoken Word Series.

Also joining Lopez is his musical partner James Ashley Mayer with percussionist Eddie Esparza.

The evening will feature songs and storytelling relevant to Valentine’s Day. Tickets are on sale now for $14 in advance and $18 day of show and are available online at brownpapertickets.com or through the Walters box office at 503-615-3485.

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