Jose Medrano Velazquez is an Inside Out Community Arts (IOCA) alum who is now on their way to becoming an artist leader. IOCA is our after school theatre program that teaches students how to write their own plays, design sets, and perform their original works. We asked Jose to share more about how they found confidence and courage through IOCA and how they continue to use those lessons in their personal work.
Courage is powerful not only for you, but for inspiring others to be just as strong.
Who are you? Tell us about yourself! What do you do at Inside Out?
Hey there! My name is Jose Medrano Velazquez, and I’ve been with Inside Out Community Arts for nine amazing years. I was a student in the program at John Adams Middle School, a volunteer mentor throughout high school, a camp (and sometimes on-site) volunteer throughout college, and will be starting my artist leader training very soon. In middle school I was bullied on a daily basis and Inside Out was my escape—it provided a safe space for me to feel comfortable expressing myself and my creativity. It’s through my many years in Inside Out that I’ve gained confidence in myself and passion for the arts. I currently make/perform synthpop music and artwork under the stage name Lost Angeles and will be graduating with a B.A. in theatre arts from Cal State Northridge this fall. I’m also a member of the queer-Latinx community and believe that I have an obligation to create visibility and empowerment throughout both my art and daily life. In my opinion, the arts and creative self-expression are the keys to both personal liberation and meaningful human connection.
Share a little bit about your experience as an Inside Out student.
As a student of Inside Out in middle school, I was given an opportunity that people from my socioeconomic background typically don’t get to have. It was a massive privilege. I’ve always been an extremely creative and artistic person but never really had a proper avenue or resources to nurture that side of me. Inside Out’s curriculum is so great because it’s rooted in theatre and gives you the chance to explore many forms of art — from creative writing and poetry to painting flats and making props. For many of us who’ve been through the program, Inside Out was our first chance at being on a real stage and part of a production. I’ve since learned that, regardless of what the art form is, I truly thrive and belong on a stage and in the spotlight…as narcissistic as that may sound. Inside Out helped me realize I have something to say and my opinions and stories matter.
What is it like to be a part of the program now as an adult? How do you feel about working with students from your middle school?
Going from being a mentor to an adult volunteer has been an interesting and rewarding shift. When you’re in high school, the middle school students might not always take you as seriously because you’re closer to their age and you might have even been in the program together at one point. Luckily, I feel like I’ve always been pretty great at connecting with the students and having them see me as someone they can have fun with and laugh with but also be respectful to and listen to. The older I get the more I start being called “teacher” or “mister,” which definitely feels weird, especially since most of us in art like going by our first names. Although the cool thing about that is because I’m genderqueer I’ve taught some of the kids who feel uncomfortable calling me by my first name to call me “Mx. Jose” (pronounced mix Jose, Mx. being a gender-neutral prefix). Students from John Adams Middle School are the ones I get along with best, of course, because there’s always that school pride and comfort in working with someone who comes from where you come from and went through what you went through.
Tell us about your personal work and how it affects your work with Inside Out.
So it’s no surprise that I’m openly queer and proud of it. I strongly believe in the value of being your authentic self and that if you have the privilege to safely be out and open — it will inspire others. Although of course I can’t and don’t try to force my beliefs on others, Inside Out students consistently empower me and remind me how important it is for me to be as visible as I am. I’ve had so many students tell me every single year that they feel very comfortable being themselves around me and that I’ve inspired them to be more bold and courageous as individuals. To inspire bravery is something I take very seriously and am very honored to be able to do. My music isn’t too political but all my work is meant to create visibility and center the queer-Latinx community specifically. My whole lifestyle is centered around the idea of empowerment through visibility and kindness, so of course it reflects in everything I do. Unfortunately, it’s not always safe for every individual to express themselves as they’d like to, but if they see one person in the room who’s just like them — one person who they can look up to, someone who makes them think “one day I can be as free as they are,” — THAT. That’s powerful. That changes lives.
It makes me really proud to see the students grow and know that I played a role in helping them feel more confident and courageous.
What are some consistent sources of inspiration for you/your artwork?
My music and artwork draw inspiration from so many places. I grew up listening to oldies in my mom’s car and singing along to “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” with her. My dad and my Aunt Lety are also huge 80s heads, and I grew up surrounded by new wave pop and the sounds of The Cure, Soft Cell, Michael Jackson, and also freestyle music like Debbie Deb. I’m also really obsessed with dark industrial heavily synth-based music like Gesaffelstein. Also throw into the mix my huge pop obsession — I’m a major fan of Lady Gaga and spent my childhood loudly blaring the words to every single Hilary Duff song. I’ve often explained my music as “Bacchanalian synth death.” It has that crazy, dark primal energy with a danceable, colorful neo-80s synth flair and catchy but often complex pop songwriting. I also operate from the point of view of a “demon angel” sort of world that’s a reflection of my life experiences. I love Halloween and am into spooky occult and gothic vibes, but I am also influenced by my Catholic upbringing and both renaissance and baroque artwork and architecture. I also love science fiction and retros 80s aesthetics — I think two of my biggest inspirations in terms of film are Fifth Element and Constantine. I often use religious and sci-fi motifs in my work.
If Inside Out students can have one takeaway from the Inside Out Program, what would you like it to be?
If Inside Out students can have one take away from the program…as corny as it sounds — THE LOW DOWN IS FACTS. Courage, respect, and accountability are major keys to helping you in all aspects of life, regardless of whether you continue to pursue the arts or not. I think courage is the biggest one. Inside Out is going to challenge you a lot and you’re not going to fully reap the benefits without courage, and when you finally let go and give it your absolute best — it’s SO rewarding. Courage is powerful not only for you, but for inspiring others to be just as strong. It’s contagious. The ultimate takeaway is to not underestimate yourself; if you’re courageous, it’ll be worth it in the end.
Tell us about a memorable moment with an Inside Out student or at an Inside Out event.
My favorite moments with Inside Out students are always at camp. Every year the students catch onto my slang or queer vernacular and take it on as their own. I will never forget the camp where everyone couldn’t stop saying “yasss queen!” Also as I’ve stated so much earlier, it’s really important to be yourself and when the kids tell me personally that I make it easier for them to express themselves, that makes me really proud of myself. It makes me really proud to see the students grow and know that I played a role in helping them feel more confident and courageous.
What famous person, either dead or alive, would you choose to take out for coffee?
Maybe super cliché of me but I think I’d wanna take out Lady Gaga for coffee. She fully terrifies me because she’s so well versed and well-traveled and educated and such a genius artist, but also I feel like she’d be really inspiring and I’d love to have her as a mentor one day. I know that she’d get my quirks and understand my art.
Inside Out helped me realize I have something to say and my opinions and stories matter.
Thank you, Jose, for sharing this inspiring journey with us; we are excited to hear what the next chapter will bring! Read more about our IOCA program here.