Mario’s living room is full of his paintings from college. It’s the Saturday morning of Halloween weekend so when Mario offers to make us coffee we readily accept, chiming in with how we prefer our drink.
Sitting down across from him, hands warmed from the fresh coffee, I find it difficult not to be captivated by Mario’s story. His CV will tell you about his accomplishments--he recently graduated from Texas State University with a degree in Art Studio and has been featured in 14 exhibitions in the past 2 years. But as a Latino member of the LGBTQ community, Mario’s story unsurprisingly goes beyond what a one-page resume could say about him. Specifically, his experiences inspired him to start his latest passion project, Unico Online Journal, that focuses on sharing the stories of individuals within the LGBTQ community.
“The idea came around the time the Orlando shooting happened,” Mario explains. “I knew after that I had to do it. There’s so much misunderstanding surrounding the LGBTQ community.”
With events like the Pulse shooting occurring in recent memory, it can be difficult for LGBTQ individuals to feel accepted. For Mario, it was the final push that he needed to act upon his ideas about how to support the LGBTQ community.
“One of the people I met through Unico made me change the course of the way I see things. He’s a Native Rights activist. He’s from Peru. He’s actually in North Dakota right now. He’s pansexual, polyamorous, and has two kids. He’s doing so much and it’s like, ‘Wow. Someone like you exists.’ I want people to know that LGBTQ people aren’t just the stereotypes that they see on television.”
Mario’s work as an artist and social entrepreneur is inseparable from his identities and experiences. That there are creators today like Mario who draw from the challenges they’ve faced to support the LGBTQ community is an incredibly hopeful example of progress.
For other creators trying to figure out where they fit, Mario says, “Don’t give up. It’s hard. Especially being a diverse, multicultural minority that’s doing creative things, it is hard. Because we’re not represented right. And then thinking about it, sometimes you’re like, ‘Am I gonna make it? Because from what I can see, there aren’t people like me. It’s not like I see a lot of short Mexican gay guys doing things. Where are all the short Mexican gay guys? So it’s hard to envision yourself doing things like that. But part of the experience is just taking on the challenges.”
Mario’s enthusiasm for his work and the change he can affect is contagious. I left Mario’s cozy apartment--with its walls full of paintings and rooms that smell like coffee--excited to follow Mario’s progression as a multi-faceted creator. In regards to the future, he admits, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. For me, expecting the unexpected, that’s exciting. I’m sure things may not go how I planned them. But knowing that is exciting. Having challenges is exciting.”
Check out Mario Villanueva and Unico Journal at mjvc.rocks