Roger Molina-Vera Interview (Feb 2019)

Name: Roger Molina-Vera
Profession: Architect
Residence: New York City
Age: 34

Where did you grow up:
I was fortunate enough to have grown up on the North Side of Chicago during the ‘80s and throughout the ‘90s. Although Chicago is plagued with many problems, like any other city, it was - and continues to be - a microcosm of cultures and all walks of life.

How/When did you get involved with Architreasures:
I started with Architreasures in the winter of ‘98 – I was finishing 8th grade at Pulaski Academy (at the time a primarily Puerto Rican and Mexican American primary school in Bucktown). I had transferred from my primary school in Ravenswood a few years prior. It was a very hard transition; although I fall under the Hispanic umbrella, I wasn’t Mexican or Puerto Rican and therefore fell short in fitting into either group. My time at Pulaski had been horrible and I fell victim to child bullying, teasing and violence. When Architreasures came into my life, it had been a godsend. It was an escape from reality and opened a door into what the future could be and the possibilities it could offer.

What was your role there and what about that experience was most impactful:
I started with Architreasures on a multi-season garden renovation project. We got our hands dirty and were involved in the construction process. I remember Anthony Zahner the most out of this experience. He saw me at a time when I felt invisible, insignificant and worthless. The past 4 ½ years at Pulaski had beaten me down; it was a daily and constant struggle to just leave school unscathed – physically and emotionally. That, compounded with losing the only friend I had – a victim of gang violence caught in the crossfires while playing basketball at dusk – had taken a toll on me. Anthony heard my ideas, encouraged me to be ambitious and inspired me to continue thinking creatively. He discovered I could draw. Anthony nurtured and promoted my ideas to the class albeit to my embarrassment at the time. I remember the gazebo we had worked on. I recall how he said it was a great idea and encouraged it!

When you were a small child, what was your dream job:
When I was in 6th grade I fell in love with my social studies class. I had always loved history – anything that took me to a far far far away land. It allowed me to escape the reality that was my school situation. I wanted to be an archaeologist or Egyptologist. I didn’t have many friends growing up, so the hundreds of books in my local library became my friends. I started with Greek and Roman Mythology all the way to Norse and Mesopotamian mythology. I must’ve read every single mythology and children’s historical books at Sulzer regional library. I loved the sketches and pencil etchings from the Greek and roman mythology books. I was mesmerized with the etchings of Greek agoras, and Roman forums and temples. I knew at the time that I wanted to build my own forum, my acropolis. In that sense, the transition from archaeologist to architect was seamless.

Who were your biggest influences growing up/now:
Historically, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Their shared ideology of passive resistance, their movements, the influence that they continue in our world, it inspires me to this day. It resonated with me at a time where I had to deal with my own daily struggles. In my very own shy and silent peaceful resistance I read and I drew. I knew that this wasn’t it; this wasn’t going to be the rest of my life and I had to make something out of myself to escape. I had hope. I didn’t have the means or methods at the time, but I did have that.

Personally, I want to thank Anthony. I know it wasn’t part of his job description but he saved me in ways. Until I met him, I had never met an architect, a young professional, and in my eyes a male figure who was creative, caring and inspiring.

Lastly, and most importantly, my mother. Nothing would have been possible without her love, support, and understanding. She was, is, and will always continue to be my best-friend, my shoulder to cry on, my backbone, and the reason I was able to escape and be the person I am today.

What are you most proud of:
I think it’s a little too early to say professionally, but who I am most proud emotionally is 10-14 year old me. I’m proud of that little shy, bookworm, closeted queer brown kid who never gave up, who never gave in to peer pressure, who listened to his mother, and took it one day at a time and dreamed of more. I don’t know where the strength came from – I’d like to hope and think that I still have it. I’m so proud of that kid who survived the darkest chapter of his life. I know it sounds cliché but it really was a feat not only to achieve my high school diploma and continue to university, but finish grade school alive and go into one of the best high schools in the city at the time, subsequently landing at prestigious universities that have taken me across the world.  I’m most proud of Little Me’s (I’m still little) resilience.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received:
Fail Early, Fail Often, Fail Forward – and no it wasn’t Will Smith who told me that. What I mean is go for EVERY dream. You may not always be successful, but you learn from your experiences. Don’t hold yourself back from experiences and the opportunity for growth.

If you could offer Architreasures a piece of advice, what would it be:
What a tough question… expand expand expand into every inner-city school possible and, please, keep a look out for the quiet kid in the back. I hope that through this interview you realize the power you have had to save at least one kid’s life.

What would you tell Chicago kids, if you could:
Be Kind! Be Good! Be Different! Be Wild!  

What is on your bookshelf:
OH MY GOD! I love this question! Please, please, please, I encourage every child that might read this interview to READ BOOKS! I cannot stress how important it is to do so! I have an entire wall dedicated to me and my partners’ books (which for New York space – TAKES A LOT ROOM). I will say the highlights that have forever changed my continuing literary journey, and will forever stay in my library, are:

  • The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wow by Junot Diaz

  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

  • The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World by Alan Downs

  • Most recently, Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

  • Piles and piles of The New Yorker I am constantly trying to catch up on

  • Finally – the most beautiful book I’ve ever read - Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides