Artist, actor, designer, model Aaron Valenzuela on colliding worlds, potential and movement and his “second puberty.”
BY MARK ARIEL | PHOTO BY DUSTI CUNNINGHAM
In an interview with THE FIGHT creative powerhouse Aaron Valenzuela talks about the power in achievement, ideas of potential and using his body as a vessel of expression.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Mira Loma which is within Riverside County. For a long time, my family’s house was surrounded by fields of corn, alfalfa, dairies, and horse ranches, which I really loved. Now, it isn’t nearly as scenic with all of the new shopping centers, warehouses and homes which have pretty much destroyed the landscape. Recently, the city changed its name Jurupa Valley which just seems like a blatant effort to whitewash its identity in a bid to get more people to move in to all of the new housing they’ve built. It will always be Mira Loma to me.
When you’re made to feel less than, I think an instinctual reaction is be the best at everything you possibly can.”
How would you describe your childhood?
My childhood was actually pretty peaceful and family-oriented. My best friend lived across the street, and I have three siblings so I was rarely alone. It all seemed like a pretty small world because if I wasn’t with my family, I was involved with activities through the Mormon Church like Boy Scouts or piano lessons. Most of my memories are of the house, the land, family trips, parties, and art projects. We had a lot of animals and our own garden so that was a big part of everyday life as well. Everything changed when I got to middle school and high school. We sold the animals, quit the church and its activities, and my siblings and I started to veer off into our own interests. Outside of school, I didn’t have a big social life. I rarely went to parties, and if I did, I had to be home early. I remember being in high school and a friend from Track and Field showed up unexpectedly at my house to tell me that my art portfolio had won the top prize at the LA County Fair. I couldn’t imagine that anyone from school would take the time out to pay me a visit. It was as if all of my worlds were colliding.
How was the coming out process for you?
I never liked the idea of coming out. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I never wanted to make a big announcement. I remember seeing Ellen’s Time Magazine cover, but nobody wanted to talk about it. I didn’t grow up in an area that was very kind to gay people and that magazine cover was really the only example I had. No one sat me down and told me that there were other gay people like me who were amazing artists or who achieved great things. I was scared that being gay would make me an instant failure. When I entered high school, things started changing. I still wasn’t out, but I knew that I wanted to wait until I went to off to college. I felt that I didn’t owe anyone back home a single shred more of myself, so I withheld my coming out until I was 19. I remember I was at home for the summer from UCLA, and was washing my car to pick up my boyfriend, Mark. My mom came out and asked me where I was going and I told her that I was bringing Mark home and that he was my boyfriend. She said something like “yeah, I figured”. It was such an awkward time, because my coming out felt so delayed, so I’m sure there was a collective sigh of relief.
Were you ever bullied in school?
Growing up, I was bullied a lot. There were periods where it felt like everyday someone would say something or threaten me… When you’re made to feel less than, I think an instinctual reaction is be the best at everything you possibly can. I almost always got straight As. One time I got a B and I remember crying my eyes out. I was the fastest runner, and was always regarded as the artist and dancer of the school. My peers didn’t always give me respect, so I got plenty from my teachers. I just thought that if everyone’s going to have an opinion on me, then they’re going to see everything else that I’m capable of doing. I definitely wasn’t a shrinking violet. I believe there’s great power in achievement and self-expression.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, I have my own company Opus Prime Studio (www.opusprimestudio.com). Traditionally, it can be regarded as jewelry, but it really stemmed out of my sculpture practice during graduate school. It’s definitely the most freeing of my creative endeavors because I get to create whatever I want. It’s one of the most gratifying projects I’ve ever done, and it’s the one that requires the most patience. I’ve never been a very patient person but the process of spending dozens of hours creating a single handmade design is very meditative. I could do it for hours on end.
I also model and act, both of which I kind of fell into as a byproduct of my workout routine. The desire to get in front of the camera was always there, but it wasn’t until I started training at StrengthRx Crossfit (where I’m also the Office Manager), that I had the confidence to do so, because my body started changing. I refer to it as my second puberty! I look at my body as a vessel of expression, and working out really helped me reach a certain level of potential that I always believed I had, and there’s always room for growth. I go by the old saying “Use it, or lose it.”
What motivates you?
Ideas of potential are huge motivators. Also, movement. If you’ve got room for potential and movement, then you’re truly alive. Only the dead are motionless and turn away from progress.
What gets you angry?
Seeing good people get taken advantage of really makes my blood boil, whether it’s on a social, political or personal level. I’ll always fight for the underdog. The problem is that we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of all the time. The best way to stay one step ahead is to be educated, and I’m not necessarily talking about a college degree. I’m talking about people being educating enough to properly navigate the modern systems in which we participate so these systems work for you, and not the other way around.
What is your relationship status?
I’m single. I’m open to meeting the right guy, but LA is such a tough crowd. I’d like to say I’m actively dating, but it’s hard to find time… Or, maybe those are just both lame excuses [laughs].