Antonio Lopez has moved between communities for years and found writing would help him rise above the challenges and make sense of it all, become stronger and give back.
“I had to give a voice for what I was experiencing,” Lopez said. “So, I could see it with a mirror and understand it. But as I started writing more, I started realizing that people were gravitating towards what I was writing.”
On Wednesday, Sept. 15, Lopez, a newly elected East Palo Alto councilmember and doctoral student at Stanford University, released his book “Gentefication,” not to be confused with Gentrification. The book is a way he is reclaiming experiences that once oppressed him. It is a way of giving back to the community that empowers him with the hope to inspire others.
“In order to change the world, you have to change yourself first,” Lopez, 27, said.
A turning point for him was his junior year of high school at Menlo School, a private college preparatory in Atherton, when he wrote a story called, “I Can Move The Worlds” in an English class. It was a story about Lopez’s experience living in East Palo Alto and going to school in Atherton.
“Going from one community to another, things I saw, frustrations, things I wanted to see differently,” Lopez said.
His teacher was moved by his work and suggested Lopez send his story to be published. This moment left a lasting impression and acted as a catalyst for his future as a writer.
“I found from that moment on, that writing, if it’s compelling enough, can punch people and move them into really acting and reacting,” Lopez said.
Inspiration for council run
After high school, Lopez left the Bay Area for the East Coast where he studied at Duke and Rutgers, and to the United Kingdom to study at Oxford. He is currently studying for a Ph.D. in modern thought and literature at Stanford University. When he came back to the Bay Area in March of 2020, he returned to East Palo Alto and felt that he had grown but the community was still in need of positive change.
“COVID laid bare the stuff I grew up and saw and so it just worsened,” Lopez said.
He volunteered for the Youth United in Community Action and tenant-activist Laura Rubio, and found that many people had vacated their homes, possibly due to owed rent that they could not keep up with during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said stacks of papers in front of vacated homes were like rings of a tree to estimate for how long the homes were evacuated. He said this realization called him to make an impact toward the community and became the catalyst for his City Council campaign.
Before he ran for City Council, Lopez noticed that the city of East Palo Alto didn’t have any younger members. He emphasized the city’s future should embody its young population in its political sphere. For those who want to see change in policies, Lopez encourages them to get engaged civically.
The book and politics
“Gentefication” is a collection of poems that Lopez structured like a college course. He said the book’s regimented format reintroduces inclusion and culture to academia as an example of how it could be better implemented in schools.
“It’s an attempt to break out of the ivory tower by reappropriating its very language,” Lopez said.
At the intersections of art and politics, “Gentefication” offers healing from the past and inspiration for the future. Lopez’s long-term goal is to help restructure the city of East Palo Alto. He believes that his unique outlook on the world around him has allowed him to become more versatile as a councilmember, a job he feels he can make a difference. Still, one day, he wouldn’t mind seeing his book in classrooms.
“I think art at its best nurtures a radical imagination,” Lopez said. “What art teaches you is to always be open to inspiration, always be open minded to the possibilities on the page.”