How A Gay Man’s School Project Helped Mend Relationship With Parents. “They Respected Me. That’s All I Cared About.”

by Angel Olvera

My name is Angel Olvera and I’m from Los Angeles, California.

I’m from a very conservative desert part of Los Angeles, about an hour north of downtown. So I grew up in the desert. My dad was 16 when he had me. My mom was 17. They met at a high school party.

It was really rough for me growing up. It was a very tumultuous upbringing. I was around, you know, some violence. I dealt with a lot of uncomfortable situations but I was honestly a really good boy. I was quiet. I channelled everything into school, I channelled everything into church. I loved playing on my computer. My favorite video game was Rollercoaster Tycoon and I would spend days literally creating these theme parks that I imagined myself in.

I remember there was one time in particular when my parents got into a pretty bad fight and the only thing I had at the time was my computer. It was something I always had with me. I was able to literally start – I started from scratch. I created my own worlds. I remember building this theme park that I really wanted to be in at the time. I remember this game where you could see how people – that they’re happy or sad and I just wanted everyone in the park to be happy.

I survived the situation that I was in. After years of really pouring myself into my school – I mean into my work, I got into the school of my dreams. I got into Stanford. I was excited because after all eighteen years of being a good boy and following the rules and, you know, and doing what was told of me, I kind of expected that this was going to be a different time.

Sophomore year, I met someone who changed my life. I fell madly in love with him. He – we travelled around the world together, he was the first person to bring me out of the country for the first time. My dad has this big New Year’s Eve party every single year. A lot of family come, a lot of friends come. I said, okay, well, I’m gonna bring my boyfriend. I didn’t even process that anything bad could happen because I was so in love with him and I figured that they would fall in love with him, too.

The big day comes and I bring home my boyfriend. I introduce him to everyone. I introduce him to my dad. My dad doesn’t say a word the whole night. He’s so, I think, so shocked. But, you know, everyone else seemed to really like him. So I saw my dad the next day to go to the Rose Bowl game, which is a football game I always had to go to. And, you know, things are fine and I kind of thought, I did it. You know, that was way easier than I expected. I was proud of myself.

I go back to school to Stanford and a few months later I remember talking to my dad over phone and I think I was, like, asking him for money or something, which, you know, I did often at the time in college. You know, he was going through some stuff as well with – his grandmother had passed away and he just kind of went off on me and in a way that I really wasn’t expecting. I remember in particular him saying to me that, “You didn’t even have the balls to come out to me.” Which was worse than a homophobic slur, because I thought that I was being extremely courageous. Not just then but always. And so it was – it really put me into this downward spiral.

I had imagined that when I was 20 years old, I would be Mark Zuckerberg. I’d imagined that I’d be on the cover of Forbes. I had – I remember I had, like, a row of Forbes magazine covers on my wall in college because I’d always wanted to be this really young, really successful entrepreneur who, you know, defied odds. I actually ended up performing, you know, really poorly that quarter. I didn’t even show up to one of my finals for a class that I would have normally really done well in. I was – I had to go see a counselor and I was told I was put on academic probation, which was basically an ultimatum that if I didn’t perform better the next quarter that I would have to take a leave of absence.

I remember when I was selecting my classes for the next quarter, I saw this class on lamp design, which to me was so odd. I’ve always kind of been drawn to lighting and just this the energy around lighting and so I signed up for the class and got in. It was really throughout the quarter that I started falling in love with it.

They give us this assignment to create a lamp and I remember when I started sketching it up and we had to 3D model it – I was like, if this is the last class ever gonna take, then I better make this the best lamp ever. I don’t know, I just really felt like it was like I was lip-synching for my life but it was, like, making a lamp for my life.

The day of reckoning came when we all, you know, lined up our lamps in a row. We were told that we’re gonna have judges come and walk around and they invited all these different departments and this is a big day in the product design department. And my lamp clearly towered over everyone’s. It was maybe 4 feet tall. It was pink. It had beads on it. You know I designed it in the shape of a candelabra, this very very traditional ornate design but I used these very modern materials. It was really successful for me. I mean, people are telling me how much they loved it and it was – it was the first time I had confidence in a few years. That was the the day that I realized that I was a designer. But it was also the day that I realized that I have a lot more work to do, that I now have a responsibility to keep going. I can actually impact the world through my designs.

That confidence carried itself in the way that I interacted with my family. I wasn’t afraid to have these tough conversations with them about my sexuality. I mean, today things are great with my parents. My mom is actually visiting me in New York City this Friday. I’ll be introducing her and her husband to my boyfriend. Hopefully I’ll do it right this time. My parents are both really proud of me. For them, I don’t even think they imagined having a kid that would grow up and move to New York and be a designer and live his life. And I think that there’s times where they don’t understand what I do, but at the end of the day, they respect me and that’s all I really ask for.

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