Kevin Bilapka Arbelaez

Kevin Bilapka Arbelaez

The conversation with Kevin Bilapka Arbelaez in the noisy Cup O’ Joe Clintonville lasted longer than the usual 30-minutes. There was just too much to talk about: his work at St. Vincent Family Center, musical solo projects, and writing with the band didi. We also mulled over issues of alienation in the community and the complexity of identifying as half one thing and half something else… something we both think a lot about.

Kevin grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts – a place made famous by its early textile industry and the “Lowell girls” most high schoolers learn about. Growing up in Lowell, Kevin encountered a lot of cultural and racial diversity. During high school, he garnered a scholarship through the Posse Foundation – a nonprofit organization that identifies, recruits, and trains student leaders from public high schools to promote cross-cultural communication on college campuses. The program placed him at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Kevin returned to Lowell after graduating from Denison. Then, looking to work creatively with children through Americorp program City Year and endeavoring to form a musical collaboration with a friend, he moved to Columbus, Ohio. Following his year with the Americorp program, he worked for Boys and Girls Club on Columbus’s West Side before accepting his current job at St. Vincent Family Center as a Hispanic/Latino Community Psychiatric Support Treatment (CPST) Worker. Excerpts from our conversation below highlight Kevin’s experiences with issues of alienation and empowerment:

What’s in a name?:

🎧 Listen (1:47)
“In the states it’s Kevin Bilapka but in Colombia, it’s Kevin Bilapka Arbelaez, which is my biological father’s name and my mom’s name…traditionally it’s supposed to be mom’s name then dad’s name, but I think things got mixed up… I like that… it’s something I find empowering.”


Kevin works as a Community Psychiatric Support Treatment worker (CPST) for St. Vincent Family Center.
Kevin works as a Community Psychiatric Support Treatment worker (CPST) for St. Vincent Family Center.


Community-based service in Columbus:

🎧 Listen (2:56)
“I end up doing a lot of connecting to resources, teaching -‘here’s where you can go to get this support.'”
“I have kids I work with who are either under constant threat of being picked up by immigration or have had family members deported in the time that I’m working with them and that derails their entire lives…There’s just so many things that not many other communities in this city have to deal with.”
didi the band - from top right to left: Leslie Shimizu (bass/vocals); Sheena McGrath (drums); Meg Zakany (guitar/vocals); sister; Kevin Bilapka (guitar).
didi the band – from top right to left: Leslie Shimizu (bass/vocals); Sheena McGrath (drums); Meg Zakany (guitar/vocals); Ellen Shimizu (kind sister); Kevin Bilapka Arbelaez (guitar). (Photo from didi Facebook).


Music, language, and Gloria Anzaldúa:

🎧 Listen (4:24)
“When I write a song in English, I’m very quick to say ‘I’ve heard this before, this is trite, this is boring…’  If try to write something in Spanish it’s very likely that I’ve never heard that string of words together so it’s much easier for me to be like ‘I’ve never heard of that.'”
“I’ve grown up my whole life being mixed and feeling like that was something to be ashamed of… I was made to feel I was ‘less than’ because I wasn’t completely Colombian. Reading that book [Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera] really allowed me to feel that there’s power in straddling two worlds and power in being able to infiltrate two different communities.”


Bilapka-Arbalaez plays during a "Mug & Brush Session" with band didi.
Bilapka Arbelaez plays during a “Mug & Brush Session” with band didi.


 Navigating an “ongoing identity:”

🎧 Listen (1:19)
“I think it’s sort of an ongoing identity. I definitely identify as Latino, but I also recognize the power now of being… I don’t know… Polish Latino? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before in my life!… Everything I know about my culture, my heritage, my upbringing, it’s all in that. But I have this other part of me that wasn’t my choice that is a part of who I am as well…”
“I do think that the Latino part of me is the part that I identify most strongly with and the part that drives me to support and work with not just other Latino people, but with anyone who is having difficulties.”
Kevin Bilapka-Arbalaez stands right outside of the Clintonville Cup O' Joe.
Kevin Bilapka Arbelaez stands outside of the Clintonville Cup O’ Joe.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos and text are copyrighted to Leticia Wiggins. Music for introduction & interlude by The Original Soundtrack (thanks, guys!).

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