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“We spend so much of our lives chasing our desires and wants but, the reality is, that’s not how you really find yourself. Once I figured out I had the knowledge and skills to help people, why not do that?”

The son of migrant workers, John Meza’s early years consisted of time spent traveling between Ohio to work with his parents after school and the Rio Grande Valley, where his family’s roots lie. Dividing his time in these two places gave Meza insight from an early age about the dichotomy of human nature. At the age of seventeen, he found himself transitioning from a life of close family connection into the military where he was surrounded by strangers. Meza had to learn to rely only on himself and gain a sense of independence. After getting discharged Meza married and had a son.  He soon began to create his own original works of poetry and spent another 17 years successfully working with and advising patients who suffer from severe mental health disabilities. His time working with these patients ultimately helped him to find his path in life.

New transitions awaited Meza, as he found himself looking to relocate after having a prophetic dream.

Onsite the Harbor Bridge construction

“I was sitting on the beach, toes in the sand, facing east. My mother on my right, my son on my left, both waving at me from afar. We were all happy and smiling… In November of 2011, I got a call about a job in Corpus, it was mine, I just had to show up. That was the dream, Corpus had a beach, halfway between my mother in San Benito and my son in San Marcos…”

Once in Corpus Christi, Meza knew he would be able to call this place home and he’s steadily stayed by his city.

“Again, I started at the bottom as a labor guy, worked my way up to foreman, and, now, I’m an inspector on the Harbor Bridge. I inspect all of the rebar and concrete that is being placed by the builders and compare it to the blueprints. I am the final acceptance prior to moving forward with building. It’s a pretty cool job.”

Meza has not only invested his time in the construction of his city’s infrastructure but also by providing humanitarian work throughout the coastal bend. Meza is an active volunteer with a non-profit organization that feeds the homeless downtown known as Tacos Not Bombs.

Volunteering at Tacos Not Bombs

The organization was established about eight years prior to Meza’s involvement but for the last three years, Meza has been leading the group with the help of his C.C. Community. Meza provides leadership and public relations for Tacos Not Bombs by organizing events and forming relationships with local businesses, churches, and nonprofits.

It’s an amazing feat for a grassroots organization to have the friends and contacts that we have. We have partnered with the Islamic Center of South Texas, the Jewish Community Center, several United Methodist churches, the Coastal Bend Food Bank, as well as many others,” Meza said.

“Just the idea that I can ask for assistance every single Sunday and people show up with food, supplies, money, and their time is amazing to me. We have helped to serve over 19,000 meals last year because of that.”

Meza is someone who has lived through so many stages of life, that he is aware of how a person can be down and in need of a helping hand.  He is in the early stages of establishing a new program which will provide mobile showers and accessible methods of hygienic-care for the homeless and needy of Corpus Christi.  

“When people show up and volunteer their time to help strangers, who are poor and homeless, it changes them. The more time they spend engaging and interacting, the more they change and become more understanding. If we can do it, anybody else can do it. It’s a simple model that can be applied anywhere in the world,” Meza said of his work with Tacos Not Bombs.

Writing at Vernon’s

Meza is a compassionate individual who is able to implement his real-world skills of empathy towards his fellow man. He uses the inspiration drawn from the stories of the people he meets and their impacts to feed his poetry.  He writes most of his poems in Vernon’s Bar, a Corpus Christi staple.

It’s through his poems that an unlikely door was opened.

Poetry has been a constant form of catharsis for Meza for over twenty years.  Meza performs his art mainly around the city, at open mics or poetry competitions, however, he has overseen various poetry presentations and participated as keynote speaker at different universities.  The content of his work ranges from calls to an ancestral history to spoken word on politics and injustices faced in Mexican-American and marginalized communities.

Line reading of El Poeta at HRMG

In 2017 Meza was approached by Taylor Carmona, of Pomegranate Studios, after he submitted a video of himself reading aloud one of his own original poetry pieces as part of his audition for the role of Zaragoza, in the short film, El Poeta.

In Carmona’s film, El Poeta, the themes of Mexican-American life in South Texas are present and Meza’s work, with such similar topics, felt like a perfect match. The daily life of a person like Meza, who looks for inspiration in everything, made him the right fit for the role of Zaragoza. Carmona even asked Meza for his input with the screenplay, having him create two of the original poems performed in the film.

During a Poetry Slam

“I like the idea of El Poeta because it’s so close to what I already do in my personal life, reading and writing poetry at a bar. I love [that I was] able to write the poetry lines for myself. I’m so used to seeing my performance videos on a phone screen but seeing myself in this film will be a completely different experience.”

Meza’s dedication to the role is another creative triumph he’s been able to add to his list of life experiences. While Meza doesn’t plan on preparing a speech for the Oscars in the future, he does feel it’s important to help local projects and hopes to remain a strong voice in his community.  With the release of El Poeta on the horizon, Meza is staying on the path he’s created continuing to seek change and make a name for himself in South Texas.

If you would like to volunteer or donate to Tacos Not Bombs, you can find out more on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/tacosnotbombs

Written by Mark Young. Edited by Joshua Horowitz & Taylor Carmona.
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