KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For Vincente "SubVersive" Perez, poetry helped him find and embrace his identity.
Perez, who grew up in a Mexican household in KCK, says blackness was something he had to discover on his own and it wasn't always easy to connect because his African-American father wasn't around.
"For a long time, my mom would encourage me to be around my people, be around different people, but being Mexican, she didn't know what to tell me about that aspect," Perez said.
Perez recalls always being around black people during his childhood but says he never made it an essential part of his identity. Hip-hop and poetry gave him the outlet he needed.
"It was all these different layers where I just slowly started to accept who I was as an artist," said Perez. "I was multifaceted so I couldn't just stay this little Mexican boy that had hair that couldn't be contained. I was black and I needed to acknowledge that."
Today, Perez is vocal about his background, allowing his work to blend Black and Latino cultures. In his poem, "Check One" he explains how he can't and shouldn't have to pick one side of who he is, even if the people around him are encouraging him to do so.
"It was going to be being on the streets, being involved in gang life or it was going to be something different and productive and so I channeled that anger into politics," said Perez. "I learned to accept my blackness."
He says other poets helped in the process because they, too, were intentionally political with their work.
"I found that my anger didn't have to be something that was always negative," said Perez. "I couldn't just be angry all the time. I had to push it towards something.
That mindset is what led him to take on the stage name "SubVersive."
"SubVersive's are people who try to challenge institutions. They challenge people and in some cases the government," said Perez. "I found that I was challenging with a lot of my work. I was willing to say whatever was on my mind."
Perez admits his early days as a rapper weren't always very good or profitable. He later transitioned into performance poetry and found a slam community when he went to the University of Chicago.
That environment gave him a different perspective and taught him how simply being present could impact the people around him.
"When you go into that space as a poor, black and brown kid, you get to learn how these people think, but you also get to continue to challenge just by your pure existence," said Perez. "If I could take these art forms that were thought to be low and use this elitist language to throw it back at them, that was going to be powerful."
Perez says he hopes his work challenges who society thinks should matter and challenges what high art is.
"Whether it's analyzing racism or creating solidarity and unity between people, it's all about unification, but challenging when you get there," Perez said.
After graduating from the University of Chicago in 2016, Perez returned to Kansas City and is currently an advisor with KC Scholar. He teaches a class about critical consciousness.