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ParuParo: A space for QTBIPOC artists takes wing

The new center, whose name means "butterfly," seeks to create a "microscopic utopia" for artists who are often dispossessed.

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Moonyeka (right) and kai alviar horton (left) in ParuParo. Photo: Sam Choi
Moonyeka (right) and kai alviar horton (left) in ParuParo. Photo: Sam Choi

“Paruparo,” pronounced peru-peru, is a Tagalog-Austronesian word for “butterfly” that elicits a fluttering sensation when pronounced. For partners Moonyeka (they/them) and kai alviar horton (they/he), it has become the perfect analogy for their new cultural space off Foster Road in Southeast Portland. ParuParo serves Queer and Trans Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (QTBIPOC) in Portland as well as folks from across the West Coast who are part of the House of Kilig

“It was a big dream of mine for a long time to have a space like this,” said kai when I met the two organizers at the ParuParo—a warm upstairs room in a mixed-use building. Hanging from the ceiling near the far wall was a large tapestry by Heidi Grace Acuña made of colorful fabrics sewn into the shapes of butterflies. This touch heightened the aura of magic and possibility in ParuParo’s cocoon-like environment. 

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Moonyeka and kai hail most recently from Seattle, where rent of both housing and art space became increasingly untenable. They moved to Portland together in September of 2023.

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“When we moved to Portland, I had just left a big job that I was at in Seattle and was really trying to understand, what do I do with the fruits of the labor that have gone into years and years of building my career?” kai reminisced. Realizing that rents were more affordable in Portland than anywhere they had lived previously, kai began researching commercial leases and found a landlord who, as they put it, “wants to do right by the community in some way.” At the time, the landlord was searching for a renter to take over space that had served as a “mediation temple” for the past twenty years—a renter who would care for it and make it available communally. 

Moonyeka and kai could not pass up the chance to take on the lease. “I think I’m having a jarring and beautiful experience of, oh my god, is this real?” said Moonyeka, reflecting on this new venture. 

“Having somewhere to coincide means so much,” they added. 

Tapestry by Heidi Grace Acuña, pictured at ParuParo's Tropikal Tantrum fundraiser, January 12, 2024. Photo: Sam Choi
Tapestry by Heidi Grace Acuña, pictured at ParuParo’s Tropikal Tantrum fundraiser, January 12, 2024. Photo: Sam Choi

ParuParo honors the migratory legacy and cross-pollination of QTBIPOC, explicitly not attaching shame to the movement of migration. As such, it serves as a landing site for the House of Kilig, a collective of West Coast artists who coalesce to create interdisciplinary offerings together using video, textiles, dance, music, and more—all acts of what Moonyeka described as “diaspora magic.” 

The members of the House of Kilig come together to take up space and become visible to the public in ways that inevitably involve risk. Moonyeka explained that “kilig” is the Tagalog word for “excitement,” a queer and trans technology and knowledge system for being in the world. “That somatic feeling when we get excited about a person, place, or thing—it’s very beautiful. And it can also displace us from what we know in a generative way,” said Moonyeka.

“There’s so much magic in our bodies and blueprints in our bodies that needs to be shared,” they emphasized.

Those reading this story might not understand the gravity and urgency of a need for QTBIPOC-run arts space, particularly arts spaces that serve performers, an urgency that plenty of organizers in Portland feel so palpably. Public and institutional generosity has waned since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving arts organizations at the margins volatile to increased financial strain with inflation. For instance, Water in the Desert, a low/no-cost artist theater and rehearsal space geared toward marginalized artists in North Portland, was compelled to shut its door at the end of this February

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“To grieve the experience that there are not enough moments where landlords are being gracious and not gatekeepers is kind of heartbreaking,” Moonyeka underscored. 

Inhabiting ParuParo, especially given the imperfect landlord-to-renter system, comes with its share of hurdles. “It is a new construct to think about trusting people who are not cis, white straight people to hold community space,” said kai. “It is not a common practice with money. Funders have a lot of unchecked bias around, like, ‘What are you going to do with the money? And ‘why are you going to do that with the money?’” 

“Ultimately, what’s going to make this space to be okay is funding, and I do not want our people to have to keep being the people that uplift us and feed us and allow the lights to stay on here,” he elaborated. “I would like that to come from revenues of money that are historically very oppressive.” 

In the meantime, while they wait to hear back about grants and continue fundraising, kai fronts the cost of bare necessities for ParuParo. “I notice that there’s a lot of miracles people expect to even get considered,” kai said of the grants world. 

In their words, it is an Indigenous medicine to be resourceful in their storytelling and “very imposed resilience” when facing funders who require so much labor in the way of reporting data and financials. These reporting standards are burdensome for small arts organizations across the board, but they become a much bigger barrier for organizations such as ParuParo, whose offerings for QTBIPOC folks may not be valued by institutions in the first place.

Moonyeka and kai alviar horton in ParuParo. Photo: Sam Choi
Moonyeka and kai alviar horton in ParuParo. Photo: Sam Choi

The paradigm shift that the ParuParo organizers imagine would require that funders examine their hearts for white supremacy and bootstrap mentality—dangerous ways of thinking that necessitate QTBIPOC prove themselves in rigged systems rather than experience long overdue ease of support. 

Despite these hurdles, ParuParo’s organizers have big dreams for the future. These include creating a mutual aid style pantry for community members, complete with shelf-stable donations and free PPE (personal protective equipment), as well as a pantry of resources for sex workers. Additionally, they hope to create a stipends fund for Black Trans individuals who come to ParuParo to do creative work.

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The organizers are also eager to host all kinds of offerings from other QTBIPOC folks in the community and encourage those interested to reach out directly. They welcome donations of any amount through their ongoing crowd-funding campaign and are open to space rental requests from anyone. 

“We live in a system that continues to fail and erase and murder our people,” said kai as our conversation wrapped up. “And I want to change that. And I know it’s a microcosmic utopia that we’re trying to build here, but I believe that those ripples are really important. With everything happening in the world right now, this feels like the most important time to have one place that actually cares about humans, their fundamental right to be creative and to have a spiritual practice, to have an embodied practice, to eat food and to have PPE. Those are basic rights that people deserve. 

“To be a space holder and a space tender is a gift and a privilege,” he continued. “And I really want that to be known to the world, that it is for these reasons we ask for support.” 

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Hannah Krafcik (they/them) is a Portland-based interdisciplinary neuroqueer artist and writer whose work emerges from ongoing reflections on social patterning and censorship, (over)stimulation, perseveration, and intuition. Their practices span dance, writing, new media, and sound design. Hannah continues to be influenced by their collaboration with artistic partner Emily Jones.
Photo credit: Jo Silver
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