Eighteen years ago, 29-year-old Pablo Callejo moved from Argentina to Washington, D.C., to be with someone he met online. Without a degree and a word of English, he started on an uphill path that eventually led him to Montgomery College’s nursing program before pivoting to the arts. Last month, Callejo joined the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus as an instructional lab coordinator in the visual and performing arts department.
“These 18 years in the US have been like a race for me, starting from nothing to finishing my bachelor’s in another language,” Callejo said. Back in 2000, Callejo’s first goals were learning the language and getting a high school diploma to, one day, finding a good job. He completed high school through online learning. In 2008, he enrolled in Montgomery College with the idea of becoming a nurse. “I wanted to study something that would give me job security, and they need nurses here. I am very good with people; I am a very careful and loving person,” Callejo says.
As he took all the nursing prerequisites at MC, he also needed to complete an art class for his associate’s degree. As they went around the room on the first day of Introduction to Drawing, Callejo said he had never drawn in his life, except perhaps “stick figures.” He not only fell in love with it, but he took all available drawing classes while still pursuing a science major. “Art was pulling me little by little. It wasn’t easier, because I love science and I was doing great, but it was different. I was using a different part of my brain,” he recalls.
Callejo then took up painting classes and his professors praised his progress. It was encouraging for him. Still, he transferred to Stevenson University in Baltimore to pursue his bachelor’s degree in nursing, but not without first graduating with an associate of arts degree from Montgomery College. Even though Callejo was getting good grades, as he got closer to finishing his first semester in nursing school, the pressure was too much.
He decided to drop out. He remembers telling the program director: “There is a lot of weight on my shoulders and I have to think about what makes me happy: the arts.” Out of concern, she asked him how he would find a job. “And that was the hardest question. I was not young anymore. I had to think about the future. I said: ‘Well, I’ll find out.’”
I think when you love something and you have your heart in that, you have to pursue it. There is going to be a door
It was fall of 2013, the same year Callejo married his longtime boyfriend. Maryland legalized same-sex marriage and Callejo was able to get his residency after more than a decade with a student visa. They moved into a new home in Cheverly, Md., in Prince George’s County.
Beginning in 2014, Callejo enrolled in Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), and last year he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in General Fine Arts, and a concentration in printmaking. He was hired at Montgomery College in the summer of 2017 for a position that became permanent this year. Callejo is part of a team of three who, at the Cafritz building, oversee four art studios, curate exhibits, and make sure art professors and students have everything they need.
Callejo returned to the place where he found his love for art and is curating his first exhibit in the King Street Gallery starting on February 7, 2019, titled That Which Is Most Precious. He already selected six artists: Rebecca Gilbert, Trudi Johnson, Racquel Keller, Quentin Moseley, Jann Rosen-Queralt, and Sarah Stoll.
“I am working in an art environment, which is what I want to do, but also helping other people create their own. I would like to also start focusing on making art again,” Callejo said. He sold a piece and got into an art show in San Diego this year.
Callejo, now 47, has come a long way. In light of societal and internal expectations that tell most people to settle, his was a courageous decision. “I think when you love something and you have your heart in that, you have to pursue it. There is going to be a door.”
To see Pablo Callejo’s paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures, visit his website.
Special credit to Brian Hitselberger, whose piece is the backdrop for the main photo of Pablo Callejo in this story. His work is being showcased in the Other Ways of Telling exhibit in the Open Gallery.