IN CONVERSATION WITH: DJ BOX CHEVEE

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— story by Emily Santos

One day with Chicago’s new rising talent Eva Castillo or better known as “DJ “Box Chevee” and you cannot help but feel inspired by her creativity and hustle. As a multi-faceted artist, growing up in the Logan Square area and traveling back and forth to Mexico often, Eva draws her inspiration from her culture and community. Admittedly on a quest for a humbling and organic life experience, Eva is set to uncover her history and how it connects to her. Inherently, Eva is someone who is fueled by her surroundings and is constantly reassessing and checking in on herself which questions such as “What can I do differently?” or “What should I bring awareness to?”

These questions are not taken lightly, Eva is set out to empower not only herself but for students in the city looking to pursue a career in visual arts. As an instructor at The Chicago High School for the Arts located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, Eva is giving back directly to students who lack many resources and connections to propel their careers post high school in the right direction.

On the outside looking in, many may wonder how she manages such a rigorous schedule with poise and confidence. She’s a graphic designer by day, DJ at night and a soldier on the weekends. Eva shares with us her driving force on what keeps her going, the importance of staying on schedule and how she plans to take her creative career to the next level.

How do you juggle all of your endeavors? ( DJ, Graphic Designer/Instructor, Photography and the Army National Guard)

With all that I do, it can be quite challenging to find a balance. Some may see it as a commitment issue, but for me, it's difficult to let one career take precedence over another when they all hold equal value - my heart just won't allow it. I've fallen in love with the complexity and technicality of the processes in which each field acquires me to understand - it's a bit obsessive but fundamental. I've stuck to freelancing for the past four to five years because there's a lot more flexibility, and I need time on my side to continuously learn and survive through my madness. I've learned communication, and maintaining the value of your time and work is key.

Up until last year, I decided to stop working around my client's schedules. During a period, freelancing became a 24/7 job - I was put on hold and catering to my clients needs far too much. I began a different approach and started to take pride in my process to produce reputable work. I've set a new standard, but it's respectable, and now clients voluntarily work around mine. I try to set up 50-meter to 300-meter targets every week and keep open communication with partners so that I don't miss a deadline. It's definitely still a working process, but I try not to get too complacent. It has made it easier to design my schedule every week to allow time for the things I love. The DJ community is the most understanding and supportive - I've always been asked, "Are you available on this day and at this time?", it's an easy yes or no, and if it is a no, then they look out for me and ask if I'm up for the next gig or what day fits with my schedule.

What inspires you and keeps you motivated?

Places, people, and break-ups.

I gain most of my inspiration from traveling - whether that's hitting up La Garra and Garfield Park every Sunday, or taking a flight to Mexico. I've gone every 6 months for the past three years, and the only way to describe how I feel is that I'm in touch at the highest level with my soul and creative spirit. I'm drawn into its space and breathe in all of its inherited wealth. From its warm and stable climate, colors, and architecture, to its vibrations, traditions, and culture. Mexico has been one of the most significant influences on my design work.

I've heard people say pain is your biggest motivator. This is true, and the majority of my pain has come from my relationships with not just exes... but family and friends too. Sometimes we see a failed relationship as a reflection of us, but instead of internalizing it, I transfer that energy into creativity.

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Where do you plan on taking your creative career?

Across the world. My portfolio is like my travel diary, it's fun to witness its transformation and take shape from the places I visit and their cultural influences. I've been rigorously planning on my well-deserved six-month hiatus, moving home to Guerrero, Mexico. I want to solely focus on building my portfolio, offering free design services to restaurant owners - whether that's delivering a brand package, or practicing my calligraphy repainting store signage. I'm up for it all. I also look forward to revisiting a personal film project - exploring the history of Afro-Mexicans. I'm coordinating a cross-country trip traveling from the south to the north. Similar to indigenous people, they deal with poverty, lack of education, and limited resources and development. After Mexico, finally recognized them and included them in their census reports, it would be awesome to document its progress and impact on the community.

How would you define the way you dress/express yourself and who/what influences your personal style?

Just me and my brother, raised by my football-sneakerhead father, you know, I was the biggest tomboy. I didn't start leaning toward the feminine side until I turned 21 and I bought my first pair of black pumps. Even so, I'll only have them on for an hour before I switched to my air max 95s.

Sporty, sexy, smooth - subtle yet bold. My style is quite simple. Basic cami with joggers or a starter jacket/sweatshirt with bike shorts either or I'll have on a fresh new pair of g-fazos. If I'm ever wearing a fitted top then it's paired with baggie bottoms, it's a (personal thing) I don't like to show off all the goods. Comfortability is essential. When I feel good, I feel confident, and that in itself is sexy. My culture has the most significant influence on my style. I love how versatile I can get. I can wear a baby phat set one day and throw on my caballera fit the next, and the transition is so smooth.

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Why did you decide to pursue a career in the Army, and what did your journey look like?

At 19 years old, several factors played into my decision to join the Army. Ultimately, it came down to the benefits I needed for school. I had just finished a year at Loyola University and couldn't afford to enroll in the upcoming semester. I felt I was too creative to enlist as a full-time or active duty Soldier, so I chose a branch that gave me the most flexibility, the National Guard.

Initially, I saw the military as just another source of income. When I impulsively signed my 8-year contract, I didn't think about where I was going, what was expected of me, the people I would meet, the things I would experience, and most importantly - all of the opportunities that were at the palm of my hand. After mentally and physically surviving basic combat training for ten weeks, I didn't want to be just another minority on their peck sheet for the next eight years. I wanted to make a difference, and I had the resources to do it, so I gave myself the goal to rank up as a Sergeant by the end of my contract.

Instead of standing at the position of attention as time passed me by, I fell out of formation and motivated myself to go learn and help develop Soldiers any way that I could. I've trained as a Human Resources Specialist, Vehicle Mechanic, and Water Treatment. I've traveled across the country and been mentored by and bonded with true heroes. But most importantly, I've helped contribute to Soldiers development, helping gain back their confidence, see the value of learning different trades, and the opportunity to make a difference. It hasn't been all that positive. I've come across sexism, subtle racism, and sexual harassment. In the next year, my contract will be coming to an end, but it appears the Army needs me to stick around a bit longer. Now that I'm in a leadership role, I have a new mission to accomplish - to ensure equality amongst black and brown women in the military is recognized and enforced.

You are currently an instructor at The Chicago High Schools for the Arts, your alma mater. How important is teaching the youth how to use their artist abilities in visual arts?

After graduating as a graphic design major, I didn't think art school was necessary to establish my creative career. I took what I learned and applied it. I'd design logos and develop brands, then pitch them to companies I thought would be open to my ideas. I worked for free until I built enough experience to establish my freelancing career. There's going to be a lot of trial and error, but I learned a lot of lessons I hope to teach my students.

I don't discourage my students from continuing to educate themselves; however, this field is a lot more competitive and takes more initiative. Your skills as an artist aren't measured by a degree, it is dependent on your portfolio. Your portfolio gets you the job, your degree gets you the salary. Going to school would have maybe helped define the type of designer I was sooner, which is where I fit into the development of my students. I pay attention to their strengths and weaknesses and help them narrow their creative types and abilities. I identify a student's strength and push them to develop more in that area. The youth is our future. And if I can help them reach their full potential sooner, then they will never get lost and play catch up later.

How do you envision your future to be career-wise and personally?

I want to travel and learn as much as I can to so that I can share and develop others. Teaching has been the most fulfilling job I've had and I hope to retire in this field.

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