Photo of Juan Callejon
File Photo

Juan Callejón (translation: John Alley) is the pen name of a wanderer and an artist. Today he sells Street Sense papers in D.C., but he has roots in Spain and Puerto Rico and frequently visits Montreal. Given his penchant for travel, his dream of starting a newspaper capable of crossing continents makes perfect sense.

Juan’s aspiration is to create a trilingual newspaper that will teach people languages while providing jobs selling the paper in Puerto Rico and Spain. He envisions a newspaper that teaches people how to live a better life and create a better society through investigative reports, stories about the creative processes of artists and reprints of sacred texts from the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. “The editorial group would focus on the lighter side of darkness and enhance harmony in society,” he said.

The paper, which Juan calls “a handbook of linguistic equivalence,” would feature translations of each article side-by-side in Spanish, French and English. Studying medieval literature in college taught him how such side-by-side translations can better facilitate language learning and acquisition. For individuals in Puerto Rico and Spain, learning a new language can mean access to a better job and a better life in countries with stronger economies.

Employment to sell the newspaper, not unlike vending Street Sense, is especially important to Juan: it would allow him to support himself when he visits family in Puerto Rico, Spain or the U.S; while improving the lives of his countrymen. His description of Puerto Rico, where he once taught English to 11th graders, is bleak. “The minimum wage is $4.25 an hour and jobs are scarce,” he said. In Spain, people are returning to live with their parents and eating food out of dumpsters to survive, according to Juan. Along with the newspaper, he seeks to create a means for artists to receive proper resale profits from their work through an online gallery.

His approach to homelessness is philosophical. “We are basically all homeless,” he said, “in the sense that we are all here in this body and we call this body our house and our home and its transient and we’re going to die.” Strictly speaking, he has a place to stay in Maryland with his hardworking sister and her children. However, throughout his adult life when problems surrounding him become too much, he decides to go outside.

Joining Street Sense was a step along the path to starting his own newspaper. “I was lured by the newspaper thing,” Juan said. He is a good salesperson when it comes to selling Street Sense papers, and claims to have developed a winning strategy. He finds he has more success when he paints on the street, and when he brings along his two dogs – a Jack Russell Terrier and a “sato,” Puerto Rican slang for a mixed-breed street dog.

Selling papers is hard work, and humbling. “It’s a very good job. I love it because it takes my ego and it crushes it,” he said. Being a vendor also allows Juan to be able to contribute economically to his family, which matters deeply to him.

Juan finds peace in meditation, a practice he started ten years ago at the advice of his girlfriend at the time. During a low point in his life, he spent ten days at a retreat in Puerto Rico that taught Vipassana Meditation. This form of meditation is non-religious and the retreat is free, paid for by past attendees who benefited from the technique. There, he maintained a strict moral code and learned breathing techniques from 4:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Meditation saved his life, freeing him from smoking and drinking and improving his approach to relationships.

Aside from teaching English, Juan has had a long list of other occupations, including running his own business in Puerto Rico, working at Cirque du Soleil and in the movie industry and serving crepes during the Georgetown University farmer’s market. He will soon begin driving for Lyft. During his most recent trip to Montreal Juan worked in the dangerous industry of tree-trimming, despite his comparatively low body weight and back issues.

This artist thinks a hundred miles a minute, constantly imagining new ideas and making connections between the spiritual and the concrete. He insists that if his newspaper plans come to fruition, he will make it great, never falling victim to laziness or corruption. “If I get this opportunity it’s going to be an engine that once it starts it won’t go off,” Juan said.