Rebeca Méndez first fell in love with design while creating rubbings of ancient Mayan archaeology sites with her father.
It was during her childhood archaeology trips to the Mayan ruins that she became fascinated with the people’s ancient symbolic systems as well as their storytelling power. The visits helped inspire the UCLA design media arts professor to pursue a career in communication design and art that has lasted more than 30 years and has spanned various mediums and subject matters.
Méndez was inducted Sept. 18 into the One Club Creative Hall of Fame, a selective organization that celebrates the work and careers of artists, designers and filmmakers in a variety of creative fields. Upon her induction, Méndez became the first Latina woman to join the ranks of prominent figures that include Steve Jobs and Saul Bass.
The Daily Bruin’s Olivia Mazzucato spoke with Méndez about her creative process, her passion for championing diversity and her advice to those hoping to follow in her footsteps.
Daily Bruin: How would you characterize the work you do?
Rebeca Méndez: My focus is in technologically mediated nature. … I want to create an embodied experience where your presence completes the work, and I focus a lot on the rhythms and patterns that are found in nature through repetition of the image. … I continue to do work as a designer in which I am interested in issues of identity – not only personal, but political, national, any sense in which we are confronted with questioning who we are and what is our place in the world.
DB: What is your starting place for a piece of art?
RM: I begin to see what interests me and then see what I’m lacking, what the areas (are) that I don’t have enough knowledge (in) – collaborating with (experts in those fields), gathering the research and then I call upon all of my capacity as a visual artist, from film to photography to typography. … A lot of the times, I just try to get to know the subject matter as if I’ve never heard it before, like if I have a topic like the sense of water – it’s just so basic, but then I try to make it feel like I don’t know what water is. … Sometimes what we know is the obstacle for being able to actually engage.
DB: You are the first Latina woman to be inducted into this hall of Fame – do your identities add weight or pressure to this award?
RM: When I gave my speech, it was specifically about that – that we need to make a point in that this cannot be a fluke, or just because one person in the committee decided to push it, but that it is a mandate of our times to include everyone. … It’s less pressure and more of a platform. It gives me a wonderful platform to be able to speak of diversity and inclusion, which is so much a part of my task in life. It’s something that I have taken as a very important part of my voice.
DB: In giving your speech, what kind of message did you hope to share with this largely white, male body?
RM: I focused on diversity, and I also focused on the urge for everyone to engage in the face of discrimination, bigotry, in the face of all these different ways in which we are being oppressed so that it was really a call … how to be able to acknowledge and be grateful, but know where also they are falling short.
People are too passive. It’s too late to be passive. You’re too old to be passive, everyone. The moment that you see that there’s injustice, you need to speak up. And if we would all do that, our world would be different. Sometimes we feel that our voice doesn’t have strength, and it has so much power.
DB: What would your advice be to someone who does hope to follow you in your career, especially Latina women who are looking to break into this field that is clearly dominated by white men?
RM: Be present. Be courageous to contact people that are greater than you, … Create a community that supports you. This only happened because I have a strong community that supports me. … Look for mentors. Don’t feel that you are not important. You are important; and if you make that contact and you put yourself out with courage and with amazing work, of course, you will be right behind me.