Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: Mario Yepez

Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: Mario Yepez

What does your heritage mean to you?

If I had to define the meaning of my own heritage, it would be the value of embracing being between two worlds. Being a Mexican American immigrant, placed me at the crossroads of two similar, yet distinct cultures. I think I faced a common challenge shared among immigrants and children of immigrants: Finding your own unique cultural identity while confronting both side’s social and cultural expectations (both positive and negative).

Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for me to cherish the ability to connect, communicate, and experience both Mexico and the U.S. It’s a unique position that I feel privileged to be in; to experience the distinctions and commonalities of the history, art, and language. Speaking “Spanglish,” Rock en Español, The Barrio Logan murals, even bilingual stand-up are examples of this cultural blend creating something distinctive. My parents worked very hard and made a serious transition so that my sister and I wouldn’t grow to experience a lack of opportunities, security, and safety we had back in our old home. I still remember my dad getting sunburns from working outside in the sun and travelling across the country for work, being gone for days at a time. My mom would wake up at 4am to face the long work commute there and back from crossing the border to Tijuana. I do my best not to take any of that for granted.



How do you celebrate or keep your heritage alive in your daily life?

Food is an enormous aspect of how I keep my heritage alive. Learning about my mother’s recipes is intrinsically generational, since it’s how her mother taught her. Not to mention the tamales, champurrado, calientito, pozole, and rosca de reyes that would be delicious traditional highlights of the holidays.

Family trips, and later my own, were also how I became more aware of how complex and fascinating my historical heritage is, seeing and learning about the Mayan ruins of Chiapas and the pyramids of Quintana Roo and Teotihuacán. I love exploring museums where I can. Tijuana’s CECUT and the Mexico City Museum of Anthropology are some of my favorites.

Mexican cinema and music are a constant presence for my family and me. I’ll always remember my dad’s excitement when we saw Mexican directors like Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu become household names and win Oscars. We share a love for their movies, and I’ll watch anything starring actors Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal. Rock en Español is where the music from both cultures intertwines, and artists like Julieta Venegas and Cafe Tacuba are my staples. Even karaoke is a family tradition, since we grew accustomed to singing Spanish Christmas carols by the creatively detailed nativity scenes my mom would build.



In what ways has your heritage positively guided your decision to pursue a career in the design field?

Education is extremely valued in my culture. This is certainly true of many others, but it was doubly so for my sister and me, with both my parents being teachers — my father before transitioning to selling salvaged cars and my mother until retirement. They both came from humble, working class families from the states of Sonora, Durango, and Zacatecas, with limited access to higher education and often relying on hard manual labor; my dad experiencing it while younger. As a result, education and a stable career were precious when my parents were growing up.

This outlook on education influenced my decision to go back to school for design when I was dissatisfied with the trajectory of my career. I loved drawing and making stories since I was young, but I had to take that leap of faith I was initially hesitant for. The support and encouragement of my family is what kept me going through every breakdown and burnout from simultaneously working, studying, freelancing, and interning at a start-up. I am positive that without recognizing their work ethic and the stories of my grandparents’ labor, I wouldn’t have been as motivated to continue when I didn’t see a light at the end of tunnel. Nevertheless, with all the support and love from my family, they were not strangers to tough love. I remember in my first year of university my father plainly saying: “We’re not connected or have the opportunities that others around you might have. If you don’t make this count, we’ll all be waiting for you here at the car junkyards.”


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