Mexican American Product Designer at Invision.
About this series —
Impostores is a series that explores the perspectives of diverse folks — outsiders, immigrants, and minorities — who reclaim the word from the Imposter Syndrome and wield it with pride every day.
What’s your family’s immigration story?
My family’s immigration story is probably atypical in the fabric of hispanic immigration stories to the U.S. My Mom is from Hamilton, Ohio and my Dad is from Mexico City. My siblings and I were all born abroad but since my Mom is American, we all had U.S. citizenship from the time we were born and it was very easy for my dad to get residency and later, citizenship. In many ways it’s also been different because we’re white, so people only know I’m Mexican if I want them to and I haven’t had to deal with the kinds of issues that immigrants of color often deal with.
When my parents got married, they moved to Mexico City and then to London, back to Mexico City, and then again back to London. My dad worked as a commercial banker for Banamex at the time (now Citibank) and he was transferred twice to their London office before he decided to leave the bank. My parents had always wanted to raise us kids near family, which meant Cincinnati or Mexico City, and my Mom never liked living in Mexico. I didn’t realize at the time how much my Dad sacrificed in that decision — not only a lucrative career with the bank, but also a loss of his cultural identity as a Mexican. We moved to a tiny, super white, WASPy suburb of Cincinnati where there were a handful of Jewish families, one half-black kid who was adopted by white parents, and us. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for my Dad.
We didn’t spend a ton of time in Mexico as kids, I think my Mom really struggled with the noise, the traffic, the pollution, the language and cultural barriers, and that caused a lot of strife in my parent’s marriage. We barely spoke Spanish at home and really the only “Mexican” thing about us was that my Dad would make sopa de fideos sometimes. It wasn’t until I was 16 and spent my junior year of high school in Mexico City that I really began to feel Mexican, that I began to kick my gringo accent and speak Spanish fluently, that I came to identify with Mexico as part of who I am and it became a love affair that’s still going strong 15 years later.
I don’t talk about it a lot because our immigration story is comparatively so easy next to most of my friend’s family’s immigration stories. We had so many privileges and advantages that even most white Americans don’t have. But there was always a deep awareness of somehow being different; of always seeing things from a different angle; of always understanding that there’s never a singular truth and that what we’re exposed to shapes our beliefs and view of the world far more than any innate truth about our lives on earth.
What does a day in your life look like?
I work as a designer for InVision, which is a remote company. That means my days all look pretty different because I don’t have to go to an office everyday! At first I’d float through the week working from home in my pajamas, but I pretty quickly realized I wouldn’t last long doing that. So I’m still pretty structured, it’s just that I get to make that structure for myself rather than having my work dictate what it should look like.
I get up around 8 most days, shower, make myself a green juice and a huevo ranchero for breakfast. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I work from home in Oakland, so sometimes I’ll go to a coffee shop first thing in the morning and work from home in the afternoon. Or work from home in the morning, go to the climbing gym midday for a workout, and then go home to work again after. It’s important for me to get out of the house though, get a change of scenery and interact with people, otherwise I get depressed really quickly. Tuesdays and Thursdays I go into San Francisco to work — Tuesdays at my old office at Ueno and Thursdays at my friend’s art studio in the Mission.
I also go to Mexico City a lot, since I can work anywhere it makes it really easy to go spend a few weeks at a time there, soak it up and recharge my batteries. It’s such a dynamic, fascinating city with so much creativity and vitality everywhere that it’s really energizing and refreshing to spend time there.
So all my days look pretty different but generally they all follow a similar pattern of working for a few hours in the morning, taking a break to work out or have lunch with a friend and walk in the sun, and then working again for a few hours in the afternoon. I’m luck too in that my boss doesn’t mind when we work so long as the work gets done, so it makes it really easy to find a more organic rhythm to my days. Aside from working full-time at InVision, I freelance a bit, I’ve been working on a platform to help the reconstruction efforts in Mexico after the devastating earthquakes last September (http://brigada.mx/), I’m doing a drawing course on Udemy.com and I take salsa lessons. Other than that, just all the typical northern California things…going on hikes, staring at the ocean, drinking mezcal, trying to learn to surf, hanging out with friends and pretending to be a climber.
Tell us about a time when you used your background to your advantage.
Having moved around so much, I became really good at adapting to different people and situations. Living in this tech-obsessed area, it feels like people can be really mechanical sometimes and don’t know how to talk to people that are different than them, so I often find myself being the one to draw people out of their shells. I’m good at building those relationships in a genuine way, which has no doubt benefited me professionally.
Growing up at the intersection of two cultures is also a really interesting thing — you notice things about each culture because you see them in contrast to each other so there’s a sense of getting to pick and choose the best of each. Americans are endlessly optimistic, supportive, really good at building on each other’s ideas, disciplined in their approach to work, good at envisioning the possibilities and making a plan to achieve them. Mexicans are really good at finding the joy in life, bringing passion, energy and humor into everything, bringing a depth of feeling into their relationships and being incredibly resourceful and creative. I see it as a huge advantage to get to live at that crossroad.
More specifically, I think speaking both Spanish and English fluently has really enriched my life, it basically doubles the number of people I can easily have a conversation with. That’s opened countless doors to experiences, relationships, meals, trips, jobs, etc. that otherwise never would have materialized. I also get to talk about people who are right in front of me without them knowing…which has backfired and left me very embarrassed more than a few times!
What is something you wish designers focused more on?
I think it’s sometimes easy to forget that there’s a very big world out there, especially when living in a place like the Bay Area that can feel like such a bubble sometimes. We hang out in coffee shops drinking $6 almond milk cappuccinos, working on our $3,000 MacBooks and think that’s normal. We have fierce debates about Airbnb’s new logo or who ripped off who’s design, and all that is fine but there are some big, meaty, fulfilling challenges out there that sometimes go unseen.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a platform called Brigada which was born as a response to the big earthquakes that rocked Mexico last September. It’s a platform that maps the damages caused by the earthquakes, shows what organizations are involved and where, and allows them to document their reconstruction efforts to ensure that donations are going where they’re supposed to. It launched just recently and it’s incredible to see a relatively simple platform have such a big impact in a country where historically, there’s been a complete lack of transparency and the government is constantly ensconced in corruption scandals. We’ve come so far in the U.S. that it can sometimes feel like we’re just tweaking something that’s already pretty good, but there are huge opportunities for design and technology to make an incredible impact in other places. We have to remember to zoom out and think about why we do what we do and how it can shape the way we live, for the better or for the worse.
There’s a great talk by Wilson Miner called When We Build that I think is really inspiring and forced me to zoom out and think about the forces at play that go far beyond designing a few screens of an app. I highly recommend every designer watch it.
Who are the people that inspire you?
People who never stop trying, who make an effort over and over and over, course-correcting in small ways all the time to keep moving ahead and growing without resigning to fear or laziness. People who find the courage to wear their heart on their sleeves, to live by their values even if it means sometimes standing alone, people who incessantly push to create their own paths even when the air is foggy and they can’t see where they’re going, people who seek to squeeze the marrow out of life, people who stand up for themselves and really seek to be who they are and not who they think they’re supposed to be, people who choose to learn from everything and who are open and curious about the world around them.
These people are my brother and sister, my friends, countless strangers that I have random conversations with. There are so many inspiring big names out there, the Maya Angelous, the Oprahs, the Thich Nhat Hanhs, the Nelson Mandelas, etc. And there’s no doubt that they’re very inspiring, but in a way that can sometimes feel unrelatable. In my day-to-day life I find I get the most inspiration from the people who walk beside me, who struggle with similar things, and who bring courage, creativity and persistence to their everyday lives in so many small but unrelenting ways.
What’s your favorite slang word in Spanish and why?
It’s so hard to choose a favorite! Chulear is a word I love, it means very different things in other places but in Mexico, it means to compliment someone or something. You could also tell someone chuléame which would be asking them to compliment you for something you’re trying to show off, asking for acknowledgment. I just think it’s a really nice word that you can give or ask for in a way that isn’t obnoxious, like fishing for compliments can sometimes be.