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Meet Alcira Mendoza of Alley Cat Art in San Bernardino

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alcira Mendoza.

Alcira, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’m first generation Mexican-American. My parents came to the US from Mexico in the 70’s, I believe. I was born in San Bernardino and we’ve been here since then.

Well, my sister and I would spend our before and after school days at my mom’s work. She was and still is an amazing cook at a convalescent home. So from a very young age, I feel like we had to figure out creative ways to keep ourselves from dying out of boredom. We would draw, write, and play creative things.

I think that’s where my love for creating started. But I also remember I got into drawing freehand when my dad saw me trying to trace something. He told me something along the lines of that’s not how to do it because tracing takes the fun away from drawing. He sat me down at the table and taught me how to look at something and draw it on my own. That’s where my art spark started. From then on anything involving drawing or making things with my hands, anything creative made me feel happy.

Fast forward, I ended up taking a ceramics class my Senior year of high school. I always wanted to take it ever since, I think, my sister took it back in high school but also in second and, or, third grade someone came and taught us how to make a baby pots and an eagle, which I still have, somewhere. I feel like my eyes lit up on the process of how you could make something, anything, out of clay, something so soft, and it ends up being sturdy in its final form and in addition to being good at it. I always liked playing with modeling clay, but that never had a final form, it could always be mushed together and made into something new. Anyways, senior year, ceramics. From that year, I felt like I had found my passion. And I remembered expressing this to my art history teacher, Mrs. Bunn, and she had mentioned that I might be good at 3-D art. I think I ended up agreeing. Another reason why I loved ceramics in high school was thanks to the teacher, Mr. Whittenburg. I would ask him if I could do something and he would answer, “well why not?”. He encouraged me to make and do things I wasn’t sure of and I’ll forever be grateful for that.

Fast forward one more time, to college, I declared my major as Biology. One reason being that I was always unsure of what I wanted to do as a career or how to get there. My motto was, “Go with the flow”, I only had vague ideas of what to do. I for sure knew that I didn’t want to become a vet or a doctor, or surgeon or anything medical because that stuff gives me the heebie jeebies and also my thought process was like, “I don’t want to go to school for ten years”. I wanted to major in something artistic, like photography or art in general, but my parents kinda commented on the, I guess, how reliable a career in the arts would be. So 17 year old me chose Biology because I guess “I would have options”. But it was also a subject that I really loved so I was still happy.

It wasn’t until my second year of college, roughly second year. I took beginning ceramics. Here I was back in my element! The class was fun. One of my projects ended up being biiig. The feeling of building something out of this somewhat raw material, soft material, which is affected by the environment in the beginning stages, gives you a mix of emotions. You have to work diligently. And in the end it becomes your baby, that thing sure did. I learned quick that if you don’t do something correctly and take your time, you’re gonna have a bad time. I didn’t apply something properly so they ended up falling clean off. It also had an air bubble which blew out a piece of it off. So it needed some tender lovin’s towards the end but came out good.

Anyways, I ended up deciding to take the intermediate class a few quarters after. Taking that class, I ended up deciding to add it as a minor, but after talking to people and contemplating whether I had the ability to do it, I ended up adding it as a major. So I became a dual major in Biology and ceramics.

So, I was also a tutor for a few years at a local high school and found that I really enjoyed teaching and helping students understand certain subjects. The kids I met through this job really impacted the person I wanted to be. I started to believe heavily on the power of community and how it impacts a child’s upbringing.

The student there were awesome and they honestly inspired me to become a high school teacher at some point. Along with my experience, the fact that I came from San Bernardino High School, I feel like I want to become a high school teacher at one point, in order to show students that you can make something of yourself and go places no matter what. In high school we had amazing teachers that were dedicated to bringing the very best out of us, but we also had teachers who were just… Kinda suckie. We had certain teachers that would tell us that we needed to go to college somewhere that wasn’t in San Bernardino, to get away from this city because we wouldn’t get anywhere if we would stay here. I know college is a crazy experience and it shapes you a certain way, but I feel like students coming from this city and their circumstances, some don’t have that ability to go to college out of state or city.

Anyways, I kinda rambled hella hard, but up to this point with everything that I said, I want to combine science and art, along with education. I silenced myself for so long that I want to combine everything that I am and have to offer. For the last couple of years my art manifested itself into this science-art hybrid with pieces in the series of Cellfies, where I took people’s cheek cells, viewed them through a microscope, photographed them and their person and then combined them. Along with another piece titled Inoculated: San bernardinians which was transformed into this community engagement project where I made petri dishes out of ceramics and opened it up to the community to glaze them.

I honestly wouldn’t be where I am now, wouldn’t have accomplished what I’ve accomplished without my family, friends, and overall community. Honestly, anyone who I’ve met along the way who have become a great part of my life. And also, the people who aren’t as close anymore. No matter who or where we are in our friendship I’m grateful to have had their encouragement through my journey.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I think the biggest struggle for me has been with myself. Constantly debating if what I did was good enough. Or whether I deserve what I have. Whether I had a place in any space I occupied. I struggled with my mental health for a long while. Which stumped personal growth hella hard and I feel caused a bit of turmoil for me and the person I held dear at the time. Other than that I struggled a bit with school stress, the usual student stress. Trying to juggle biology courses, their deadlines, then art courses and their deadlines. And when I was working I would go from like 7 am to like 2 am some days so that was kinda hard. There was a space with couches in the glass studio, so you would probably find me taking a nap there at some point during the day.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Alley Cat Art – what should we know?
Ummm, I guess that Alley Cat Art is what I go as for my ceramic functional pieces on instagram. Overall I’m an artist, mainly, as of right now right now, a ceramicist. I dabble in a few other things like blowing glass, photography, and such. What I’m most proud of? That’s kinda hard to say, I guess, I’m proud of being able to bring certain concepts or issues up with my art along with everything that I am. I’m proud of the Celffies series because it tackles the issue of racism. Trying to take back how science was used to label a race superior. Using it as a way to show people that we are made of the same little units and the only difference is the amount of melanin that we have, but that doesn’t determine inferiority. Also proud of how the Inoculated series is about engaging the community with art and science. Both of these, I aim to encourage people of color, kids, woman of color to go into fields in science and also art. Majority of the people in these fields are white men and there’s not enough representation of people of color. People of color deserve to be in these fields and spaces, too.

Contact Info:

  • Email: al.ciramics@gmail.com
  • Instagram: alley.cat_art

  Image Credit:
I Love San Bernardino’s Robert Porter

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