Our February article for Being Latino focuses on Christina Mendez, model, advocate for Autism Speaks, and granddaughter of Joseito Mateo.
Christina Mendez loves to perform. She’s bubbly and warm. And when your grandfather is the greatest merenguero in Dominican Republic history, it might be safe to say that performing runs deep in your blood.
Christina was an aspiring singer as a teenager, performing in the school choir. Interestingly, merengue was never part of her repertoire. Perhaps, because she’s lived her entire life on New York City’s Upper West Side, in a neighborhood where the name Joseito Matteo probably would not have carried much weight.
However, she is quick to point out that if she had grown up just a few blocks north in Washington Heights, the epicenter of Dominican culture, she almost certainly would have been inundated with “free cake, free everything.” At age 92, no other Dominican singer is more revered than Joseito Matteo.
While Christina is exceptionally honored by her family’s musical legacy, “I’m always proud of his (her grandfather’s) success,” she never wanted to ride the coattails of her famous grandfather. She is charting her own course but her journey to the ascendency of Plus Size modeling has taken a few detours.
“When I was in school, I had a problem with cutting class. They couldn’t keep me in school. I was a hot mess. It was hard to control me,” says Christina. It took a clever Spanish teacher, Jose Melendez, to keep her in the Humanities High School building. He tempted her with opportunities to model in after school fashion shows in an effort to keep her and her friends from being truant. Christina describes Mr. Melendez’s approach to the catwalk, “He hit the runway like he was Naomi Campbell; he taught us how to walk the runway.” Christina was hooked and continued to model. Inspired, she graduated from high school and enrolled at Atlanta’s Morris Brown College, one of the United States’ historically black colleges.
As she recounts, Christina selected Morris Brown for two main reasons: First, “I love black people…. I consider myself a Black Latina. I don’t fit the standard look (Latinas in the media). My grandfather is very dark and my mother is very dark. My mother had a lot of issues about being black. She has said statements like, ‘You are light. You are going to get more opportunities.’ And I would say, I love your color. I tan to be your color. You are crazy. You look great.” Second, Christina wanted to live as far away from home as possible, spread her wings and be independent.
Read the full article on Being Latino.