You’re the Visual Assistant! What does that mean and what do you do?
I design, illustrate, collage, paint, make props, research imagery and brainstorm visual directions that will best express the stories on site. I work with the visuals team on images that demonstrate creativity, have personality and often resemble curated chaos. I mostly personify animals.
Where were you doing before this?
I moved to New York City in August 2016. In the months before I joined Man Repeller, I was a freelance graphic designer at PVH Corp and, prior to that, an ed-tech startup. Before that, I lived in the “sorta-south” part of North Florida as an exhausted but American-dream-driven college student.
What did you go to school for?
I graduated with a major in Graphic Design and a minor in Asian American studies. My ethnic studies courses taught me about the history of marginalized folks in the United States and helped me understand my voice. My design courses taught me how to spread a message. Outside of my course load, I was extremely involved with student affairs, service work and activism. I currently serve on the National Board of a student-run 501(c)3 organization that strives to inspire, educate and empower folks interested in AAPI issues. If you could major in over-involvement, I probably would have done that, too.
How did you get started at Man Repeller?
I started following Man Repeller in 2012 while living in suburban South Florida and it’s been an inspiration to me ever since. Man Repeller helped shape my view of style and representation and became a term of endearment between my friends. A couple of months after I moved to New York, I got a text midday from a friend with a link to a Man Repeller twitter post about a creative internship. I sent my resume and hoped for the best (sending resumes over the internet feels like throwing your life into the ether).
About a week later, I heard back and I screamed internally for about 72 hours (probably more). A couple of weeks after that, I started as a visual intern and now after two months, I’m excited to join the team full-time!
Favorite part of your job?
It is exciting to come to work everyday and be surrounded by a group of unapologetic people fighting for individuality. I really love the mission at Man Repeller and I feel so overwhelmingly happy to be able to contribute to the team. I appreciate how much I am able to learn and grow and challenge myself as a designer and human.
I also enjoy having the ability to express myself creatively and especially love it when the visual work is able to complement the copy in a way that is intriguing, humorous and meaningful.
And I can’t complain about the proximity to Chinatown and the vast array of dumpling options.
Least favorite part of your job?
I grew up with an immigrant mindset that caused me to confront challenges with hard work and unwavering persistence. It engrained in me the notion that bumps in the road are things you can dwell on after they’re completed. Overall, I am grateful to be able to follow my passion and to have the option of choice in my career and life in general.
What’s one thing that surprised you in your path up until now?
That it’s okay to love yourself. It’s okay to say what you feel, to laugh at your own jokes, to be hard on yourself, to let yourself have a pass when you’re feeling down or to feel exceptionally proud of yourself even for the little things. You don’t have to love yourself, but you can. I think I have been surprised by how much it frustrates other people when women, women of color and women of other strive to be themselves and to live unapologetically. Being yourself and loving yourself is so hard because we’re taught to thrive on our own pain and the pain of others, but what if we use that pain to make art?
One of the most important lessons I have learned is that even though being yourself is difficult and you might be ostracized, soon enough you’ll find people that understand you and don’t make you feel wrong for doing you. Own your otherness! I’ve thought a lot about representation and how I’ve never seen someone like me do so many things, but now, as an adult, it’s up to me to be the representation I wish I had seen growing up. I am always surprised by the power of truth and how our experiences through happiness and trauma can help us heal, grow and create communities and spaces for a better tomorrow.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I used to joke that I want to be a real life Ugly Betty, so I think I’ve made it.
As a child, I wanted to be an artist, a dancer and an Olympic swimmer. In my mind, I am still committed to all of these things. Some day I’ll be living in the American Southwest in a home I built myself making art, creating massive installations, writing, teaching, performing ethereal choreography and training in my indoor pool.
I would like to study to get a PhD (unless someone would like to offer me an honorary degree) and write a dissertation on the influence of media/art/representation/post-colonialism/memes/the Jonas Brothers.
I am also interested in learning how to bee keep.
What’s one piece of advice you can offer to someone who wants a job like yours?
Open your eyes and look around, there is inspiration everywhere! It’s in books, in art, in the people around you, on the internet. Take time to get out of your bubble and talk to people. I am a firm believer that everyone has something to offer this world and you become more knowledgeable with each person you meet and each story you hear.
Design and illustration skills can be learned, but having a point of view is harder to fake. Know the line between finding inspiration from someone else and ripping them off. Don’t be a copycat or a cheat. Logistically, know how to make clean work and clean design files (layers are your friends!!!).
Your work is more interesting when it’s informed so get out in the world and be an active participant in life!
What’s one piece of advice you have for someone who has no clue what they want to do?
In college I lived by the mantra, “Work hard and be nice to people,” inspired by an art print by Anthony Burrill. Now I think it’s more like, “work hard and be nice to people + don’t be an asshole + embrace your otherness.” Overall, I think you have to challenge yourself in order to find out what you value and what you want in life.
Do you want money? Stability? To be a positive impact on the world? To have complete creative freedom? Life’s full of choices. Sometimes, what is right for you isn’t right for someone else, and vice versa. If you don’t know what you want to do, think about who you want to be. Then ask yourself why.
Get to the root of your issues and live in your truth, it will help you be more intentional in your career and in your life. Be patient with yourself and your path and remember to take care of yourself.
There’s a lot of darkness in the world. It’s up to you to find the light to survive.
Tell me something weird about you.
1. I love potatoes. I think everyone should strive to be human potatoes because they are so diverse and have the ability to transform into so many things!
2. I am interested in revisiting discarded language trends. I have successfully integrated “crunk” into my lexicon and I am working to bring “phat” back into my life.
3. I often daydream about what it would be like to be Pitbull’s publicist.
4. I once made the equivalent of $50 by going on a Chinese dating-game show. I wore Nike sneakers and my sister wore my Doc Martens and we laughed, danced to Taio Cruz’s “Higher,” took peace-sign selfies with other contestants and pretended we could understand what everyone was saying even though we couldn’t.
Maria is wearing a velvet jumpsuit from a tourist shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Banana Republic vest, Uniqlo heattech turtleneck, wooden necklace from a gift shop in Alpine, Texas, Nike sneakers, Apple watch, and Weird Empire middle child trophy pin.
Photos by Krista Anna Lewis.