PhilaU gives us the power to do. Take a second, though, and imagine a life
willing you no power at all—a life that instills in you that you are a “failed human being.” Imagine family members suppressing your interests… no tap dancing lessons, no piano… no design.
This was the life of Mondo Guerra as he grew up in his traditional Mexican Catholic home in Denver, CO. As a small boy, Mondo knew he was drawn to the arts. Taking up piano (only after agreeing to play baseball simultaneously under his mother’s ultimatum) opened up the young Guerra’s world. From piano,
Mondo fell into theatre arts, then into the marching band.
Mondo always felt most comfortable with his mom, sister, and grandmother. One night after a
performance, Mondo came home to his grandparents’ house still wearing his theatre makeup. Horrified, his
grandmother made him wipe it off before his grandfather saw. When Mondo turned 18, he came out to his
mother about his sexual orientation. Her response—“Don’t tell the family, and I am not telling your father.” There are expected gender roles in the Latin community that Mondo was having a hard time conforming.
He needed another outlet. Locked away in his bedroom, a young Mondo found sanction in
fashion. In his spare time, Mondo began secretly reinventing things he saw in editorials. He would pilfer articles from local thrift stores, sneaking them into his room, constructing his new duds with a glue gun.
As Mondo grew up, he found himself in college, where he discovered a fashion mentor. After
entering a contest with the help of his mentor, Mondo found himself in NYC. He felt invincible. He was practicing fashion, working 12 hours a day and living the party scene in the big apple. One night, however, after a certain encounter, Mondo found out that he had been infected with HIV.
His life on the top was soon on a landslide. Finding himself back in Denver, Mondo felt
alienated, lonely, and depressed. He moved back in with his parents and found himself lost each night in a
bottle. He knew the disease had come to define him.
Then on Christmas Day, 2009, Mondo had an epiphany. As he lay in a hospital bed dying, he was
suddenly determined to recharge his life. He decided to regain control of his creativity and the passion that had once ran through his veins. At this point he had held his secrets for ten years—from design, to sexuality, to AIDS.
Today we know Mondo Guerra as a season eight contestant of Project Runway, famous for his positivity design (pictured above). He is famous for releasing his secret to the nation during episode 10. As Mondo faced a crowd of hopeful PhilaU designers, he left the room with this, “Be honest with you as an individual. If you’re a creative individual, let that really show every day. That’s all.”