If you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Monique “Momo” Arao Garcia at Southwestern College, chances are that you have at least seen her work as a campus artist and designer. Take a walk through the Chula Vista campus, pick up a flyer or browse the Southwestern College website and it’s easy to see her contributions.
For more than a year now, she’s worked for the Associated Student Organization as their official graphic designer. She’s created dozens of flyers, posters, logos and graphics to help bring awareness to student clubs, activities and initiatives. Find her in her cubicle inside the Student Center, and you’ll most likely see a line of student club representatives waiting to get their five minutes with her to see how they can tap into her talent.
For almost a year, Momo has been the first-ever official Southwestern College graphic design intern. Under the office of Communications, Community and Government Relations, Momo has quickly taken on and completed projects for the department and college.
“People I do not know and never talk to get to see my work,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ll be impacted positively because of it. If it helps at least one person, I think I did my job well.”
As a graphic designer, Momo does more than just push pixels, she is a collaborative artist who works closely, without intimidation, with people and departments throughout campus to create compelling work to help promote their programs or events.
Her work hasn’t gone without notice. Her collateral material was recently featured in the national Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week website promoting Southwestern College’s own week of activities. She’s currently working on a complete re-branding of high school outreach materials, something that will help ease the transition of new students into Southwestern College.
One of Momo’s proudest work for Southwestern College is an orange-red flyer and handout called “Resources for Students.” Momo worked with members of the SWC Cares team. That flyer was distributed to every employee during the spring semester’s opening day. Now, every single employee knows how to answer the questions, “Where can I get food if I’m hungry?” “Can I get an escort to my car if I feel unsafe?” “Where can I get help paying for school?” and much more.
“Information is better communicated if it’s for students by students, so it’s really nice that I get to do that,” she said. “I like to think that my purpose is to communicate and inform, and I also get to make it look pretty.”
Momo’s Favorite Work
Momo is concurrently enrolled at Southwestern College (where’s she’s earned three associate’s degrees) and Point Loma Nazarene University finishing her coursework in computer science. As a computer scientist and a graphic artist, Momo wants to work to bring her expertise to support marginalized community groups who often lack the necessary resources, funding and skills.
“What I’m studying, the code I’m learning, it’s all just building blocks,” she said. “I get to do whatever I want in order to solve a problem.”
Momo was first hired as the ASO’s graphic designer by former Vice President of Public Relations Nada Dibas in September 2016. Since then she’s created every official piece of ASO graphics, including events, election guides and programs.
“The moment I saw Monique’s portfolio, I knew she would be an invaluable member of the ASO and the greater Southwestern College community,” Dibas said. “She inspires and motivates all those around her with the work she does and the effort she gives. She is the true embodiment of the word community.”
As an immigrant from the Philippines, Momo came to the United States at the age of six. She had to spend most of her youth navigating American culture and, even though she had a limited understanding of English, act as the official family translator.
“I understand my place in my community as a vessel in order to honor the shoulders of giants on which we stand on and to pave the way for those who will come after us,” she said.
Today you’ll hear her proudly proclaim she’s “unapologetically Filipina.” What that means for Southwestern College is that she works to inform the entire campus community of Philippine culture and heritage.
You may have seen her and her club, Pagkakaisa, perform tinikling dancing in front of Mayan Hall, you may have attended one of their Philippine history lectures or you may have seen them walking through campus in their colorful, traditional Philippine clothes. Last semester, Pagkakaisa hosted Pondering with Pancit, an open dialogue with Filipinx students about their experiences. It opened many people’s eyes to the challenges they faced being Filipinx.
“If people are willing to talk about it, people will be that much more willing to listen,” she said. “I learn when information comes to me, so I’m going to go to people to spread my own personal experiences as a Filipina on campus.”
Part of what has made her so grow so much as an artist and as a person is her time at Southwestern College, and the dozens of mentors and friends she’s made along the way.
“I’ve personally populated seven different mini-fridges across campus,” she said. “That’s why I’m missing a lot of Tupperware, too.”
This is Momo’s last semester at Southwestern College, but the impact she’s made will last for years after she’s gone. Case in point: Walk through the halls of Southwestern College and you’ll find that her “Resources for Students” flyer has found a home on the walls and windows throughout campus.
“I don’t feel like a stranger here, I feel like I’m a part of this place,” she said. “I thought this place was just going to be a school, I didn’t know this would become my second home.”