#MentorMonday: Ricardo de Jesús Maga Rojas

Welcome to #MentorMonday! Mondays are dedicated to celebrating Black LICENSED Architects, Designers, and individuals in the profession of Architecture!

The questions asked to these individuals are to allow us into their lives and to be used as an inspiration. I hope you all enjoy this series.

Name: Ricardo de Jesús Maga Rojas

Hometown: Born in Banes, Holguin, Cuba, raised in Miami, Florida. I currently reside in Austin, TX.

What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?

My interest in architecture began when I enrolled in the drafting magnet at my high school, Miami Jackson Senior High. I always had an interest in art and science in elementary and middle school. It was not until high school that I found out that architecture was the combination of both.

What does it mean to be a black architect to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?

Being an Afro-Cuban immigrant, I recognize there is a need for diverse representation in architecture. Growing up, I had a circumscribed perspective of an architect’s role in society; I had only met one architect while attending high school. I have hardly met an architect of African descent and Latino ethnicity; much less one of Cuban heritage. I am driven each day to deliver my best in a profession that is not representative of me. Being a black architect to me means bringing a different perspective to the built environment. The architecture profession has not always been representative of the people that it intends to serve. I think that as minoritized groups we have more of a responsibility in shaping the built environment by using our collective voices in designing buildings and spaces for the public.

What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/designer?

Some of the obstacles that I have experienced as a black designer are (1) being told that I was stupid and less than by a former employer — we need more black mentors in the field that can elevate us and encourage us to grow, (2) there is a lack of black leadership in past employers – especially at the larger firms, and (3) there is sometimes a lack of regard of stylistic approach which emanates from Eurocentric ideals dominating the standard of beauty.

Should we ignore race in this profession?

We cannot and we should not. In order for architecture to be a more inclusive profession, we need to have real conversations about race and ethnicity encompassing justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. We need to step into each other’s shoes and appreciate one another’s perspectives. It is not about treating people precisely the way WE want to treat them, but treating them as THEY want to be treated, which is not always the same thing.

If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture school right now, what would it be?

My advice would be to be your authentic self and listen to the voice of your Ancestors. Learn all you can about the profession of architecture and then break the rules. Break the standard and become involved in advocacy efforts – that is how you effectuate real change in the built environment.

Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?

I felt at my lowest when a former employer was hostile and disrespectful. I overcame it by focusing on myself and listening to my Ancestors. By maintaining a close connection to others from my alma mater, Tuskegee University, I continue to motivate them to pursue licensure. We need to build up one another; we ALL we got.

How important is representation?

I love this question. It is not about checking the box and having diversity for diversity’s sake. Representation matters because it helps spotlight issues that are prevalent in our communities — we are therein better enable to help our communities if we look like the people we represent.

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