Gables Magazine / Summer 2004
By Larry Luxner
Before inquiring about her acting talent, racy website or Hispanic heritage, the first thing we wanted to know about Yancy Mendia was: how did she end up with such an unusual first name?
"Well," she explained over lunch recently at Pescado in the Gables, "my mom is named Nancy, and she wanted my name to rhyme. So she went through all the letters from A to Z, and when she got to Y, she liked it."
So Yancy it was.
Born in Mexico and raised in South Florida, the 25-year-old aspiring actress says she nevertheless feels 100% Cuban. "My family is from Matanzas, and I came here when I was two years old. I have a very profound love for Cuba, even though I've never been there."
Yancy, who zips around the Gables in her bright yellow Jeep, showed up to our interview in an Abercrombie Surf Team T-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers, her long black hair tucked into a red baseball cap.
It's hard to believe this soft-spoken, slender Hispanic heartthrob is the star of a violent new movie called "Señorita Justice." The 88-minute flick by Deerfield Beach-based Breakaway Films is direct-to-video, meaning it won't ever appear in theaters, but will be marketed heavily by Blockbuster and other video outlets.
"It's about a girl named Ana who is raised in the bad part of Little Havana," Yancy told us. "She gets into a lot of trouble and gets involved in gangs, then she's caught by the police and goes to court. They give her an ultimatum: either go to jail or join the military. She chooses the military, makes a better life for herself, becomes a lawyer and decides to practice law."
But it doesn't end there.
"Ana moves to South Florida and has an American boyfriend. Her life is perfect, but one day her best friend from the old neighborhood tells her that her brother has been murdered. So she goes back to the hood and when she sees that the police aren't doing anything about it, she takes justice into her own hands."
The R-rated "Señorita Justice" — which co-stars Edith González, Eva Longoria and Tito Puente Jr. — won't win an Academy Award, but it's exactly the kind of flick that will appeal to thousands of young Hispanics searching for their identity in a bilingual society. And Yancy says she's lucky to be a part of it.
"I feel very blessed," said "Not a lot of people who are trying to do what I'm doing have been able to accomplish so much in so little time. I swear it just fell into my lap."
Since the age of 4, Yancy Mendia has been dancing and acting in front of others, performing in every school play and talent show she could get herself into. She attended American Senior High in Miami Lakes and has lived in the Gables for the past three years.
As a model, she's done print and runway work for Old Navy, 5-7-9 and other retail chains. She's appeared on TV shows such as Univisión's "Caliente," Telemundo's "Obscuras Pero Encendidas," WSVN-TV's "Deco Drive" and TeleMiami's "Solo Para Ustedes."
Like the fictional Ana, Yancy's life has taken many unexpected twists and turns — which partially explains how she ended up in acting.
"One day, I was walking along South Beach, wearing a white bikini, and a casting director for GMC Motors came up to me and said she really liked my look. She gave me her card and said I should call her if I was ever interested in doing commercials. So I went to the casting, and they picked me. I was 17 at the time, and $500 an hour was an amazing amount of money to me," she said.
"Another time, I was on vacation in the Dominican Republic, and a random photographer saw me and said he wanted to do postcards. I was too young, so I had to get permission from my mom. I later did a commercial for Verizon, for billboards and newspaper ads."
Yancy eventually was discovered by movie producer Melvin James and ended up co-starring in "A Miami Tale," an urban comedy shot entirely in Liberty City about two gangs — one black, one Hispanic — in which the girls withhold sex from their boyfriends until they stop the violence. That hip-hop flick features the rap-selling Diva Trina in her movie debut, with Yancy playing the Latina lead character.
"Yancy's a very determined young lady," said her publicist, Ty Johnston, who was also associate producer of "A Miami Tale," which came out last fall. "I don't know whatever gave Yancy the courage to get into this profession, but I know she's very determined. She really wants to be known as a Latina actress."
Kantz, the director of "Señorita Justice," said his film was shot over a 12-day period in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, with about four weeks of "prep time" before that.
"Yancy's a hard worker," said Kantz, who only goes by one name. "She had to learn martial arts relatively quickly, so we had someone come out from California to help her with that."
Yancy markets herself through her website, www.yancymendia.com, which offers netsurfers a biography, credits and a portfolio of sensual photographs — all this from a young woman who considers herself to be very shy.
"I'm the kind of girl who doesn't kiss on the first date," she said. "I've never done G-strings or anything obscene. My mom raised me well, and I'm not going to do something outside of my morals or principles."
That makes it hard for Yancy to do love scenes, which she calls "the hardest part of the job."
Yancy said she's not dancing much anymore, because it takes up too much of her time and she needs to put 100% of her efforts into acting. Among her favorite Hollywood stars are Julia Roberts, Al Pacino and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Asked who her favorite Hispanic role model is, Yancy answers without hesitation: "Celia Cruz, may she rest in peace. I also admire Andy García, as well as Emilio Estefan. That's the American dream. You come from a country that has nothing, not even freedom, and you become a millionaire with record deals and mansions at such a young age."
Yet Yancy claims her goal isn't to become rich and famous.
"People tell me they want to be famous. I'm not doing this because I want to be rich and famous, but because I want to be an actress. I think it's something you're born with. You look at these people on TV and wonder, 'how do I get there?' We're in America, the land of opportunity, and anybody can do what they want. Nobody here is better than me, and I'm not better than anyone else."
Someday, Yancy would like to visit Cuba, the land of her mother's birth.
"I've never been there, but my manager and I are talking about coming out with a calendar," she said. "I'd give anything to do a calendar of 12 pictures, something very sexy, with torn jeans and a cowboy hat, shot at Varadero Beach or Havana with old cars, traffic and people."
Given tough new U.S. travel restrictions on Cuba, that probably won't happen anytime soon.
But Yancy has plenty to keep herself busy in the meantime. She's currently working with a voice trainer to neutralize her accent and remove all trace of Cuban or Mexican sing-song. She's also appearing in two other films, "Hustler's World" and "Tough Love," and may also star in a third picture, "Escape From Eden."
So what's her goal in life, we asked her.
"I want to get married eventually, and I want to have children," she told us with a shy smile. "I think the perfect balance in life starts with love."