It was evident from her first day at the California State University, Long Beach: Nohemi Gonzalez was a little on the eccentric side. Jen San Juan who took a freshman public speaking class with Nohemi remembers her brown hair was dyed with white stripes, resembling a raccoon’s tail.
However, it was Nohemi’s effervescent personality that most left an impression on those who encountered her, including San Juan. By all accounts her warm smile could turn a bad day good. Her family described her as “high-spirited.”
It’s this same fervor for life that Martin Herman, chair of the department of design, was struck by when he first met Nohemi, an industrial design major, during a field trip.
“She viewed the world with trust, openness, imagination and playfulness,” Herman said. “She was a flower in full bloom.”
Nohemi flourished at CSULB. She took second place in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, along with three other classmates, by designing biodegradable trail mix packaging that separately contained soil and a seed, which could be grown within the packaging.
CSULB was not only a place of intellectual growth for Nohemi; it was also where she found love. She met her boyfriend of four years, Tim Mraz, in the design workshop. He was two years her senior and had been a teacher’s assistant at the time.
“She wanted to do everything,” he said. “She taught me to live every day to the fullest.”
Nohemi’s work ethic was somewhat legendary in the department. Fellow students would find her laboring over a project into the night. They would find her again in the morning, still working, wearing the same clothes as the previous night.
During her junior year Nohemi, like Tim before her, became a teacher’s assistant for the department of design. She kept the workshop in tip-top shape and helped students with their projects.
Fellow senior industrial design major Monique Weinapple remembers that Nohemi was always there whenever anyone needed anything.
“She would come in on weekends to open the shop for me so I could finish my project,” Angela Hickman, a design major, said during a vigil for Nohemi.
She could also be tough. “If someone was holding a tool wrong she would be like ‘Hey what the hell are you doing?’” Mraz said.
During her senior year, Paris, with all its romanticism and bohemian culture, beckoned. Nohemi applied to spend a semester abroad. She would often come into the Study Abroad Office and ask, “Did I get in?” remembers Cecilia Fidora, the assistant director of the Education Abroad Program.[sidebar title=”Storify:” align=”right” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”]
Along with three other students, she was chosen to study at Strate College of Design in Paris. Going to France would mark her first time out of the country. She was 23 years old, an ever-expanding horizon before her.
Before she had left for Paris, Mraz said he and Nohemi built a table together. After she left, he would look forward to seeing her over the holidays in December.
Overcoming her limited French, Nohemi continued to pursue her passion for renewable, environmentally conscious design while abroad.
“She was so excited to be in Paris,” Herman said.
Even in the City of Lights, she could not be outshined. In photos posted to social media from her time in France, she beams. Her smile betrays a spark igniting into a flame.
“Mimi,” as her family knew her, grew up in Whittier and was the only daughter of Beatrez Gonzalez, who was most proud that Mimi lived life the way she wanted to and accomplished almost everything she put her mind to.
Even before graduating, she had her sights set ahead: She dreamt of going into the aerospace industry, according to Mraz.
Unfortunately, Nohemi would never get the chance to live out her aspirations. On Nov. 13, while dining with friends at Parisian bistro La Belle Equipe, she became one of the at least 129 who were killed by terrorists across Paris.
But Nohemi’s passing only crystallizes the love and inspiration she emitted in life. As French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote of the artist: “It is that Death, soaring like a new sun / Will bring to bloom the flowers of their brains.”
And so, Mimi, the first-generation Mexican-American, who had a Pocahontas tattoo on her left arm, who loved a flighty Chihuahua named Tommy, who ran track in high school; the daughter, the niece, the girlfriend, the designer, the 49er, remains in full bloom.
A fund drive to help the Gonzalez family, “The Nohemi Gonzalez Memorial Fund” on DonationTo, can be found at donationto.com/The-Nohemi-Gonzalez-Memorial-Fund.
Yasmin Cortez also contributed to this article.
A previous version of this article misspelled Jen San Juan.