Mendes was born in Miami, Florida, to Cuban parents Eva Pérez Suárez and Juan Carlos Méndez, and was raised by her mother in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silverlake, after her parents’ divorce. Mendes was raised a Roman Catholic and at one time even considered becoming a Catholic nun. Her mother worked at Mann’s Chinese Theatre and later for an aerospace company, and her father ran a meat distribution business. Mendes had one older brother, Juan Carlos Méndez, Jr. (1963–2016), who died from throat cancer. She also has an older sister, Janet, and a younger paternal half-brother, Carlos Alberto “Carlo” Méndez. She attended Hoover High School in Glendale, and later studied marketing at California State University, Northridge, but left college to pursue acting under Ivana Chubbuck.