Mexican-American Erica Alfaro worked in fruit fields during her childhood in California. Two degrees later, she's wearing a cap and gown where her mother still works.
On every summer break, Erica Alfaro worked with her parents picking tomatoes in Central California. They didn’t speak English, and they didn’t speak Spanish either. They spoke Mixtec, an indigenous language from Oaxaca, Mexico, the state they came from originally. The Alfaros lived in a one-bedroom apartment shared with eleven other people.
One day in the summer, she felt particularly tired, and her mother told her: “This is how life is going to be from now on. The only people who don't have to go through this get an education.”
On May 19, at 29 years old, Erica graduated from San Diego State University with a Master's degree in Education, and a concentration in counseling. And now, she honors her origins, her upbringing, and her family’s hard work, by choosing to get photographed in those same tomato fields with her parents. A sharp contrast strikes at once: her parents are dressed in work clothes, accordingly to the setting, but she is fully dressed in a toga. Erica is going for the symbolism here. She is going for an image that combines both her past and present in order to inspire members of the Latino community who are facing similar situations.
Erica’s story is not that unfamiliar. She was born in Fresno, California, but as the daughter of Mexican immigrants she had to work to help her family get by, lived in a crowded apartment, and even had to return to Mexico for her mother to sort out paperwork in order to obtain her residency.
At 15, Erica found out she was pregnant and later moved in with her boyfriend. But this put her in a toxic relationship, where she was sometimes forced to sleep outside with her baby.
A few years later, she enrolled in a homeschooling program, finished high school, and enrolled in college. A few years after that, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Yet her answer to poverty, teenage pregnancy, abusive relationships and a health condition was survival. "The reason I share my story is because I want to encourage undocumented single mothers, and people who suffer from domestic violence, to get an education and achieve their goals," Alfaro said. "These photos represent many of us," she said. "Our parents came to this country to give us a better life and we wouldn't be here without them." Erica’s dream is to become a school counselor in order to inspire young people, specially undocumented immigrants, to keep on fighting and lead the life the previous generation worked so hard for them to have.