Story Submitted by Coda Rayo-Garza
This one picture of me as a child speaks volumes about who I am now and where I come from. It represents the fire that burns in me to pursue justice and a better world for all.
I had no idea how many answers lived in a photograph. Growing up very poor in the borderlands of our great country, cameras and pictures were not always accessible to my family. Yet, I am grateful for the few pictures of my family and myself that I was able to find for the exercise with Family Pictures USA. At first, I felt sadness. Sadness because the story of my family isn’t captured in many photographs and I’ve always had many questions about my “raiz,” my roots. But this one picture of me as a child speaks volumes about who I am now and where I come from. This picture of me as a young girl is also symbolic. It represents the fire that burns in me to pursue justice and a better world for all. This little girl represents all of the historically excluded girls, who far to often feel the sting of hunger and worries of uncertainty.
As a young girl, I often wondered why I grew up in poverty. “Why can’t I have a “normal” house?”, I asked myself, but looking back I realize that “normal” was just asking for the bare minimum: a warm home in the winter and somewhere cool to rest my head in the summer. See, like many homes nestled along the Rio Grande, our home was cut and paste from different materials, no air conditioning system or water boiler to offer us hot running water. Living a transnational life was not easy. This reality persists today. Many families continue to live like this…in one of the wealthiest nations on earth. This photo of me as a young girl is a rally cry of the work we still have to do to honor our democratic principals and commitment of peace and justice for all, because until we lift up those worse off, we fail everyone.
In this photo, I look in my eyes and I see that even though I may not have many pictures documenting my childhood (and how I wish I had at least one photo of me as a baby), I have my memories to guide me and continue to enrich my love for my culture, my womanhood, and my being. Now, as a mother, pictures of my daughter and son abound. They adorn our walls, phones, and offices. Some people tell me that my daughter has my eyes. I often look at our pictures and see pieces of me in her. But her eyes are her own, and they sparkle with a joy that I work every single day to protect.
Reflecting on this photo of me as a child, I am reminded of my “why.” Why I do the work I do in my career, academic work, and advocacy. I am also reminded of my children, for whom I will work tirelessly to ensure they have all the things in life that I often struggled to access as a child. As my mom always told me, “Tenemos que ser fuerte y seguir adelante”/”We must be strong and forge ahead.”
Tenemos que ser fuerte y seguir adelante.
We must be strong and forge ahead.