How a trip to Mexico shaped my life forever

How did this gal become a photographer? Well, it all started when I was 14 years old. My dad gave me his old Nikon F4 and I went on a life changing trip with my school to Tecaté, Mexico that would forever shape my future, even though I did not know it at the time.

At that time, I had wanted to be a lawyer, to change the world, justice, etc. I begged my dad for a sweatshirt from Harvard Law. He bought it for me as my parents always supported my dreams (no matter my age) and this was the one precious thing I packed with me that also changed my perspective on life, needs and wants.

We flew from Oregon (where my school was based) to LA (My hometown) and drove into Mexico. We arrived in Tecaté, as a group of young teens ranging between 14 and 18 with our group leaders. Little did I know, this trip would change my perspective of life at a very young age.

We arrived at the orphanage and we were brought to our rooms. The rooms were bunk beds in a tiny cramped space, nothing like I had ever experienced. We also only had about enough hot water to bath in, for each of us to have 30 seconds of hot water under a faucet (Literally a faucet) and only the first girl to bath would get hot water for that time. Needless to say, we took turns under the “hot faucet” alternating every three days.

We lived with these kids at their orphanage for about a week. One child, Alfredo (I will never forget his name or his smiling face) who was about 5 or 6 at the time, had approached me many times to play with the group but only toward our last few days did he really become comfortable with me.

I was wearing that Harvard sweatshirt. He said, “I want to be a lawyer when I grow up!” my counselor called me over and said, “He looks up to you. Would you give him that sweatshirt?” I didn’t want to at the time. It didn’t quite hit me. I said, “no, I love this sweatshirt!” Then I went back to him. He tugged on it. He looked up at me and he said how he wanted to change the world. How he wanted to be a lawyer in America. I found myself pulling the sweatshirt off of my back and putting it over his head.

This moment will forever and always be burned in my memory. The light that filled him, the hope. It was truly life changing. Who knew (I didn’t then) that something so simple as a sweatshirt could change a child’s hope for his future and for the betterment of dreams to come.

We were leaving, and as we departed, he ran up and handed me a ceramic sun and moon the kids had made. I still have it hanging in my home. It is a treasure to me. That little boy changed my perspective. I can only hope he found his dream.

If you think it stopped there, let me tell you, that was only the beginning.

We then ventured to Guadalajara, Mexico. This was where an already influential journey took the most important turn in my life.

I put the film into my camera. In fact, it wasn’t in the Nikon f4 but a Canon Rebel film camera my dad bought me that I took this photo with. I had both on my person at all times.

We ventured into the city center and this is where I saw her… a young girl, no older than 5 or 6, begging on the street.

She had an accordion that she was playing and a cup that she was to collect money in.

I was worried about offending her. I was worried about taking her photo, even at my age.

I felt that I was almost capitalizing on her suffering after experiencing what I did at the orphanage. Not that I had ever planned to make money on the image, but taking the photo itself while knowing her suffering? This seemed wrong to me. It still does.

Nevertheless, I laid down on my stomach and took her photo.

She looked into my lens. Her eyes pierced me. They said so much without us speaking the same language, without us saying anything. That photo haunts me to this day and at the same time, that photo made me a photographer.  I dropped some money in her cup and ventured off with my group.  I wish I had her contact details. I wish I could thank her. I want to tell her how she was the driving force that made me want to capture the beauty in this world. With beauty comes suffering. With suffering, comes enlightenment.

I wonder what happened to her. The girl with the eyes. The girl that inspired me. The girl that said everything, without saying a word.  That trip in itself sparked my drive as a photographer. Even though I did not know it at the time, those few weeks would shape my life forever.

Thank you, Alfredo and thank you to the beautiful girl with the eyes that shattered my very core and in turn, made me who I am today.

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