We often share graduation photos on social media to celebrate the accomplishment of newly minted graduates. In 2019, Erica Alfaro’s graduation photos went viral and quickly catapulted her story into the spotlight.
It wasn’t the fact that she was in a cap and gown that made headlines, but the fact that they were photos of a first-generation Latina college graduate alongside her immigrant parents. They took the picture in the very fruit fields where her parents worked and sacrificed for years so that their daughter could receive an education.
“With great affection, I dedicate my Mastery to my parents. Their sacrifices of coming to this country to give us a better future was well worth it,” she said on her Instagram page with the photos celebrating her graduation alongside her parents in the fields where her mother still works.
Erica shares this story in her new book, Cosechando Sueños, recently published in Spanish.
Erica Alfaro’s story is riddled with obstacles and challenges that almost prevented her from achieving her goals. Her parents — Mexican immigrants Teresa Herrera and Claudio Alfaro — are both from Oaxaca, Mexico, and speak Mixtec, an indigenous language of Mexico. They migrated to the United States separately and met later, always to provide a better life for their children.
Erica was born in Fresno, California, but was raised in Tijuana while her mother obtained her U.S. residency. During her childhood, she would cross the border every day to go to school. She didn’t master English until she was a teenager.
Education was always very important to her parents; they knew it was Erica’s way out and her ticket to opportunity.
At 15 years old, Erica dropped out of school when she got pregnant, and when she walked out on her abusive boyfriend, she became a single mother. Through it all, she remembered what her mother had told her: that if she didn’t want to work in the fields like her parents, she needed to get an education.
Erica went back to school, she worked her way into college, eventually earning not one but two degrees, a psychology degree, and then a master’s in education at San Diego State University.
Erica Alfaro’s story is one of a girl who was faced with many difficult circumstances — a child of immigrants, a teen mom, a victim of domestic violence — but who was never the victim. Rather than succumb to all the obstacles that could knock her down and hold her back, she managed to rise, reinvent herself, re-evaluate her priorities and achieve what she never thought was possible.
Her resilience and hard work honors where we come from, inspiring others and serving as a reminder of what we are all capable of. Thanks to her new book, her story will inspire generations for years to come. Cosechando Sueños (translation: Harvesting Dreams) was recently published in Spanish, with an English version scheduled to release on October 29th.
Through her book, Erica relives her hardest moments, and she shares her insight into reinvention and overcoming the impossible.
“You can be both strong and vulnerable. In order to write this book, I had to relive and feel the most difficult moments of my life. In this story, I will tell you how I managed to reinvent myself to become the woman I am today and achieve everything I thought impossible,” Erica said on her Instagram page. “To my Erica of the past, despite looking small and unable to fulfill big dreams, I want to thank her. Thank you for resisting, for continuing, for fighting!”
We spoke with Erica to learn how she managed to overcome so much, what inspires her to keep pushing forward, the best advice she ever received, and what she hopes future generations of Latinas learn from her experiences.
Your graduation photos with your parents went viral; did you ever expect to make such an impact on so many people simply by sharing your story?
I took my graduation pictures in the fields because I wanted to show my parents that their sacrifices were worth it and that thanks to them, I obtained a higher education. I never expected to make such an impact on so many people by simply sharing my story. I would not have believed it if someone had told me that the graduation pictures would make headlines worldwide and become a trend for future graduates.
You have experienced your fair share of obstacles and hardships along this journey to where you are today. But you never gave up hope and never gave up on your dreams. What kept you moving forward on the really hard days?
My parents sacrifice so much to come to this country to give us a better life. I made bad decisions as a teenager; I became a teenage mother, dropped out of high school, and lived under domestic abuse for many years. One night I realized that I was the only one that could make a difference in my life. How could I tell my son to follow his dreams if I didn’t follow mine?
What is the best and most important advice your parents ever gave you?
My parents never had the opportunity to go to school, they didn’t know how to read or write, but they always knew the importance of getting a good education. The best advice that they gave us is that if we wanted to have a better life, we had to get a good education.
It’s not easy to share your struggles and be open about obstacles you have faced, so what do you hope other people in the Latino community will take away from your story and your experiences?
The younger Erica Alfaro wanted to read a story of hope, a story of someone with similar struggles. I hope other people in the Latino community realize that there is power in their stories. It’s not easy to be vulnerable, but sometimes that is the only way to make a difference in other people. After sharing my story, I received thousands of messages from other students with similar struggles. I was able to give them hope.
What’s next for you? Through your book and motivational speaking engagements, what lessons do you hope to pass on to future generations of Latinas who are considering pursuing their education?
I currently work in the human resources department of one of the biggest farms in the north county. I am a business owner, keynote speaker, book author, and education advocate. At this moment, my biggest goal is to improve and gain more knowledge in all those areas. I want to help farmworkers, underrepresented students, domestic violence survivors, and first-generation college students.
Through my book, I want to give hope to other Latinas and encourage them to dream big. If I could go back in time, I would tell the younger Erica that she is not alone in her journey and that despite all the adversities, she will make it and share her story to give hope to others. Education opens many doors for you; it’s something that no one can take away from you.
Cosechando Sueños is available now on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.
You can follow Erica Alfaro on social media for more information about upcoming projects, her new website, and future speaking engagements.