College Student Honors Field Worker Parents In Viral Graduation Photos

by Kristina Johnson
Branden Rodriguez/@branden.shoots

A daughter honors her field worker parents in the most touching graduation photos ever

When it came time for new University of California, San Diego graduate Jennifer Rocha to take pictures in her cap and gown, the daughter of two migrant workers knew exactly where she wanted to go: the farm fields near Coachella, California where her entire family has put in years of grueling labor.

Branden Rodriguez/@branden.shoots

The stunning portraits by photographer Branden Rodriguez tell a powerful story about the immigrant experience and the often-overlooked work of migrant workers in America.

UC San Diego shared the story on their Facebook page with a moving post Rocha wrote in honor of her parents Jose Juan and Angelica Maria, who both still work in the fields. “As a high schooler, my parents told me that the only way I was going to be able to understand how important it was to pursue a higher education was to work as a migrant field worker. My parents came from Michoacan, Mexico and were not fortunate enough to live their dreams of pursuing a higher education and obtaining the dream career they desired,” she wrote.

“When I first started working in the fields, I would get off from school, straight to cross country practice, run miles and miles and then get picked up by my dad to go work in the fields overnight. We would plant strawberries, get off at around 2-3 am and wake up at 5am to get ready, or else I would miss the city bus,” Rocha explained.

Branden Rodriguez/@branden.shoots

“I admired the workers because they kept working despite backaches while flies, mosquitos, and bugs kept roaming their faces, getting into their eyes. Nobody thinks about nor sees what happens behind a vegetable you grab at the grocery store. But behind it is someone who breaks their backs every day working in the fields.”

Branden Rodriguez/@branden.shoots

Rocha said that she continued to work in the fields even after she started college, despite having a job on campus as well. Add to that her tough college courses and a long commute, and it made for a difficult few years. “Many times I wanted to give up, but my parents and their pieces of advice and support were the reason I kept going,” she said.

Branden Rodriguez/@branden.shoots

“I wanted to go back to the field because that’s what molded me as a person and that’s what gave me the reason to pursue a higher education,” Rocha shared with the Today show. “My dad’s lesson to the three of his girls was, ‘Hey, if you don’t pursue higher education, this is where you’re going to end up your whole life.'”

The new grad credits her mom and dad with molding her into the person she is now. “If it wasn’t for how my parents raised me I don’t know who I would be today. Coming from a field worker background has motivated me to work hard as my parents took my sisters and I to the fields in order to understand how difficult labor is.” She’s now the well-deserved recipient of a bachelor’s degree in sociology — no doubt the pride of her hard-working family.