I met Michelle Castillo seven years ago when she was 16, a third-generation migrant whose family traveled between their home in Texas and farm work in Illinois.
My photographs centered on challenges she faced getting an education. Michelle was on a college track and would be the first in her family to go. Would she finish? Or get married and have children? It turns out, she did all three.
Last May, I photographed her through my tears as she received her diploma. I was so proud. She'd gotten married, had a child, and separated from her husband in the five years it took her to finish, but she never gave up.
People sometimes ask me how I keep journalistic distance from my subjects when I'm drawn to care. The truth is, I care very much. I've been with Michelle during some pivotal moments – her migration between homes, her marriage, her graduation – and been rewarded with intimate photographs and a glimpse into a lifestyle I would never otherwise have known.
There's an unspoken trust when I'm allowed into someone's life to document these unguarded moments. I believe I can care without risking my objectivity.
When Michelle and I said goodbye this time, we both knew it might be the last time we'd see each other. She lives far away, and her story had come to a logical conclusion. I'll miss her – but I love knowing there's a little Melanie in her life. She named her daughter after me.