Aptos High School junior Michelle Lopez-Rubio’s photograph “Sacrificing My Father’s Hands” will be on display in the U.S. Capitol. —photo by Michelle Lopez-Rubio

APTOS—An Aptos High School junior inspired by her father’s hard work in local agricultural fields has won this year’s 20th Congressional Art Competition, and will see her photograph hang in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Michelle Lopez-Rubio, 17, says she was working with her father in the fields when she saw him holding a bunch of strawberries.

Realizing that the tableau fit perfectly with an assignment on texture from her photography class, she snapped a picture.

Michelle Lopez-Rubio

Titled, “Sacrificing My Father’s Hands,” Lopez-Rubio says she hopes the photo helps illustrate the plight of farm workers better than mere words.

“They work very long hours in horrible conditions that really affect them and their families,” she said. “That’s what I was trying to show through the photo. You have these really good looking strawberries and delicious food, but at what cost? The cost of so many families struggling to get by and suffering and not even being paid minimum wage.”

Lopez-Rubio says she was surprised by the attention she received in winning the award.

“I’m not used to being much of an outgoing person, but it feels nice to have something so personal to me seen by a lot of people,” she said. 

Pajaro Valley Unified School District has over the past decade restored visual and performing arts after recession-era budget cuts decimated them.

“At PVUSD we recognize the profound influence of arts in education and we are proud to have opportunities

for our students to explore their artistic talent,” said Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez, who was instrumental in that revival.

Veronique Marks, Lopez-Rubio’s art teacher, said the photo encapsulates the lessons she tries to convey.

“I strive to teach my students that what they capture in a photograph can have extraordinary power that goes beyond language, straight to your heart,” she said. “The arts are essential, now more than ever. It gives students a voice and an avenue for healing and self-expression that they don’t often have in other subjects.”

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