Photography by Danny Fulgencio.
Barbara Raygoza shared a one-bedroom apartment with eight people when she began her freshman year at Lake Highlands High School.
Her brothers, Luis and Bryan, and dad slept in the living room. Her sister, Angie, brother-in-law, Julio, and two of their daughters slept on an air mattress on the bedroom floor. Barbara and her eldest niece shared a bed.
The family relocated from California to Texas after the cost of living became unbearable. Barbara’s mother divorced the father of her older children, who Barbara considers her dad, before she was born. Her mother worked odd jobs before opening a restaurant and janitorial business in Riverside, east of Los Angeles.
Barbara remembers that her mom usually came home exhausted. She and Barbara watched talent competitions on TV, and Barbara sang to her on the nights she seemed especially tired.
“She’s been my inspiration all my life,” she says.
When Barbara was 8 years old, Angie woke up her siblings in the middle of the night. She wrapped them in blankets, led her past paramedics and into her car.
Their mother had died.
Angie, then 23, transformed from a big sister into a mother that night. “She wasn’t ready to be the head of our family,” Barbara says. “But she knew what to do.”
The cost of the funeral left her family in debt, and they lived paycheck-to-paycheck while mourning the loss of their mother.
“Music was everything after my mom passed away,” she says. “It was a way for me to express myself and feel free.”
Her sister signed her up for softball. In junior high she applied for the Advancement Via Individual Determination program, where her teachers encouraged her emotionally and academically.
Her brother moved to Texas for more job opportunities in 2013, and the rest of the family followed a few years later. Their financial burden lessened but didn’t disappear.
“That’s how it’s always been,” she says. “We make it work.”
Barbara enrolled in Lake Highlands High School and immediately noticed that lessons at her new school were regimented. There was more homework, too. She joined AVID once again.“I wouldn’t be anywhere without my AVID family,” she says.
Barbara has managed to stay at the top of her class while joining choir, Spanish club, National Honor Society, Girls Service League Inc. and the third-wave feminist club. She was her junior class officer and softball captain.
Now she’s devoting her attention to advocacy work and is considering law school after college. At 18, she already has her hand in local politics. She is a member of the Mayor’s Rising Star Council (MRSC), and City Councilman Adam McGough appointed her to the Youth Commission for District 10.
McGough and MRSC co-founder Christie Myers have watched Raygoza transform from an introverted student to an assertive, open-minded leader. Even without a car, Barbara rarely misses a meeting. She considers McGough and Myers mentors, but they also value her perspective.
“Her determination and her willingness to serve well and be an advocate for her community and for her city is really impressive,” Myers says.
Her critical thinking skills and ability to listen separate Barbara from teens and even adults, McGough says. It’s why, during a trip to Washington D.C., he pointed to a podium at Capitol Hill and told Barbara she’ll give speeches there one day.
“She just has grit,” McGough says. “Whatever it is, you just know she’s going to be able to deal with the situation and thrive in it. I trust her. I trust her judgment.”
Photography by Danny Fulgencio.