‘I knew it was her.’ Student finds vintage image of grandmother

Fresno State Senior Elizabeth Meza-Castillo and her grandmother, Martha Quintana-Sanchez, holds up a photo of Quintana-Sanchez in her youth on Jan. 29, 2018. (Ram Reyes/The Collegian)

“Looking around I remember that building,” Martha Quintana-Sanchez said as she pointed to the University Student Union. “I remember going when it was first built. This place (the water fountain), I remember sitting here.”

Three weeks ago, Quintana-Sanchez’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Meza-Castillo, a senior at Fresno State, was scrolling through Instagram when she recognized her grandmother in a “Flashback Friday” photo posted by the university.

“I just knew it was her. My heart knew. I was like,‘Grandma this is you’,” she said while looking through a stack of photos in her hand. “She’s been showing me some of these pictures right now, and I’m like this is definitely [her].”  

Fresno State’s Instagram user told her there was little information on the photo, but Quintana-Sanchez knew the young woman in the picture was likely her grandmother.

“[It’s] incredible. I couldn’t believe it,” she said with a smile.

In the photo, Quintana-Sanchez sits on a concrete bench next to the Memorial Fountain as she speaks with a younger man squatting beside her. She did not remember his name.

When she sat down with The Collegian to talk about the image recently, she sat side-by-side with her granddaughter on the same bench.

After transferring from Fresno City College, Quintana-Sanchez attended Fresno State in 1970 to pursue a career in teaching. In community college, she was active in the student council, Chicano empowerment and the Cesar Chavez movement.

She also got involved with the Mini Corps, a program that recruits university students interested in teaching as instructional aides for young migrant students.

She spent a summer in Salinas living in a migrant labor camp and also taught in the elementary schools.

It was Quintana-Sanchez’s father who encouraged her to pursue a higher education. Her parents were farmworkers and she was the eldest of eight children. She spent much of her childhood in similar labor climates.

“Our family was very tight knit, I mean we did grow up in a two-bedroom house,” she said. “I never knew in the moment how rough it was, but we were happy. We always had shoes, and we always had food, and that was the only thing important to us at the time.”

Quintana-Sanchez said parents frequently pulled their kids out of school to work, but her father didn’t let that happen to her.

“My mom wanted to take me out of school,” she said. “But since I was such a good student, it was easy for my dad to be on my side.”

Quintana-Sanchez took a break from her studies when she got a job in the welfare department as one of the first food stamp workers.

“It wasn’t until after I had my [first] daughter that I came back for one or two semesters more,” Quintana-Sanchez said. “But I couldn’t do it with the little ones and an alcoholic husband and working, so I just stayed working.”

As a retired grandmother, just like her father, she encourages her grandchildren to receive their education, especially Meza-Castillo with whom she has a close relationship with

“When you’re young as you all are, you want to conquer the world. The world is at your feet,”  Quintana-Sanchez said. “Now at my age, I feel like, did I really accomplish anything?”

To that question, Meza-Castillo answered yes.

Meza-Castillo is a proud feminist, like her grandma. She is studying political science and women’s studies and will graduate in May. And with her grandmother’s influence, she plans to earn her Ph.D and a law degree.

And that photo, Meza-Castillo said, gives her a richer connection to her grandmother – on top of the positive influences she has on her.

“Knowing my grandma came [to Fresno State] and I always wanted to be here,” Meza-Castillo said. “And finding political science right away and women’s studies, it’s almost like it was meant to be now that I’m hearing her story.”

Meza-Castillo is the eldest of six and she hopes to pass the same encouragement down to her siblings as they grow up. Quintana-Sanchez said her greatest accomplishment was inspiring Meza-Castillo to get her degree.

“I was telling her I’ve never depended on anybody. I’ve always taught (her daughters) as women, they can do it on their own,” Quintana-Sanchez said. “If they want somebody, that’s another thing, but they don’t need anybody to accomplish what they want. That’s something I’ve always told them, I’ve told [Meza-Castillo] and to this day I have seven granddaughters so I have to encourage them.

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