This week, Netflix premiered Michelle Obama’s documentary Becoming, based on her best-selling, record-breaking memoir from 2018. In addition to chronicling the former First Lady’s life and exceptional career, the film follows her back home to her Chicago alma mater, Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, where she meets with a group of girls to discuss empowerment and making an impact. In comes Elizabeth Cervantes.
“There’s girls who I feel like, they are president of this club, their ACT, SAT is this, this…. I just literally come to school,” Cervantes shares, surprised to have been picked to have a discussion with Obama. “I do whatever I have to do, and then I stay for one club, and that’s Latinos Unidos. And then I leave, and then I go to work.”
Obama looks at her and asks, “And why do you work?”
It’s there that Cervantes explains her father was in an accident and can’t work as he used to. The high schooler helps him out. “And also, because I have three little brothers. Everything that I do is for them,” she says. “I go to work and I bring them food.”
“And she wonders why she’s here!” Obama chimes in. She points at Cervantes and says, “That story? With all the highs and lows and what seems so ordinary and what seems like nothing to you is your power.”
The moment highlights the sacrifices many Latino students face, the challenges they overcome and how remarkable their stories are, even if they aren’t the picture-perfect narratives of a stereotypical school valedictorian. Obama’s documentary crew was so interested in Cervantes that they returned to the high school to film her graduation—an emotional part of Becoming that Cervantes shares with her family.
In conversation with The Chicago Tribune, Cervantes opened up about how important being in the film was for her in terms of representation. She’s working during the pandemic and told the publication she plans to attend community college in the fall.
“There’s going to be so many different people watching this documentary from different backgrounds, from different places. And just being a girl from the South Side of Chicago, a Mexican South Side girl, it is very important to me,” Cervantes said. “Never in my life would I have thought that I was going to be part of such a beautiful project like this. I still can’t believe it.”