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Common Reading 2022: I Am a Future Ancestor by Josué Rivas

I Am a Future Ancestor — Josué Rivas

"I Am a Future Ancestor” is Josué Rivas’s exploration of grief and loss, explored through an experimental, photo essay format, combining images with text to create meaning. Rivas’s work examines his pain while questioning the ways that this pain affects his ability to be a good father, all to forge a path to healing.

Discussion Questions

1. Rivas cites his Indigenous heritage as an influence in his healing process. How might your own identity affect the ways that you view healing, change, or renewal? 

2. Rivas’s photo essay uses words and images to tell a story. How does this genre help us to understand his message? How would the message change if Rivas used a different genre, like a personal narrative?

3. What ways are we influenced by our ancestors, both immediate and distant? Is it possible to be completely individualistic?  

Class Activities

1. Josué Rivas is an award-winning Mexica/Otomi photographer and visual storyteller specializing in stories that challenge the mainstream narrative about Indigenous people. His photo essay is part of the mission to tell new stories about past and present Indigenous lives. Visit the Susquehannock Tribute Circle located between Aikens Hall and Reed Hall. Take some time to reflect on the history of colonization and how it continues to impact the lives and cultures of Native Americans across the country. 

2. Using photos that you already have saved, make your own photo essay. You can add words, just use photos, or put your own spin on it. Think about how you can use your photos to create a story or meaning.

Introduction — Amy Davis

Though all humans are cultural beings, so much of our individual cultural identities lies below the surface—unseen but understood by those who share our concepts of time, truth, and power. The hidden nature of culture requires vehicles to facilitate understanding and exchange, and art often gifts us with cultural revelations by providing a window into an experience or existence to which we would not have firsthand access. Through his photography collection entitled, “I Am a Future Ancestor,” Josué Rivas gives us this privileged insight and illuminates the idea of being a future ancestor, which is a common cultural concept among some Indigenous communities emphasizing the need to consider the impact of a life on those to come. Within this cultural framework, Rivas explores the impact of his father’s absence in his life, which leads to his own commitment to being a present father for his son, Tonatiuh. In Rivas’s life, renewal is resetting of family norms and branching away from the past to create an intentional legacy. As we explore his truths and experiences through an intimate collection of written thoughts and images, we can reflect on the concept of being a future ancestor and ask how we will be known and remembered by those who come after us. To stretch even further, we might think about how cultural concepts that define us may require explanation and revelation to be understood by others. 

+ Future Ancestor + Short Film by Josué Rivas

How to Shoot a Photo Essay | Demonstration - CreativeLive

You can use this video to learn some more about photography, whether it be for creating your own photo essay or just for fun!

About the Author

Josué Rivas is an award-winning Mexica/Otomi photographer and visual storyteller specializing in stories that challenge the mainstream narrative about Indigenous people. He is the founder of the Standing Strong Project, co-founder of Natives Photograph, and fellow at the Magnum Foundation. 

Additional Resources

A cartoonish image of a camera, pointed at the screen.


Need some tips for starting your photo essay? Check out a Masterclass article on the topic here!

Want to know more about the Otomí people? Check out this entry on


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