Eight months ago, Natasha Levy moved from Cancún, Mexico, to Newport Beach to finish her last year of high school.
She convinced her parents to let her live in California with her 24-year-old brother because doing so would help her pursue an art degree in the United States.
About two months after she moved — as she was still in awe of the waves she says are much bigger than in her hometown — Natasha snapped a photograph of a father and daughter carrying a surfboard silhouetted against the ocean.
"For me, California is paradise," said Natasha, who just happened to get the shot on her 18th birthday.
Now, that image is being considered for a statewide award.
At the urging of a teacher at Newport Harbor High School, Natasha entered it in the Reflections Arts Recognition Program run by parent-teacher associations across the nation.
The picture won at the local level and county level. This month, she'll hear if it wins at the state level and continues on to national competition.
She hopes her photograph, awash in golden light reflected off the waves, fits the theme of the competition, "A Moment in Time," by capturing an instant in Newport.
"That's why I chose that picture, because I think it's beautiful," she said.
Natasha's father is a Philadelphia native who met her mother while working in Cancún, granting their children dual citizenship.
They raised their family there, but Natasha has dreamed of moving to California since she was 13.
When she discovered a love of photography and graphic design, she tapped into a greater reason to move: to learn more about her art.
"I thought I didn't like photography but then my mom bought me a camera for my 16th birthday, and since then I've been attached to my camera," she said.
As her last year of high school approached, she convinced her parents that she needed to take her senior year's classes in the U.S. so she could apply for colleges and scholarships.
She plans to attend Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa before transferring to an arts school to study graphic design.
She's already diving into art at Harbor, where she's had more freedom to choose classes than she would have had in Mexico, she said.
"I'm in art classes because I choose to be, so I do my work with passion and love," Natasha said.
That drive is apparent to her teacher Lisa Cermak, who encouraged Natasha to enter the contests.
"She's making something of herself," Cermak said. "She's going out there and making her life the way she wants it. I don't see that with a lot of students."