Branden and Maria

Image 1 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

How We Met

As any good college romance story begins, Branden and I casually met at a house party during the first couple of months into my sophomore year (his junior year) at UC Berkeley. We were both heavily involved in our student organizations on campus, which led to us both being at that party this specific night in September 2011. Although I had seen him around campus and community events a few times, I never really had a reason to talk to him. On that fateful night I remember standing outside of our friends apartment on the balcony trying to get fresh air from the over-crowded festivities indoors when he came up to me and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Branden, Community Development co-ordinator for the RAZA center” (the student organization he was involved in at the time).

Image 2 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

Image 3 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

From that moment on, we hit it off and quickly became an item around campus. For one reason or another, we became inseparable swiftly becoming best friends and used any excuse to spend time together from studying in Moffit or Main Stacks library together to attending student life events and scheduling meals so we could eat together. Little did I know that what started as a casual friendship would blossom into a beautiful relationship and a strong partnership – this support guided us through finals, graduation, beginning a career and family commitments.

Image 13 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

Image 4 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

how they asked

As a couple that’s dated for over 6 years, of course we have talked about the future including getting engaged and married. However, Branden and I have never discussed any engagement details at length, like what kind of proposal or even what style of ring I would like. He was warned that if he ever planned to propose he had to get my parents, specifically my dad’s, blessing beforehand. I also remember telling him once that if he ever planned to propose to me, I wanted him to pick out the ring on his own without my input because not only did I want it to come directly from him and be a meaningful symbol of our love and commitment to each other but honestly, at this point he should know what I like.

Image 14 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

Image 15 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

Not only did Branden get my father’s blessing months before the actual engagement, without me knowing, but he truly gave me my ideal proposal. Here’s where the story begins. We graduated college a year apart from each other and neither of us had the chance to take graduation photos around campus as is customary for graduates. About 3 years ago, we briefly touched on the idea of staging a couple’s photo shoot on campus as a replacement or do-over for those graduation photos we never took but the idea never came to fruition with the hustle and bustle of our careers and life after college.

Image 5 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

Image 6 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

About a month before the engagement, Branden told me out of the blue that he booked a photo shoot for us on campus at UC Berkeley to take “those graduation re-do pictures we talked about”. I immediately thought this is strange as Branden is not an extensive planner and usually does not book activities for us on his own. And me being constantly curious began to think to myself, what if this is going to be the moment? So, of course, I began asking all sorts of questions from “who’s the photographer?” to “why are we doing this?” and “what about outfits?” all to which Branden was very good at answering without divulging too much information. After a bit of insistence, he told me the photographer for the shoot would be our very own friend from college-turned-photographer, Deepak Ehm. However, that was the extent of what I knew. I had an inclination this photo shoot could be more than just photos but every time I would bring it up, Branden would tell me I was overthinking the situation and it really was just going to be a couple’s photo shoot to have pictures/memories on campus. So I eventually accepted that response and told myself to calm down, it really was just going to be taking nice pictures.

Image 7 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

Image 8 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

The day of the scheduled photo shoot came and I didn’t even bother to make a big deal about outfits, picking the outfits from what I already owned in my closet when normally I would have jumped at the opportunity to go shopping for something new. Luckily, I had a new white lace dress that I was saving for something special, it still had the tag on it.

Image 9 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

We arrived on campus and fortunately, the weather was on our side as the sun was shining and the wind was breezy enough to not ruin the photos. As we walked through campus I tried to avoid the stares from bystanders as we were extraordinarily dressed for a casual stroll through campus and Branden began to reminisce about when we were students hurrying through campus to our next lecture. That moment provided a sweet stroll through memory lane as we spent a few minutes alone together looking back at where our relationship first started and how far we’ve come together since. We arrived at the meetup location, the Campanile clock tower. The photographer was already waiting for us. After a few quick test shots to get the right lighting the photographer began doing his work, staging our poses and guiding us in how to look effortless and natural.

Image 10 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

Image 11 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

A few poses into the shoot Branden began getting really chatty; speaking to how nice it was to be back on campus, while the photographer is snapping away shots. I really do not understand why Branden chooses this moment to have a heartfelt conversation as we are in the middle of taking photos but I deduce that he must be nervous about taking photos in front of onlooking bystanders as this is not something we normally do. At that moment, between trying to pay attention to the photographer and listening to Branden speak, he drops to one knee and pulls out the ring from trouser pocket and asks me to marry him. I don’t even have to waste a second to think about an answer, of course, I’ll marry you. My first thought immediately after is “I should’ve known this would happen right here, right now”.

Image 12 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

The proposal was ideal because it really brought our relationship full circle. It was very meaningful to both of us to be able to share that moment at the place that not only brought us together but also helped us grow into the adults we are today. And having the exact moment captured, which is extremely important to me, in photos by our friend only adds to our proposal being perfectly us.

Image 16 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

Image 17 of Branden Ignacio and Maria Xitlali

Special Thanks

Deepak Ehm
 | Photographer