The Daughter Of Farmworkers Wins $100K Prize To Help Her Community
Maria Blancas grew up the child of farmworkers and saw the impacts of their work in real-time. She even worked on farms when she was in high school picking apples and onion seeds. It wasn’t until she got to college that she realized how little people truly understood about her community and their lives. So, she dedicated her studies to the lives and conditions of farmworkers and it paid off.
Maria Blancas is a Ph.D student at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.
Blancas grew up with migrant farmworker parents from Mexico. She helped on the farms and watched as the other farmworkers dealt with the physical nature of the job. However, in her undergraduate years, according to The Seattle Times, Blancas realized people had oversimplified the lives and struggles of the people she was working with.
Blancas has dedicated her education to improve the lives of her family and all others working in the fields.
According to The Seattle Times, Blancas wants to change the narrative around what is happening to the farmworkers’ community. Her aim is to create a fuller and more in-depth picture of the lives and “issues” within the community as the work in the fields.
Her work so far won her a $100,000 prize from the Bullitt Foundation to focus on furthering her work.
The Bullitt Foundation aims to “safeguard the natural environment by promoting responsible human activities and sustainable communities in the Pacific Northwest,” according to the website.
In that effort, the foundation is giving Blancas a significant grant to allow her to focus on her work.
“When people ask me why I do the work that I do,” Blancas told The Seattle Times. “I always think about my family: mi familia.”
The Bullitt Prize is different than most awards and prizes.
Bullitt Foundation President Denis Hayes told The Seattle Times that the prize a “reverse Nobel Peace Prize” in that it doesn’t reward people on their overall work. Instead, the foundation looks for people with potential and awards them at the early stages of their careers based on where their work could go.
Blancas has already done work within her community by surveying the community during her time working at the local community college.
The Seattle Times reports that Blancas noticed that some people would go to her community and conduct studies of the workers. However, the groups would leave and never share the results. So, Blancas teamed up with other researchers and did a survey of 350 farmworkers from Whatcom and Skagit to see what was happening, who they were, and what they needed.
Blancas and the team compiled the results of the study, called “Nothing About Us Without Us,” and shared them in a video.
The team discovered that “40 percent of the workers identified as indigenous peoples, mostly from Mexico, and about a quarter couldn’t read Spanish. Its findings, in keeping with academic conventions, quantified problems: 40 percent said they didn’t always have regular breaks, 20 percent lacked consistent access to water, and 60 percent hadn’t seen a doctor in the past year.”
Blancas is planning a dissertation that will incorporate video of farmworker testimonials.
Blancas will be hosting a workshop to teach farmworkers how to create the videos for the dissertation.