In order to help a community in need, never ask an outsider for input, ask someone within. That’s the moral to Maria Blancas’ incredible success story. The 29-year-old Latina was just awarded $100,000 to continue her work of helping the farm-working community she knows very well.
Blancas, a Ph.D. student at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, understands the hardships of farmworkers because she was one herself.
In an interview with the Seattle Times, Blancas shares how her upbringing inspired the work she does today. As a child, she and her family worked in the fields picking fruit and vegetables in the state of Washington.
She tells the Seattle Times that “experts” who have opinions about fieldworkers and the industry have actually never step foot on a field or realize everything that comes with being part of that community.
Congratulations to @UW_SEFS' Maria Blancas, who was the winner of the $100,000 Bullitt Environmental Prize! https://t.co/aHIgWZelRr
— UW College of the Environment (@UWEnvironment) October 14, 2019
“There’s so much more,” she said. “There’s strength, too, and joy.”
Blancas has, in one way or another, documented the lives of field workers by sharing the story of her family. As the daughter of immigrants from Mexico, she also naturally became their advocate even as a kid.
Now, as an adult, Blancas is continuing her advocacy by studying the environmental conditions of field workers and coming up with solutions to improve their health.
The prize money comes courtesy of The Bullitt Foundation, whose mission is “to safeguard the natural environment by promoting responsible human activities and sustainable communities in the Pacific Northwest,” will ensure she can now dedicate herself entirely to her work.
Bullitt Foundation president Denis Hayes told the Seattle Times that the Bullitt prize award is “in a sense a reverse Nobel Prize” because the money is awarded to people who are just starting their careers. This money helps nurture their talents and passion. “Maria cares about her community as a whole,” Hayes said.
There’s no doubt Maria has already helped her community immensely. She released a touching video that highlights the story of her family. Last summer, she also conducted a study titled “Nothing About Us Without Us” that surveyed 350 farmworkers and gathered valuable information about them, including their land of origin, what their health was like, and data regarding working conditions.
“When people ask me why I do the work that I do,” she told the Seattle Times, “I always think about my family: mi familia.”
As a daughter of farmworkers myself, and the rest of the community, I applaud Blancas’ hard work and dedication. She is a true example of what it means to give back to a community that helped mold her into a leader today.
Learn more about her below: