Photoblog: Women Sowing Change in the Central Valley

“25 Stories of the Central Valley” is a compelling, interactive online exhibit –  “a window into the little-known lives of people who are making the Central Valley safer for everyone.” Through photos, oral interviews, and theater, UC Santa Cruz graduate student Tracy Perkins has created a public arts project that showcases the shocking, sad and inspiring stories of women leaders in the Central Valley’s environmental justice movement. The motivation behind the project? “Doing research that was of intellectual interest and also had practical relevance to the groups I was studying,” says Tracy.

Below are five photos from the exhibit, along with Tracy’s reflections. Among the leaders and organizations featured are Women’s Foundation of California grant partners such as Teresa de Anda and Irma Medellin. You can view the entire exhibit, including all 25 photo stories and full captions, on the exhibit website.

Teresa DeAnda

This is an everyday shot of Teresa de Anda (Californians for Pesticide Reform) in her kitchen. I wanted to give a sense of what the day-to-day life was like for some of these women. Most of their work is not particularly glamorous. It's tough. I wanted to recognize and honor the amazing work they do but not depict them as such heroes that viewers would feel distant or put them on a pedestal. I didn't want anyone walking away from the exhibit and thinking, "I could never do that."

Irma Medellin

Here I wanted to show one of these activists in a strong light. Irma Medellin is presenting at a public hearing at the Kern County Agricultural Pavilion in Bakersfield. She’s speaking her truth and experience in an official setting. The environmental justice movement pays a lot of attention to voice and to who speaks for whom. They want to make sure that voices aren't overpowered by the voices of policy-makers and academics. One movement slogan is "We speak for ourselves." I wanted to make sure that I showed that in the exhibit.

Bakersfield CA – Who benefits from public policy?

I love that shot. We were in Bakersfield in the Kern County Agricultural Pavilion for a public hearing about a new pesticide regulation. The plaques with donors’ names are lining the wall behind the everyday folks who are supposed to be beneficiaries of public policy. The donors are clearly being recognized, but what about everybody else? Who benefits the most from public policy? I wanted the photo to show that state politics are influenced by money. I liked the contrast.

Tulare County CA

It’s a little known fact that Tulare County, California leads the country in milk production. Most people think it must be somewhere in the Midwest, but really it’s in California. The other surprise I wanted to emphasize relates to pollution. When people think about pollution they may think of factories or row crops being sprayed with pesticides. But mega-dairies and other animal factories are the largest source of volatile organic compounds in San Joaquin Valley air. These compounds react with other chemicals and ultimately damage lung tissue and cause other health problems.

Josefina Miranda

Here I was trying to show another human face of pesticide use. And I wanted to show the everyday nature of these really sad things that happen. When Josefina Miranda was four months pregnant with an earlier child, she and her co-workers were put to work in a field still wet with pesticides. By the time they left, her clothes were so soaked that she could wring the pesticides out of them. She miscarried the next day. Although there are some laws intended to protect workers from pesticide use, they aren’t always enforced. And the other bitter truth is that what she's wearing in the photo is how she tries to protect herself, but it isn't good enough. Actual protective clothing designed to protect workers from the pesticide levels she has been exposed to is much more extensive -- it looks like you are wearing a moon suit.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 08/24/2010 at 9:46 am | Permalink | Reply

    Tracy, you did an amazing job characterizing these women who do so much but who rarely are recognized as making actual history happen!

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