Tracy Perkins, M.S. ’08, is documenting and sharing the stories of empowered Central Valley women.
A toxic smog of pesticides seeps through a Central Valley farming community; the eyes of a farm worker are all that show behind the floral calico cloth draped around her head — the fabric her only protection from the pesticides, dust and sun she encounters at work; a Latina woman stands up and testifies at a public hearing about the environmental injustices occurring in her community.
These images are just some examples of the stories featured in Perkins’ 25 Stories from the Central Valley — a photography, theater and written word exhibition depicting the environmental injustices of the Central Valley farming communities told through the eyes of women community leaders. The project started with interviews conducted for Perkins’ community development master’s degree thesis at UC Davis and soon developed into a public exhibit and performance that gained national attention.
“Mostly, I wanted to be able to help the advocacy efforts for environmental justice that are already going on in the San Joaquin Valley and to help this community’s message reach a broader audience,” said Perkins. “A lot of the women, in spite of a lot of dark things going on in their lives, had a vibrant energy that came through when they were talking about the issues in our interviews. I wanted to help share their story.”
The project, Perkins said, would not have been possible if it had not been for the support she received from the John Muir Institute of the Environment’s Environmental Justice Project and the UC Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI). UCHRI supports interdisciplinary and collaborative humanities research across the UC system, with funding from the UC Office of the President as well as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and other external funding agencies.
“The stories of these Californian women and their communities deserve to be heard,” Perkins said. “The money and staff support I received helped in every possible way to make that happen.”