Maria Cruz-Torres, a senior sustainability scientist and an associate professor in the School of Transborder Studies, has been documenting a lesser-seen side of Sinaloa’s prized seafood industry — its female shrimp traders — for 20 years. This research project earned her the Victoria Foundation’s Eugene García Outstanding Latina/o Faculty Award last September. Launched in 1969, the Phoenix-based group was the first Latina/o community foundation in the United States and now hosts an award series honoring contributions in academia, civil service and the arts around Arizona.
“When I began, very little had been done to understand the female side of the shrimp trade,” Cruz-Torres said. “It means so much for me to feel like my peers are seeing the value of the research I’ve done, especially on the local level.”
Known as the camaroneras, or shrimp ladies, today they appear in videos tossing fresh seafood in chili and lemon washes, or enveloping it in crispy taco shells at fish markets in Sinaloa’s tourist hotspot of Mazatlan. But behind that success is a grassroots battle for equality that began over 30 years ago, when female traders from rural villages like the one pictured in Cruz-Torres’ office had just formed the region’s first labor union.