Group Health Foundation welcomes Bárbara (Baar-bha-rah) Guzmán Pérez as program associate for our learning and community engagement team. Bárbara brings over a decade of experience working in education programs for immigrant students and families across Washington.
Raised in Manson, Washington, Bárbara is proud of her roots. Her family was one of the first Mexican families to move to the Lake Chelan valley. From growing up playing in apple bins to her father’s long-time role as foreman, her whole family life revolved around the area’s apple orchards. After her mixed-status family was granted amnesty by the Immigration Act of 1986, they began regularly traveling to Mexico, upon which she discovered the double standard of being Mexican in America. To describe her experiences, Bárbara quotes a well-known idiom: “ni de aquí, ni de allá.”
After high school, Bárbara moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington (UW), where she also worked in the academic advising office, helping first-generation college students and students of color. There, she found herself—like when she was younger on behalf of her parents—serving as an advocate, translator, and liaison. It’s a role that would come to define her career.
“A lot of the families and students I work with have a broad base of knowledge already, but because of language or formal education barriers, it’s not recognized. I often like to remind the teams I’m working with about this, which is why I like to describe myself as an advocate,” Bárbara says. “Because advocates do so much more work than just at the policy level.”
After earning an MPA, also at UW, she continued her work building trust and relationships with community as the inaugural program manager of the Latino/a Education Achievement Project (LEAP), a statewide program. At the helm for almost 10 years, Bárbara developed student programming, which started as a conference and a series of workshops and grew to have a presence in 14 schools across six school districts. In this role, drawing on years of relationship-building in community, she supported undocumented students and their families as they successfully advocated for legislation to make college financial aid accessible to them.
For Bárbara, organizing starts with young people. “As much as I would like parents and families to be a part of initiatives or campaigns, the reality is they already have a lot on their plates,” says Bárbara. “If you help a young person develop and learn, they get excited, go home and talk to their families. Families pay more attention to their child than to someone like me.”
Youth-focused organizing has made Bárbara a trusted community leader, and she will bring this experience, along with her knowledge and expertise of north central Washington, to the Foundation.
When Bárbara’s not working, she enjoys connecting with her community. “I like being real with people. That’s what I have enjoyed about growing up in a small town,” says Bárbara. She also enjoys the beauty of her home region, from swimming in Lake Chelan to backyard carne asada parties. If you confuse Manson for Chelan, she’ll be quick to let you know.