Irvine student's research – and life – inspired by missing child
Tracy Wu won an award for her undergraduate research into human trafficking.
Tracy Wu still keeps a flier she picked up in summer 2007 showing a small boy with big dark eyes and a caption that reads, "Desaparecido." Missing.
Wu first saw his picture when she visited a poor village in Guatemala as a UC Irvine undergraduate studying human trafficking. She interviewed the boy's parents, who returned home from work one day to find the 7-year-old gone, most likely abducted and sold for adoption or slavery. His story helped change the focus of her research – and her life.
"I was heartbroken when I heard it," Wu says. "It exemplified the problems that make human trafficking possible." Ignorance, poverty and desperation, she found, leave communities vulnerable to exploitation.
Q. Who inspired you to do this project?
A. My adviser, English professor and religious studies director Carol Burke. She told me, 'Tracy, you have to get the stories firsthand.'
Q. What was your project about?
A. All forms of human trafficking – sex slavery, forced labor in fields, factories and construction sites, and primarily children sold for adoption or slavery. I collected stories in Guatemala and talked to victims and human trafficking task force members in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange County. I shared what I learned at the Undergraduate Research Symposium last spring. (The project received the 2008 Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research.)
Q. What interested you in this topic?
A. I wanted to know what factors caused trafficking. I learned that one of the underlying problems is women without access to birth control; by the time they're my age, they have about eight kids. This situation perpetuates their poverty and, because the children lack adequate parental supervision, makes it possible for others to steal them.
Q. What is the next step for you?
A. I hope to give presentations at local churches and on campus about the problem. I can't rescue slaves, but this is something I can inform people about. I want to go to nursing school at Cal State Long Beach and use my language skills to help people.
Q. Did this research affect you personally?
A. This project completely changed the way I relate to people. Immigrants, prostitutes and homeless people, those who look different than me and speak a different language – I used to look at them and judge, but after doing my research, I don't see them the same way. I've learned to ask questions and find out what's going on.
Q and A submitted by UCI communications writer/editor Kathryn Bold.