Bridging the cultural divide

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Shelly Spackman, Advocates Crisis Support Services' first Hispanic coordinator, is working to find a way to reach out to the Yampa Valley's Mexican community.

When Spackman is at the store, she watches for how many Mexicans are around. When she's at her son Frankie's school, she asks the teachers how many Mexicans attend classes.

Because Spackman is the first Spanish coordinator for Advocates, a 24-hour support system for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, she's largely inventing her job as she goes along.

She is working to help a woman become a legal resident of the United States. And she knows five Mexican women who are in abusive domestic relationships; she's waiting for the right time to help them escape.

And she knows there are more women at-risk or in danger in the Mexican community. But it's hard to find them.

It's hard because they're afraid, Spackman said. They're afraid to congregate in a group, because Immigration and Customs Enforcement could find and deport them.

"It seems they are out there by themselves, and it's scary," Spackman said during an interview in Advocates' office suite.

It's a feeling Spackman remembers from when she came from Colombia to Portland, Ore., at age 10.

Her mother had died. She had other family, including a father, and she isn't sure how she ended up at the foster home. She thinks she was just going where adults directed her.

The couple that would become her adopted parents flew to Colombia and returned to Portland with Spackman and two Colombian boys. Arriving in the Pacific Northwest, Spackman remembers being cold all the time.

She describes her new parents as "old school." She was in America and they expected her to stop speaking Spanish. In time, she forgot so much of her native language she had to take classes at Mt. Hood Community College to relearn it.

She lost touch with her family members from Colombia, too. Hers was a closed adoption, meaning she was prohibited from communicating with her former family.

But she's thankful for her parents' support.

"What they did was awesome. They were always teaching us," she said.

At the time, her mother taught fourth grade and her father taught high school. They made her and her adopted brothers study English all the time.

When Spackman was in fifth or sixth grade, a teacher wanted to place her in a special education course, because her English was poor. Spackman's mother refused to let the teacher do it, knowing the girl was smart enough for regular coursework and just needed extra help in English.

It helped, she said, living with the two boys from Colombia. They were her support group. And while relearning her language in college, she began reclaiming her heritage.

"Even for me to speak Spanish, that's very exciting for me," Spackman said.

In time, she married and made a home in Portland. But she didn't have anything going on in that city. She was toying with the idea of becoming a flight attendant when she took a vacation to Colorado to visit the mother of her husband, Darrin.

She thought the area was beautiful and moved without a plan.

When she was looking for a job, the Colorado Workforce Center put her in touch with Advocates. A year ago, she began work with no background or training in assisting victims of abuse.

She is translating Advocates' pamphlets and brochures into Spanish, and she's looking to the Catholic Church for help reaching out into the community. Church could be a good place to start, because people feel safe there, she said.

Spackman seems to be genuinely happy now. She and Darrin recently bought a house, and they are expecting a baby in June. And she's more than happy to help any women living in at-risk situations.

Advocates Crisis Support Services can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 824-2400.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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