Making a Difference: Latina leader builds bridges across cultural, linguistic divides | CraigDailyPress.com

Making a Difference: Latina leader builds bridges across cultural, linguistic divides

With her warm and vivacious personality, long-time Yampa Valley resident Mayola Cruz seeks to help her Spanish-speaking peers integrate with the English-speaking community of Craig. She serves as an advocate for the Latino population on Northwest Colorado Health's Patient Advisory Board, and also recently helped a local Spanish-language church, where she serves as church secretary, find a new home at Craig Christian Church.

— In some ways, Craig's majority white community and Latino community are separated by cultural and linguistic barriers, even with Latinos comprising more than 17 percent of Craig's population in 2010 when the last official U.S. census was taken.

But one woman has been doing her part for more than a decade now to build bridges between these two groups.

Mayola Cruz has lived in the Yampa Valley for 17 years and uses her natural extroversion to help her fellow Latinos connect with people and services in Craig.

"I love to talk," said Mayola Cruz, originally from the state of Aguascalientes in central Mexico. "So I knew I needed to learn English. I needed to communicate with my co-workers, my boss and people in the community."

Cruz is now bilingual and currently puts her talkativeness to use as a member of Northwest Colorado Health's Patient Advisory Board, where she helps give voice to the health care needs of the Latino community.

"She really advocates for the Latino population," said Eveline Bacon, referral and care coordination manager for Northwest Colorado Health. "She also invites people to meetings… She motivates them to come out and engage in our healthcare."

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Bacon first worked with Cruz through the nonprofit Integrated Community, starting in 2008. The organization has since downsized to a single office in Steamboat Springs, but Cruz continues the work of promoting integration on a daily basis.

"Not just for health care, but if they need registration for their car… or if they need to find connections, like a lawyer, she might not know everybody and how everything works, but she knows how to find out and she's not afraid to ask," Bacon said.

For Cruz, the work is as important as ever.

"The situation right now is so scary for so many people," she said.

Cruz shared an anecdote of five friends, all women, sharing a meal together at Pizza Hut in Craig and speaking in Spanish when they noticed they were getting dirty looks from several white women at the table next to them.

On the other hand, Cruz's Spanish-speaking church, "Iglesia Christiana," where she serves as church secretary, was welcomed this month to hold their services at Craig Christian Church. Members of both congregations kicked off the new relationship with a joint bilingual church service Feb. 5.

"It's the opposite. One side is making ugly looks and saying, 'You're in America, you should speak English," Cruz said. "On the other side, our Christian brothers and sisters are saying, 'You are welcome here.'"

Cruz helped make the switch possible by building relationships with members of Craig Christian Church and attending some of their events over the years.

"She's been real instrumental in that, connecting churches and Christians together," said senior minister of Craig Christian Church, Scott Middleton.

Cruz is seemingly undeterred by some of the more difficult moments and focuses on encouraging fellow Spanish speakers to learn English and to reach out to their English-speaking peers.

"She is warm and open. Anybody can come and talk to her. It's just an honest care that she has for the people," Bacon said. "She's able to break through and engage the others and show them, no, we all belong here."

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.

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