Community profile: Crystal Mariscal works to give voice to Garfield County’s immigrant community
A necklace worn by New Castle resident and Town Council member Crystal Mariscal proudly proclaims, “Daughter of An Immigrant.”
She doesn’t wear it often; “only for special occasions,” she said. But it’s a good starting point for telling her story.
Though she was born in the United States 33 years ago, in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Mariscal’s story is one that resonates with many first-generation immigrants and other children of immigrants.
“I’m a daughter of immigrants, and my parents (Raquel and Fortino) love this country. It’s a way to honor them,” she says of the pendant.
For her, though, the struggle was a little different. For a time during her childhood, the family returned to central Mexico to help take care of her grandmother when she was sick. Fortino would continue to travel back and forth to the U.S. for work so he could support the family.
“I grew up speaking Spanish and went to school in Mexico without proof (of citizenship), but my mom and dad would always handle that,” Mariscal said. “So it was not really any issue.
“I had a really nice childhood. It was the best, but yeah it was a little different.”
That made it even harder when, at age 16, already married with a second child on the way, she came back to the United States, at the time locating in Glenwood Springs.
“I didn’t really want to go, but I remembered when I was a kid my parents used to tell me you need to go back someday and go to school,” Mariscal said.
Fortino had come to the U.S. as a teenager to work the fields in California, but would meet and marry Raquel in Mexico. The two lived the migrant workers’ life in Merced, California, raising their own children and with extended family spread throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
“He was always looking for new and better opportunities with the American dream behind his shoulders,” Mariscal said of her father, who was a big influence in her later decision to become involved in local politics.
Her struggles as a re-arrival in the United States were difficult, though.
“It was hard to try to blend in and try to make it so that no one notices that you don’t know the language. It was a real challenge,” she said.
She and her now ex-husband spent time in Steamboat Springs, but it was New Castle that her father had fallen in love with after his separation from Raquel, who remains in California.
New Castle was a community that Mariscal would also come to love as a single mother looking to make a life in her native country.
“I knew right away that it was a place that could feel like home, … where I could grow roots and feel more connected to something,” Mariscal said.
She’s now part of the community fabric, raising four children — Isela, 18; Karina, 16; Armando, 14; and Bryan, 13 — being an active member of her church, Iglesia Cristo la Roca (Christ of the Rock) and serving on several volunteer boards and committees, including the River Bridge Regional Center and Garfield County Senior Programs boards, as well as the new Garfield County Latino Community Committee.
Mariscal didn’t return to school to finish her high school education but did later earn her GED at age 25 — eventually launching a career in radio communications, Latino outreach and community organizing.
Her journey followed a common path for many Latinas when she worked housekeeping jobs in Aspen. Her co-workers quickly realized she could be a voice for the group.
“The rest of the girls would always be like, ‘You go tell the manager about this,’ and I’d be like, ‘Why me?,'” she said. “And they’d say, ‘You have the papers and kind of know the language, and we don’t.'”
Mariscal was quick to point out that she learned English from the street, same as some of them. But she eventually agreed to be the spokesperson for the crew whenever an issue came up.
“So from that point people would always kind of put me out front and use me as their voice,” she said. “It was the same at school and out in the community.”
At first she said she was uncomfortable speaking in public, but radio helped with that.
“That was always my dream job as a kid, working in radio,” Mariscal said. “It was magic for me, being able to share my feelings with people without putting a face to it. You need to really use your imagination. It’s a powerful way to communicate.”
At the time, she also worked as a family advocate helping Latino families navigate the health care system.
That led to a job with one of the region’s premier Spanish-language radio stations, Entravision Communication’s Radio Tricolor.
“I started working as an assistant, and then I was doing sales, and then I started organizing events, and all the words I was trying to express started coming,” she said.
That lasted from 2015 until April 2018 when she set out to start her own community outreach and consulting company, Mariscal LLC, branding herself as a Latino community expert and “idea cultivator,” as described on her LinkedIn page.
She also began directing and producing a Spanish news, information and talk show on Carbondale-based community radio station KDNK.
Through her company, she earned contract consulting work with Mesa County Public Health and with the U.S. Census Bureau as a partnership specialist during the 2020 Census, not only in Colorado but Montana, as well.
The goal was to reach out to migrant families and entice census participation in the usually hard-to-count community.
“I created my own team to go out and build those partnerships in the community,” she said. “We were in businesses, schools, churches, community events and all the different places where people meet.”
Call to govern
Mariscal said her father, Fortino, instilled in her a passion for getting involved in leadership and local governance, which prompted her to apply for an open seat on the New Castle Town Council three years ago.
“My dad, he loves debates and reading, and he loves to be on top of everything,” she said. “We would have this dynamic every night where we would debate about different things that were important, but maybe not really popular in our small town in (Jalisco) Mexico. So that was a really good parenting model for me.”
Mariscal remembers being up late one night in the fall of 2018 looking at Facebook when she came across a notice that the town of New Castle was looking to fill a Town Council seat.
She soon learned that the seat was being vacated by longtime council member Mary Metzger, whom she happened to know. After a conversation about what all it entailed to be on the Town Council, Metzger gave Mariscal her blessing to put her name in.
She got the appointment to serve out the remainder of Metzger’s term, becoming the first Latina to serve on the town board. She was reelected by acclamation in April 2020 when no one challenged for the seat.
“Crystal is a remarkable person,” Mayor Art Riddile said. “While she has been a terrific mother to her children, she has engaged herself in many community organizations. She not only is a fantastic representative for the Latino community but for our New Castle community in general.”
Mariscal believes there is a good mix of viewpoints and perspectives on the town board, and everyone is respectful of each other.
“I see them as my mentors and as friends, not only as colleagues,” she said of her fellow Town Council members. “We have different points of view, but that makes the communication more entertaining and more rich when you have those different perspectives.”
Mariscal’s passion for community service has extended to other arenas, including her recent appointment to Garfield County’s new Latino Community Committee.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, county commissioners kept hearing that there needed to be better communication and sharing of information around the public health concerns.
The process was slow, with a few fits and starts to try to figure out how best to do that, but the commissioners last month formalized the new committee. It now meets monthly to discuss a variety of issues in a way that seeks to engage the Latino community.
Mariscal went before the county commissioners with some ideas about the group’s purpose.
Its mission and vision: support and accountability to the county — to work as one community. Communication and cultural awareness from the Latino community to the Board of County Commissioners and Garfield County.
“At the end of the day, you need your neighbors, no matter what race or color of skin or language they speak. We all need to be neighbors, so why can we not work as one community,” Mariscal said of the importance of the county taking that step.
Garfield County’s Latino Community Committee was organized this summer to work with local leaders to improve communications with the Latino community throughout the region.
The committee next meets at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 11 at the Silt Town Center, 600 Home Ave. The meeting is open to the public, and the main topic this month is an update from County Emergency Manager Chris Bornholdt about the fire prevention effort.
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky is the county’s liaison on the committee. The committee meets monthly in local municipalities and reports to the Board of County Commissioners every four months.
“This committee is a bridge for communication between the county and the Latino community,” Jankovsky said.
Committee member Crystal Mariscal said, “Roughly 30% of Garfield County residents are Hispanic, and for a community to thrive, succeed and grow, we must work as one community. Our duty as constituents is to ask for accountability, but also to offer our support and guidance. We are investing our time to create bridges; this is not a political issue, but rather a community dialogue.”
Unique, but common
Mariscal said she believes her own story does resonate with people in the Latino community, especially the younger Latino generations who like herself were born here but have immigrant parents and families split between the U.S. and Latin American countries.
“Especially when I started my own business I talked with other business owners and found they have many of the same struggles,” she said. “Just like any business owner, they have to be creative and always work to make improvements.”
There are also commonalities in being a single working mother and providing for her four children.
“We all have a dream, and we all believe we can achieve that dream, but you have to work to accomplish it,” Mariscal said. “My dad used to tell me we have a country of opportunities, but it is only there if you work towards them.”
Mariscal’s children are a big part of her life, and have even helped steer her along and kept her on course at times.
Her oldest daughter, Isela, just graduated from Coal Ridge High School and is working to become a Christian missionary. The family spent this past week in Orlando, Florida, at a religious event where Isela was a youth preacher. Her other daughter, Karina, was in a dance performance there, and back home she is a youth member of the county’s Latino Community Committee with her mother.
“Armando, he’s my economist and loves everything about money,” Mariscal said. “And Bryan, he just loves everything about the world, animals, the environment, everything.
“So, even in my house I have four different perspectives,” she said.
Their family time spills over into church work at Cristo la Roca, where it was her children who first got involved.
“I was the last one to jump in and so, OK, I’m going to go help the community through the church, too,” she said of the various programs they’ve been involved with, including faith-based youth sports camps, a backpacks for school children initiative and mission trips to help other communities in need.
Mariscal also started a student scholarship program through the River Center, a neighborhood humanitarian assistance organization in New Castle.
“I’m not looking for applause,” she said. “I just think we all want a better community. And if someone wants to stand up with me and fight for a better community and for our kids, that’s what I’m pushing for.”
Crystal Mariscal’s story was also featured in a 2019 Immigrant Stories interview with Walter Gallacher.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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