URBANA — When Citlaly Stanton came to the United States, she had no plans of being an immigrant community organizer or a school board member.
She just wanted to continue practicing dentistry — like she did in Mexico.
“My immigration process was really confusing. Although my husband and his family are educated, they didn’t know what to do with immigration,” Stanton said.
It wasn’t as easy as just joining or opening an office; to work as a dentist in the U.S., Stanton needed credentials on top of the degree she already had.
Between waiting for her green card, improving her English and starting a family, she ended up needing to find work elsewhere.
Stanton worked as a teacher’s assistant at Urbana Early Childhood School, helping translate between children who spoke Spanish and their teacher who spoke English.
When the COVID-19 pandemic made it necessary to work from home, Stanton found an opening for a part-time remote job at the University YMCA’s New American Welcome Center.
Her role there has changed a few times over the years, but today Stanton is a case worker for fellow immigrants.
That means she spends a lot of time teaching her clients about various resources available to them.
“I get information, learn the information and make it into simple words to pass it along,” Stanton said.
She can work with English and Spanish, while her coworkers can help with languages like French, Korean and Chinese.
Being around a diverse group of fellow immigrants is one of the reasons Stanton says she likes working at the welcome center.
“Because of who I am and because of my story, I can relate to a lot of my clients and I can say, ‘I know you’re struggling right now, and I struggled with you, and we’re going to cry together,’” Stanton said.
“‘But this is going to happen and then you’re going to be even better than me because you have all these possibilities.’”
Earlier this year, she was elected to the Urbana school board, which she decided to pursue after realizing how little she and other members of her community understood about what the board does.
Stanton said she had barely heard of the board even after working in schools and enrolling her own two children.
She hopes to make more parents like her understand who is making decisions about education.
“I took a moment to think, ‘OK, if I — who has all this previous experience and speaks a bit more English than some of my community — if I don’t know anything, chances are that they don’t know and because they don’t know, they can’t participate,’” Stanton said.
Stanton said that while she doesn’t have any big goals for changes at the schools, she hopes to serve as a “bridge” between the board and the immigrant community.
“I’m just one person, but my connection with my clients from my job and my connection with my kids, my friends and my community, I can make it work out of my curiosity of ‘Let’s go and see what happened at the school board,’” Stanton said.
Being an elected school board member has brought some unexpected attention, she said.
“Because I’m coming from Mexico, I’m not really aware of the discrimination or the colorism. Where I’m from, everybody looks like me,” Stanton said. “Sometimes I find myself in spaces where I can kind of feel it, I can kind of feel that difference. It intimidates me a little bit.”
But at the end of the day, finding places to feel comfortable in this new community is exactly what she aims to do with her clients at the New American Welcome Center.
“I feel that is a really unique thing for our clients to go to a space where they feel safe, they feel identified and they feel like they can grow and flourish,” Stanton said.