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Citlalli Ibañez helps build ties to Morris’ Hispanic community

Citlalli Ibañez de Obregón (right) received the Community Partner Award from the University of Minnesota, Morris’ Office of Community Engagement for her work helping to connect Morris’ Hispanic community. Ibañez is pictured at the award ceremony with her nominator, Windy Roberts (left) and friend Natalie Hoidal (center).

MORRIS, Minn. – Before her husband took a job with Riverview Dairy, Citlalli Ibañez de Obregón never imagined she would live in the United States.

“I never thought to live in small city, but now I love it,” said Ibañez.

Since moving to Morris from Mexico about four years ago, Ibañez has been an active in helping with the University of Minnesota, Morris’ ESL program, mentoring students with the Jane Addams Project, and volunteering with Lazos, an organization working to develop local ties with the Hispanic community.

Last month, Ibañez was recognized with the Community Partner Award from the University of Minnesota, Morris' Office of Community Engagement for her work integrating herself and others into the Morris community.

“Through her regular involvement and leadership in numerous activities, she has become a true community partner,” said Windy Roberts, Spanish teaching specialist at UMM, in her nomination letter.

When Ibañez moved to Morris with her children, Natalia and Mauricio, to join her husband Ramon, it was difficult for her to adapt to a new place and new culture, especially because she didn't speak English.

All of her family remained in Mexico and, at the time, there were few other Hispanic families in the community. Things as seemingly simple as putting gas in the car were a challenge, since in Mexico there are attendants at gas stations who do that for customers, Ibañez said.

But Ibañez connected with several people in the community through her husband's work at Riverview Dairy who helped her get settled and start figuring out how to adapt to life in Morris. She also took Natalia and Mauricio, at the time six and two years old respectively, on long walks around Morris to get to know their way around.

“The difference for me was that I met American people first,” said Ibañez. “They made the difference between feeling good and feeling alone.”

In Morris, Ibañez said her children helped her get more involved even though she originally thought the family would only be in Morris for two years. Ibañez also worked hard to learn English by attending ESL classes because she needed to understand what was happening with Natalia and Mauricio at school.

Ibañez said she has always been someone who gets involved and her volunteerism was encouraged by her mom. In Mexico, students are required to have at least one community service credit. By the time she graduated, Ibañez had five – “I volunteer every place.”

Since getting settled, Ibañez has worked hard to also help other members of the Hispanic community, especially wives and mothers, adapt to life in Morris.

Many of the Hispanic women who have moved to Morris with their husbands left behind careers as lawyers, accountants or, in Ibañez's case, as a veterinarian.

“I got involved to enjoy, to meet the people and meet the culture and take all the good stuff from here,” said Ibañez. “People need to make a connection and work at this – we need to try to be part of this city or this culture and make sure people know us.”

As a community partner, Ibañez has been active in inviting Hispanics in the community to attend ESL classes and help instructors develop materials that will appeal to participants. Ibañez also brings Natalia and Mauricio to a weekly Spanish conversation table at UMM to help students develop conversational Spanish, Roberts said.

“The students are thankful to have a native speaker with whom they can talk and become more fluent in the language,” said Roberts.

Ibañez said her most important volunteering project is Lazos. Although the organization is still “in diapers,” the core organizers have ways to get resources to build connections across the community.

“We do a lot of stuff to make these connections, ties, between the community and the Hispanic community,” said Ibañez. “It's important for [Hispanics] to preserve a part of our culture and work with the community.”