For Julieta Altamirano-Crosby MEd ’18, helping others was a way of finding her own strength.

She grew up as the only daughter of a strong family in the tiny town of Guerrero, Mexico. In 2009, Altamirano-Crosby moved to the U.S. with her 10-year-old daughter, Daniela.

She was immediately frustrated by the new logistical challenges she faced, especially as an immigrant who did not speak English. On several occasions, she packed up her things, ready to return home.

Finally, miserable after six months of culture shock, she realized she had to make a change.

“In Mexico, there is a saying, ‘You have to renew yourself or die,’ Altamirano-Crosby said. “It was so painful to learn how to drive, to learn how to adapt to survive in a different culture, and not be able to communicate with anybody.”

She enrolled in English as a Learned Language classes at Everett Community College and later began volunteering as a Spanish interpreter and community liaison in the Mukilteo School District. She encouraged parents to move from just attending events to taking active roles in their children’s schools. 

She started by reaching out to the principal at her daughter’s school and making phone calls to hundreds of Latinx families. Soon, she said, even the police department relied on her to bridge language barriers causing miscommunication within the community.

“In Mexico, I would speak for myself all the time. I’m not the kind of woman who’s embarrassed to ask questions,” she said. Her experience in the U.S., unable to speak English, was a dramatic contrast. “I didn’t have a voice for almost a year. Somebody spoke for me.”

In 2012, Altamirano-Crosby and her husband, Patrick Crosby, started WAGRO Foundation. The organization serves Latinx communities in Washington state and in Mexico by providing resources to at-risk and underprivileged youth, helping families navigate the education system in the U.S., and training special-needs educators and families in Mexico.

“If you’re going to develop the appropriate leadership, you cannot speak for them,” Altamirano-Crosby said. “You have to empower them to speak for themselves.”

“If you’re going to develop the appropriate leadership, you cannot speak for them. You have to empower them to speak for themselves.”
— Julieta Altamirano-Crosby

Since founding WAGRO, Altamirano-Crosby and her work have been recognized across the state. In 2017, Seattle-area radio station Spirit 105.3 recognized Altamirano-Crosby as an “unsung hero” for her faithful and selfless service to her community. She received the Snohomish County Human Rights Commission’s 2017 Human Rights Award. Last June, she was appointed to a two-year term on the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs, and in July she was appointed to the Snohomish County Human Rights Commission. In 2019, she joined the board of trustees for Humanities Washington and Washington’s Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee.

Altamirano-Crosby’s vast experience working one-on-one with people in the community gives her “the opportunity to see deeply,” she said. Serving on numerous boards and working as a community liaison fills her schedule, but she feels compelled to do it — in part by her Catholic faith.

“I do this work because I believe we come here to earth for a mission,” she said. “I want to make a difference.”

Altamirano-Crosby holds a doctorate in social communication science from the University of Havana in Cuba, but she wanted U.S. credentials to better understand the education system for her advocacy work. She graduated in 2018 from Seattle Pacific University with a master’s degree in educational leadership and a program administrator certificate.

As the sole Latina in the program during her studies, Altamirano-Crosby blazed a trail at SPU as well.

“She offers as much as she gets,” said John Bond, professor of educational administration and supervision. “Having somebody with her experience helps our students understand what it means to be a leader.” He invited Altamirano-Crosby to present with him at the Washington Education Research Association Conference in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Special-education teacher Jennifer Martin, who has worked as a consultant for WAGRO for six years, said Altamirano-Crosby’s commitment is inspiring.

“She doesn’t let other people guide or distract her, and she really does believe God has led her on this path,” Martin said. “You just want to help her get her message out because she’s so passionate about it.” 

This article originally appeared in the spring 2019 issue of Response with the headline, “Reclaiming the voices of immigrant experience.”

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