Seven Siler City residents make up the town’s Immigrant Community Advisory Committee. Here’s a little bit more about who they are and what they do:
Born in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, Hannia Benitez moved to Siler City with her mother and sister in 1998 when she was a young child. She attended Siler City Elementary, Chatham Middle and Jordan-Matthews High School, from which she graduated in 2010.
Since graduation, Benitez has worked as a nursing assistant and a property manager besides serving a three-year term as president of the Hispanic Liaison’s board of directors. She now manages the Liaison’s Sanford office as the nonprofit’s Lee County deputy director, a role she’s occupied since last January.
Save for a few years in Guatemala and Sanford, she’s spent most of her life in Siler City, where she now raises her three children — “but if we want to include my fur baby and my husband,” she joked in November, “it’s five.”
Benitez is also a DACA beneficiary.
“I’m personally invested in really giving back to the community,” she said. “ … My kids go to Siler City Elementary. It’s something that’s dear to my heart. I really want to be able to give them a wonderful education, specifically with the dual language program. I really want them to be able to identify themselves and be proud of who they are as children of immigrants.”
Norma Hernandez has lived in Siler City all her life — save for a few months in Mexico, her birth country. She attended Siler City Elementary School “back when no other children looked like" her, according to her original committee application, and graduated from Jordan-Matthews in 2004.
After graduation, she attained a bachelor’s degree in social work from UNC-Greensboro and worked for the school district as a parent liaison and data manager. Now, she’s a social worker in Chatham County’s Department of Social Services. Hernandez also manages a home renovation business with her husband.
“I’ve been here since before I was one, so my entire lifetime,” she told the committee in November. “I call Siler City my home. My children go to school here. I went to school here. I work here. That’s why I applied to this position also because I want that perspective, to be a voice.”
Born in Tlaxcala, Mexico, Victoria Navarro migrated to Siler City with her family in 1996 when she was 4 years old. Her family just celebrated 25 years of emigrating to the U.S. last November.
She, too, attended Siler City Elementary, Chatham Middle and Jordan-Matthews, from which she graduated in 2010. Thereafter, she received a scholarship to attend the University of Richmond, where she studied business administration and Latin American and Iberian studies.
“I am a DACA recipient,” she told the committee. “So at the time, there weren’t a lot of pathways for me in higher education. However, I worked with an organization, who at the time was able to help me find a scholarship. So [I’m] one of those lucky ones — graduated from the University of Richmond in 2014, and since then, I have really kind of explored my professional career.”
She returned to Siler City in 2015 and thereafter worked as a data manager for three years at Margaret Pollard Middle School. In 2019, she joined VisionPoint Marketing, a higher education-focused marketing firm in Raleigh, to help their clients reach underrepresented communities.
“While I feel fortunate to have found the connections and skills that have allowed me to feel heard in the community, I know that is not the case for many,” she wrote in her original committee application. “I wish to be that voice to represent the opinions and concerns for family and friends that don’t hold the same privilege as I do.”
Born in Santa Rita, Yoro, Honduras, Jisselle Perdomo first moved to Siler City in 2003 when she was 13.
A J-M graduate, she left to study global studies, Spanish and anthropology at UNC-Chapel Hill, from which she graduated in 2012. After teaching ESL at Central Carolina Community College for several years, she enrolled in North Carolina Central University’s law school. She graduated in 2018.
Perdomo now works primarily as an immigration attorney at Vasquez Law Firm in Raleigh, where she’s practiced for nearly four years.
“I mainly do immigration law, and a little bit of family,” she told the committee. “... At work, about 80% of my clients are Latinos, or immigrants, and are trying to find a way to have a legal status here in the United States.”
She enjoys her work, she added, because it’s a way she can serve others — and that same reason inspired her to apply for Siler City’s immigrant advisory committee.
“While growing up here in Siler City, I had people in my life that helped me get to where I am right now,” she said, adding, “For me, it’s part of giving back to the community, helping in any way I can, provide the services or improve the services that have already been established for the immigrant community. … I’m very grateful to have been chosen, and I am confident that the work we’ll do here will improve the lives of the immigrants in Siler City.”
Siler City resident Carlos Simpson was born in Costa Rica to Jamaican parents — though, he joked, few people believe it.
“I don’t look it, but I am a Latino,” he told the committee with a laugh. “ … There’s a small town in Costa Rica where only Black people live there, right, and in that little tiny town I was born.”
He first immigrated to the U.S. about 40 years ago and spent several years bouncing around New York City. He graduated from a Brooklyn high school before leaving to attend a college in the Bronx. After two years of school, Simpson then enlisted in the military.
He served for 10 years, including during the Iraq war. Once he “came back out,” he settled in Atlanta, where he soon found a job as a worker’s compensation case manager, primarily for Spanish-speaking workers. In 2000, he moved to Siler City to work as a supervisor in the Townsends chicken plant.
“After the chicken plant closed, I started a business basically doing translation, interpretation, stuff like that, and I currently still do that, but you know, for private companies,” he said. “They’ll just call me and send me places all over the state.”
Beyond work, Simpson completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology and unsuccessfully ran for several local offices, including the Siler City mayorship and a seat on the county school board.
“Then I saw this (committee) come up and I say, ‘You know what? Let me give it one more try and see if anybody believes that I’m Hispanic,” he said with a laugh. “‘Maybe if they hear me speak, they’ll say I am Hispanic.’ I thought it was a good deal to not only represent people that look Hispanic, but to let people know that also some Black people are Hispanic. So, I think that’s probably what I’m doing here.”
Born in Mexico, Danubio Vazquez Rodriguez moved with her family to the U.S. in 2003, when she was nearly 10 years old.
Thereafter, she was enrolled as a 4th grader at Siler City Elementary, where she learned English. She graduated from Jordan-Matthews as one of the top 10 students in her class and went on to receive her associate’s degree in bioprocessing.
She now works in Chatham County Schools’ Pre-K department, helping families apply for one of the district’s Pre-K slots across seven schools. Like other committee members, Vazquez Rodriguez is also a DACA beneficiary and mother to a young child.
“I am DACA, too, and I know my struggles and I know that a lot of the Hispanic families here — I don’t know if they’re just afraid to speak up or I don’t know,” she said. “I want them to be more involved in everything that’s going on here, and I feel like there’s not that outreach to them. That’s why I applied.”
Born in California, Siler City resident Shirley Villatoro is the daughter of two green card holders from Guatemala. She and her family moved to Siler City in 2001, just before she turned six.
“When I first got here, it was a struggle because at the time in California, they had bilingual schools,” she told the committee. “But when I first got here, when I got to Siler City Elementary, which is straight English, I struggled learning English a lot. I was probably in the ESL program for I want to say three or four years.”
After finishing elementary school, she attended Chatham Middle and graduated from Jordan-Matthews in 2013. Villatoro then spent a few years in the workforce before enrolling in UNCG, where she’s double-majoring in political science and sociology.
While finishing her senior year, she’s working as an office manager and legal assistant in Commissioner Lewis Fadley’s Siler City law office. In her spare time, she also volunteers with Chatham County’s Guardian Ad Litem program, advocating for abused and neglected children.
“I have a strong interest in immigration, and I was hoping to go to law school within the next two years, so I wanted to also not only advocate for children with the Guardian Ad Litem program, but also advocate for my community here in Siler City,” Villatoro said. “I am super excited to be here.”
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