Cristal Ocampo Ruiz connects the Hispanic community with resources for entrepreneurial and emotional success
By Dolly R. Sickles | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Cristal Ocampo Ruiz is a “Dreamer” who began interpreting at an early age. Born in Mexico City in 1984, Cristal was 4 years old when she and her older brother traveled to California to reunite with their parents.
They settled in Chatham County in 1992 and joined the vast and varied Hispanic community, with individuals hailing from many different Spanish-speaking countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Colombia. “The whole immigration process is unique and different to everyone, depending on each individual’s circumstances,” Cristal says. “It isn’t easy to understand and navigate.”
She knows firsthand the challenges many immigrants face. “After graduating [from Jordan-Matthews High School], I couldn’t pursue many opportunities like grants and scholarships,” Cristal says. “I only have a work permit that I must renew every two years through the DACA relief program granted under the Obama administration.”
Cristal’s husband, Pedro Ruiz, is a U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent and was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina. But for Cristal, her path to citizenship remains convoluted. The process is expensive and filled with loopholes.
“It could also mean me having to leave the country for an undetermined amount of time,” she says. “We have a lot of goals and dreams that we’re trying to achieve, and the last thing we want to think about is our little family being separated.”
Cristal and Pedro are raising three children – Julian, 14, Adrian, 9, and Emely, 5 – to honor and embrace their Mexican-American heritage and culture.
For her career, Cristal has long been building cultural bridges between communities. “I worked for a couple of years at The Farrell Law Group, specializing in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) cases, or so-called ‘Dreamers,’” she says. “I had to translate a lot of documents, visas, formal and written documents that were submitted to the court system.”
Cristal began working for the county health department in 2016. She started as the receptionist and managed intake. When the interpreter left, Cristal knew she wanted to apply for the job. She works in the clinic, interpreting alongside health care providers, and translates information for the health department’s website, media releases and informational flyers. Cristal also works as the immunization tracker for the county, producing childhood immunization day care reports to ensure the children of Chatham County are ready to begin school.
“Our health department is shifting,” she says. “We’re emerging into more public health outreach.” In December 2021, Cristal was named the Chatham County Employee of the Year.
In 2019, Cristal completed the Chatham Leadership Academy, a yearlong program that helps employees prepare for expanded responsibilities. Her group project identified ways to create better opportunities through job training and business development.
“We realized a lot of Hispanic small-business owners were not aware of resources or further training and education opportunities for their employees,” Cristal says. She adds that job fairs, brochures, radio and newspaper spots, and word-of-mouth are the most effective ways to communicate with the Hispanic community, particularly when resources are in Spanish.
On top of all that, since 2017, Cristal has worked on the Hispanic Latino Preaching Initiative, a part of the Master of Arts in Christian Practice at Duke University. She’s there under the “special students status” program since she doesn’t have an undergraduate degree. Her goal is to work as a motivational speaker and help guide people through life’s difficulties.
“Human beings all have a process and a journey to go through,” Cristal says. “I want to be the person to help them achieve their goal. And I would also like to do it in Spanish. We don’t have a lot of resources to navigate mental health, anxiety, depression and stress. I feel like there’s a lot of generational trauma [with immigrants], and it’s important to realize it’s there. I would love to create a space for people to come together and talk about it.”
Cristal is grateful for positive opportunities and has a hopeful optimism. “I tell my kids it’s good to live by the motto, ‘Be of blessing, and be kind to anyone and everyone.’”