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Mexican immigration resource center may finally come to Jackson this spring

A woman holds a toddler and kisses his cheek. A  few other people stand nearby.
Emily Cohen
One resident of Tlaxcala, Mexico — María de los Ángeles Hernández González — kisses her grandson’s cheek at the Jackson airport before boarding her plane in late 2022. She and other elders visited as part of a program through the Mexican government, which is also setting up the office in town to give more resources to immigrants.

Many Jackson residents from Mexico will soon be able to get more support with passports and visas. A new immigration office is slated to open in late April, specifically to help people from the Mexican state of Tlaxcala.

At around 1,500 people, Western Wyoming has one of the largest populations in the U.S. from this mountainous region of central Mexico. Immigrants have been coming to Jackson from there for decades, when word spread in small Mexican towns of the job opportunities in Wyoming.

Their home country’s government wants to continue to support them, according to Paula Zabalza, the director of the immigrant assistance office in Tlaxcala.

“The governor of Tlaxcala [Lorena Cuéllar Cisneros] wants them to feel like they have the government of Tlaxcala near to them,” Zabalza said. “That is the main reason that we are here, to feel supportive.”

Many immigrants can’t travel back to Mexico to get documents such as birth certificates, since they may not be let back into the U.S. The Jackson office will help them get birth certificates and other documents critical for immigration.

But it hasn’t been easy to set up shop in one of the most expensive places in the nation.

An uphill battle

The immigrant assistance center was originally slated to open in Jackson over a year ago. But officials from the Mexican government said it was easier to find an office space in Manhattan than in Jackson.

“We had a budget, and it wasn't enough,” Zabalza said. “It was a little bit more expensive in Jackson than the one in Manhattan.”

She added that, while looking for a space in Jackson, her staff was able to open another office in Southern California, which she says was also much cheaper.

But Jackson could soon be home to the third office in the U.S. Zabalza is looking at at least two rental options in the heart of town, thanks in part to help from other organizations in Jackson serving the Latino population.

Zabalza visited Jackson last week and met with members of Voices JH, One22 Resource Center, the Teton County Health Department, the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, the Town of Jackson, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Teton Literacy Center, Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church and the Center for the Arts.

The organizations helped suggest office spaces, as well as housing opportunities for the Tlaxcaltecan employee who will be moving to town to lead the resource center.

“It feels great to be surrounded by many people that are interested in … immigrant welfare,” Zabalza said. “And we would like to work with them to make life better for our paisanos [countrymen].”

Leaders of organizations in Jackson serving the Latino population gather at the Center for the Arts, after discussing plans for the new office space. Paula Zabalza stands in the middle.
Hanna Merzbach
Leaders of organizations in Jackson serving the Latino population gather at the Center for the Arts, after discussing plans for the new office space. Paula Zabalza stands in the middle.

A flurry of Tlaxcala-themed events

The goal is to open the office on April 24, with the governor of the Mexican state traveling to Jackson to host the celebration.

A group of Tlaxcaltecan elders with kids and grandkids living in the region will also be in town, as part of the Mexican government’s program to reunite families across borders and bridge generation gaps.

These events will coincide with the Center for the Arts’ Tlaxcala Cultural Celebration on April 25 — an evening of dance, music, food and art.

The Center has been working for two years to get visas for a group of Mexican artists, including Pedro Avelino, the director of the Hueyotlipan Cultural Center who’s mural of Mexican life is displayed on Jackson pathways.

According to Oona Doherty, the Center’s creative initiatives director, “This unique cultural celebration recognizes the Latino immigrant population in Jackson, using the arts as a bridge to connect our communities,” she said in a press release.

The Jackson Hole High School is planning a Tlaxcala-themed week, where students will learn about the Mexican region’s culture.

Hanna is the Mountain West News Bureau reporter based in Teton County.
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