Women to Watch: Grisel Tapia


By Marni McEntee

ON THE WALL of Grisel Tapia’s shared office at the Vera Court Neighborhood Center, a sign reads “I cross my T’s, dot my I’s and roll my R’s.”

As do the families Tapia is dedicated to help, at the center and through her many volunteer roles, so newly arrived Latinos can get their bearings—and go on to thrive—in the Madison area.

“That’s where my heart is,” Tapia says. “That’s where I belong when I see a family’s kids and I really identify with them.”

Tapia, the center’s Latino Family Resource Center Coordinator, arranges traditional Latino festivities so kids can learn their culture, helps parents navigate the bureaucracy of the education system, and pushes for bilingual educational access in the Madison school district.

Tapia didn’t have that kind support when she was growing up and it’s what drives her work today. Tapia’s mother moved to Madison to work when Tapia was in 8th grade, and relatives cared for Tapia in her native Puebla, Mexico, until she came to Madison at 15.

Tapia, who today has three kids of her own, is also the first Latina president of the Nuestro Mundo board and sits on the board of the Latino Education Council, where, among other things, she helps Latino college prospects get student aid.

In 2016 she’s got her eye on national issues that surely will affect Latino immigrants here. One is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which prevents certain immigrants from being deported, under certain conditions. With President Obama’s departure, Tapia says, the program—and those she helps—may be at risk.

She’ll also work to help immigrants get identification cards, since most can’t get a driver’s license. And she’ll use her training from the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund program to help parents engage with their kids at school.

Tapia also plans to begin studying for a college degree in 2016—likely in a human services field that will help her in her advocacy work.

“That’s my goal, and the impact will be in the Latino community as a whole.

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