Ylenia Aguilar Velderrain is proudly from Orizaba, Veracruz, México. Growing up she would spend her summers in Veracruz with her grandmother who is indigenous to the land. Here she cultivated her appreciation for learning, especially about the earth, water, agriculture, and Mesoamerican history. As a mother of two sons, she intentionally educated them about their ancestors and their connection to broader history and the environment.
Ylenia always knew she came to the US from Mexico very young. But her older sister was a US citizen, so she did not understand what it meant to be legally documented. She just assumed she was a US citizen too. However, in high school, Ylenia attended a school centered on preparing students for the US Air Force. When it was time to enlist, she realized she did not have a social security number to do so. It was a moment of great sadness and her vision for her life began collapsing. She could not join the Air Force, go to university or vote. Nevertheless, determined to continue her education, she enrolled in Pima Community College. Later in life, after Ylenia became a lawful permanent resident through marriage, she fulfilled her dream of going to university by attending the University of Arizona at the age of twenty-five.
In July 2014, she became a US citizen. Her first time voting, she cast a vote for herself for a seat on the Osborn Elementary School District Board. She won the election and since then has won her re-election to be the President of the Board. But to this day, she carries her undocumented identity and experience with her, “like a tattoo on my soul,” she says.
Ylenia’s role on the school board has its roots in her desire to be involved in her son’s education. When they were young, she did not have the resources to take them to museums or travel, so she joined their school’s community garden to foster a love for learning in her sons and to connect them to Mother Earth as her grandmother had done for her
“Sometimes you don’t have money or resources, only your dignity, your stories… and your imagination.”
Ylenia’s deep connection to her community and environment motivated her to run for the Central Arizona Water Conservation District Board. She hopes to contribute community-based water solutions to ensure we are all guaranteed a fruitful future in Phoenix.