A smile grows on Jacqueline Aguilar’s face when she talks about local art and her community.
Aguilar, a senior at Coachella Valley High School, is passionate about these topics—and she’s eager to share her insight with anyone willing to listen.
Aguilar represented Raices Cultura when she spoke about art and her community to an audience of city planners at the 2014 Annual Conference of the American Planning Association’s California Chapter in Anaheim in mid-September.
“I was really nervous. I was shaking,” Aguilar said. “I’m not usually that nervous, but people started showing up, and it was really weird to have such a large audience.”
Aguilar and other youth representatives from the eastern Coachella Valley participated in a youth panel at the annual conference titled “Legitimate Voices: Youth Perspectives on the Meaning of Building Healthy Communities in the Eastern Coachella Valley.”
The youth panel was an opportunity for planners to hear from youth who are working in the Eastern Coachella Valley. The Building Healthy Communities Initiative was represented by Adriana Diaz-Ordaz, and Pueblo Unido CDC was represented by Sahara Huazano and Victor Gonzalez.
Daisy Ramirez, a health education assistant for the County of Riverside Department of Public Health, said she was proud of the panel, because the youth representatives were able to better educate the planners about the work that is going on in the eastern Coachella Valley.
“Some planners didn’t even know where the eastern Coachella Valley was, or what was going on in the eastern Coachella Valley,” Ramirez said. “Sometimes, we assume people already know.”
The youth panel met again on Sept. 22 at the Building Healthy Communities office in Coachella to debrief. Diaz-Ordaz and Huazano both said they felt honored to present their community projects to people who are responsible for planning future communities.
“There’s this realm, or sphere of influence, that comes with being a planner,” Diaz-Ordaz said. “There’s that network, there’s that community, and that social capital that comes along with even being in that place.”
At the conference, Huazano and Gonzalez presented Pueblo Unido’s Coachella Valley Mobile Home Pavement Project, which is aimed at improving the health of more than 400 families in 39 mobile home parks in the eastern Coachella Valley. Huazano said the conference helped her identify skills she needs to build in order to keep representing the eastern Coachella Valley well.
“I’ve been thinking of how I can improve my speaking skills, because I want to continue on doing this work.” Huazano said. “And in order for me to represent my community how they deserve, I need to learn how to speak properly.”
Miguel Vazquez, the co-chair for the California Planning Roundtable Healthy Communities Workgroup, organized the panel and moderated the session. At the debriefing, Vazquez said he’d never heard an audience applaud so long for a panel.
Vasquez encouraged the youth presenters to use the momentum they built at the conference to keep working on community issues.
“It would be really cool if something came out of this, and next year, we could go back and say, ‘Remember that group of youth? Well, they did this. And it wasn’t futile,’” Vasquez said.
Alejandra Alarcon is a reporter for Coachella Unincorporated, a youth media organization in the east Coachella Valley, funded by the Building Healthy Communities Initiative of the California Endowment and operated by New America Media in San Francisco. The purpose is to report on issues in the community that can bring about change. “Coachella Unincorporated” refers to the region youth journalists cover, but also to the unincorporated communities of the Eastern Valley with the idea to “incorporate” the East Valley into the mainstream Coachella Valley mindset. For more information, visit coachellaunincorporated.org.