AMBER AMAYA/ Coachella Uninc.
Updated October 13, 2014 9:30 a.m.
Coachella — 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 art and the Eastern Coachella Valley, and she’s eager to share her insight with anyone willing to listen.
Last month, 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, California Chapter in Anaheim, Calif.
“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 from California 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 youth 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 September 22 at the Building Healthy Communities office in Coachella Calif., to debrief about their presentation at the conference. 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, a project that 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 youth panel from the Eastern Coachella Valley, and he moderated the session during the planning conference. At the debriefing, Vazquez said he has 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.
Vazquez hopes to continue building youth panels to represent the Eastern Coachella Valley in the future.