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CEO and Founder of Evio, Brandi Leifso, was in Boston recently for the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit where she had the opportunity to meet a number of young talented people. But it was Reyna Montoya’s story that captivated her the most. Hers is the type of story that sticks with you long after it has been told.
Written by Lori Harito
Reyna grew up as an undocumented immigrant when her parents fled Tijuana, Mexico and migrated to Arizona in 2003. Reyna was 13-years-old. Now, she is one of the 689,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. DACA was a program created by President Barack Obama in 2012 that allowed undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. under the age of 16 to apply for protection from deportation. When Reyna arrived in the U. S, she experienced first-hand the fear, anxiety and stress associated with being an undocumented citizen. She was adamant that her circumstances wouldn’t define her or stop her from doing something meaningful.
In 2016, she founded Aliento, a community organization that supports the 6.5 million undocumented youth and children through art healing, workshops, leadership development and education. Aliento also serves as a space for people to learn how to engage politically and become leaders in their community. As a dancer herself, Reyna uses art as a form of healing. At Aliento, art is expressed through poetry, open mic nights, drawing and painting.
Reyna admits that, politically, this is a scary time for people in her situation. “We are living in really challenging times in the U.S. and globally,” she says. In the uncertainty, she is driven by her work and her community. “I’m driven by seeing people in the community who love the sense of agency they get from our organization,” she says. “Our model is able to restore people’s sense of identity and how they relate to one another. In this community, we are showing that they are not alone.” Reyna’s challenges as a business owner are different and unique. “When I’m speaking to philanthropists or investors, they see DACA individuals as a risk,” says Reyna. “But I use that as an opportunity to advocate for my team and all DACA recipients and provide a really strong arm of leadership. Our mission is to combat those fears.”
Aliento is a Spanish word meaning ‘breath,’ but when you give ‘aliento’ to another person, you’re giving them words of encouragement and hope. For Reyna, she just wanted to add more art, creativity and a sense of security during uncertain times.