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Photo: Nigel Thompson
Vanessa Agudelo was the youngest person ever elected to Peekskill City Council when she was elected in 2017. Photo: Nigel Thompson

Vanessa Agudelo, the Latina activist turned councilwoman in Peekskill

She hails from a town atop a mountain in New York’s Westchester county, 49 miles outside of New York City.

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Vanessa Agudelo was born and raised in Peekskill, New York and now sits on its city council. 

Despite growing up in an all-Colombian household, she still shared on a recent visit to AL DÍA that she lived in a bubble growing up. 

Agudelo attended a catholic school just blocks from her home, before going to a private high school. 

For college, she  graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 2014 with degrees in International Politics and Classical & Ancient Mediterranean Studies.

When it came to becoming a councilwoman, Agudelo notes that it was never her dream to run for office, but rather something she fell into.

After college, she traveled to Uganda to do volunteer work, but saw a disconnect in the resources going towards her versus those going to the community she was helping. 

“It was something that people call voluntourism,” said Agudelo. “There was so much money invested in these American students going over to Uganda instead using those resources to really invest in those communities and have them really center themselves as the problem solvers for their community.”

Following the experience abroad, she made the decision to return home and dedicate herself to the community that helped her flourish: Peekskill.. 

Her adolescence sprouted her activism. Growing up and going to expensive private and catholic schools, she saw how hard her parents worked to get her there. 

“My father worked 18 hour days, and my mom worked as a janitor at the catholic school just to afford the tuition,” she said. 

For that reason, she got involved and their struggles became the struggles of her campaign as she ran for office in 2017. She won, and became the youngest person ever elected to Peekskill City Council at 25 years old.  

Her hope is for people to have universal healthcare, to not have to work overtime hours to make ends meet in hopes of better living conditions and more time to spend with family for all.

Beyond her political career, Agudelo is the Hudson Valley Manager of Member Engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition.

But how did a New York State native end up in Philadelphia on a Tuesday? 

It all started during Bernie Sanders's campaign for president in 2016, for which she volunteered and went canvassing. 

This year, she ran as a delegate for her county on Sanders campaign, but was not elected. 

If she couldn’t be at the DNC, she would go out and protest with people for equal housing, a tenant of both of Sanders’ campaigns for president. 

The Poor People’s Army in Philadelphia organized a march outside of Biden’s headquarters to demand a party for the people, and not for corporations. 

In the last month, the party has been battling with the city of Philadelphia over a number of tent cities constructed in protest of the city’s housing authority and its inability to adequately house all who reside there. 

The city ordered the last of the tent cities closed by Aug. 18, but there are still debates to be had between organizers and city leaders. 

As for the future? Agudelo’s sights are not set on a political career. 

Rather, she is focused on being part of an overhaul of the U.S.’s economic sectors. 

“I want to be in the best position to get us there,” she said.

But for the time being, Agudelo showed support for a fellow New Yorker in politics. 

“AOC for U.S. Senate!” she said.

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