by Dr. Christine Marin

Henrietta Soza Aguilar’s obituary appeared in the Arizona Republic on June 9, 2021. She was 87 years of age, born in Tempe on March 13, 1934. The obituary states the names of her parents, Henry and Victoria Soza; and recognizes her many children, grandchildren, and three siblings.   Henrietta was known among her family as “Keta”, the nickname in Spanish for the formal name, “Enriqueta”. Her father’s name is Enrique, or “Henry” in English. Henrietta shared her father’s name, “Henry”. Her husband of 65 years, John Aguilar, survives her.

Soza and Aguilar: two of Tempe’s legendary Spanish surnames of families whose histories date back to the era of the mid-1770s, and to the Spanish Colonial period of Tubac and the Tucson Presidio—the Juan Soza family. And to the era of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the political movement that sought to overthrow the thirty-four-year dictatorship of President Porfirio Díaz, and resulted in the first large-scale Mexican migration to the United States, with many families seeking safety away from the chaos breaking out in México and coming to Tempe: the family of John Aguilar among them.

Juan Soza was born in Tucson in 1851. He is Henrietta’s great-grandfather, who came to Tempe with his brother, Plácido Soza, Henrietta’s great-granduncle, in 1871. They settled and made their home in a Mexican village near what we know as Tempe Butte. According to Tempe historian and scholar, Scott Solliday, Juan Soza worked for the U.S. government as an Indian scout and Plácido worked for Charles Trumbull Hayden, extending the Hayden Canal from the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch. Juan Soza returned to Tucson on a business trip and stayed for a while. He met and married the beautiful Jesus María Sotelo, the daughter of the enterprising Tempeans, Tiburcio and Manuela Sánchez Sotelo, and they returned to Tempe in 1873. Over time, Juan Soza became an important spokesman for the Hispanic community in Tempe, serving three terms as Deputy Sheriff under Sheriff Carl Hayden.

Juan Aguilar and his wife Concepción, Henrietta’s in-laws, remained in Tempe and helped shape its destiny through their hard work and commitment to family and become good neighbors with other families. Juan Aguilar’s work ethic and Concepción’s strong moral principles were soon evident in their determination to help Tempe’s children become good students. Juan worked for thirty-seven years as a Custodian, and as Head Custodian for the Tempe Elementary School District, and Concepción supported him and his work every step of the way. In recognition of Juan’s many years of service and Concepción’s devotion to the schools and to Tempe, the City named the Aguilar Elementary School at 5800 South Forest Avenue after them.

The school opened in 1975, and it continues to remind us of the historical legacies of John Aguilar and Henrietta Soza Aguilar and their links to their Hispanic and Mexican heritage. Henrietta Soza Aguilar’s funeral Mass was held at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church on June 14th. Her family encouraged Henrietta’s friends and neighbors and Tempeans to consider a donation to Aguilar Elementary School.
Photos: Black and white photo of Henrietta Soza Aguilar that appeared with her obituary in the Arizona Republic on June 9, 2021, page 9-B. Photo of Aguilar Elementary School in Tempe from the school’s website.