Marleny was born in rural Guatemala, during the height of its Civil War, and became an immigrant to the U.S. at the age of four, fleeing from genocide with her mother and siblings. She became the interpreter and translator for her family and local community at an early age, and has since obtained professional proficiency in American Sign Language and Portuguese. She graduated from Northern Arizona University with a B.A. in humanities, where she focused on language acquisition, the documentation of indigenous languages, and trilingual (American Sign Language, English, and Spanish) Interpretation. She has collaborated with non-governmental organizations in Latin America and has conducted ethnographic research with indigenous communities, such as the Comcáac and Rarámuri peoples of Mexico, and several Mayan groups in Guatemala. Some of her research interests include language education for Indigenous and Deaf migrants, language renewal within immigrant communities living abroad, ethnomusicology, documentary film, migration and development studies, human rights, and Deaf and Sign Languages studies.
At Stanford, Marleny hopes to combine her multidisciplinary interests and conduct research with Latin American Deaf asylees, who are often of indigenous background, in order to study how well they integrate culturally and socioeconomically after receiving appropriate language classes. Marleny plans to eventually help found nonprofits that provide the best possible instruction to Deaf and Indigenous Peoples. During her free time, she enjoys hiking through desert canyons, traversing mountains and beach dunes, and dancing to salsa, samba, and funky beats.