by Nick Baez
Since the age of 16, I have been a part of the National Hispanic Institute (NHI). Founded in 1979 as a nonprofit organization by Ernesto Nieto, NHI has impacted the lives of thousands of Latino youth across the United States, Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.
NHI provides transformational opportunities for Latino youth, in order that they may perceive themselves as an integral and indispensible component of the American and international experience. The following is an excerpt from an interview I conducted with Ernesto this past week:
What most impacted your decision to create NHI over 30 years ago?
“First and foremost, when I examined the social landscape of the U.S. Latino community, I realized that there was a primary social model used: the model of assimilation, which served to disrobe Latino youth of their identity and culture, under the false premise that simply joining mainstream America and adopting American popular culture would instantly bring with it certain advantages. I felt we needed a better option if we wanted to produce generations of youth that wished to have a significant impact on the lives of others. We needed a new model: one that inspires, one that promotes self-direction, and one that directly serves to create a reservoir of leadership in the Latino community.”
Over the past 32 years, how has NHI adapted its educational model to fit the needs of the changing demographics of the U.S. Latino community?
“Over this time, one thing that has remained consistent is the manner in which the Latino community is presented to our youth, through both popular media and discourse. Our youth are taught to perceive our community as a deficit community, one with highly charged issues and challenges. As we look towards the future, the mindset of our youth can no longer be driven by that perception. Our youth need to instead perceive our community as a global force, tied together by over 20 countries who share similar experiences. Once they begin to feel that they are part of something much greater than they had ever imagined, that will invariably alter their perceptions of our community’s potential and status.”
Why does NHI specifically target high achieving high school youth?
“We cannot simply hope to gain at-large access to our best and brightest. Rather, we need to actively seek our highly skilled, highly talented, and community-sensitive young men and women who show a great interest in the future of the Latino community, who wish to be engaged in a way that gives them meaning and purpose, and who wish to take the reins of leadership for the next 50 years and beyond.”
From NHI’s perspective, as the U.S. Latino community continues to grow in large numbers, what are the implications for the future, and what can be done to mitigate the potential rise of a U.S. Latino underclass?
“We do not view the Latino community as an underclass in any way. Rather, we realize that as our community grows, it demands a different form of leader. For example, our youth must be able to be fluently bilingual in order to navigate the dual realities of being both American and Latino. They will not learn the value of this in the school system, which prepares them for only one world. This is not enough anymore. Our youth need to be armed with different sets of social lenses in the 21st century, in order to be able to actively participate in rising global Latino markets and educational/political systems.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.