Happy Birthday, NHI! Alumni share memories of 40 years
40 years ago today, the National Hispanic Institute was founded. We’re pausing to wish NHI and its now nearly 96,000 alumni a happy birthday, in the midst of an incredible summer. Leaders are being developed throughout the Americas, with a successful new Mexico Great Debate recently concluded, the Northeast CWS wrapping up this weekend at its new Elizabethtown College home, and a team of staffers going through their Day 0 walkthroughs in preparation for a venerable NHI tradition — the Texas LDZ — in its new San Antonio home.
We invited you to share memories of and well-wishes to help say “feliz cumpleaños” to Ernie, Gloria, Nicole, and the hard-working staff in Maxwell who keep NHI going. But this is also your celebration — if you’ve attended a program, sent your child to a program, or donated time or money or energy in any way to what NHI does, you’re part of la gran historia that is the NHI journey. Though it’s been 40 years of incredible change, the work is really, truly just beginning.
Now, to your memories:
“In 1990, I was a young girl from Harlingen, Texas. Someone handed me the LDZ brochure. I went around to local prominent Hispanic business people and raised the money to go. My family saved so that we could buy professional clothing. LDZ changed my life. It taught me so much. Most importantly, it taught me to be confident and speaking skills. Today, I am a pediatrician. For years I told my daughters that they were going to be involved with NHI. When my oldest was of age for Great Debate, she fought me on doing it. I told her to put her best effort into it and if she didn’t like it she didn’t have to do LDZ. She won 2nd place at Sherman in Cross Examination. She is now a JC for the San Antonio region and she just completed her California LDZ, where she was on the Governor’s cabinet. My youngest just completed her Sherman Great Debate experience. She learned so much and really enjoyed her experience. They both are looking forward to Celebracion. Happy birthday NHI, and thank you for helping to mold our youth into leaders.” – Rebecca Rocha-Davis, MD, Boerne, Texas (Pediatrician, 1990 Texas Great Debate participant, and NHI parent)
“Winning 1st place in Oratory for the Midwest completely changed my life. Thank you for empowering me and helping me tap into my potential.” – Itzel Hernandez, Round Lake, Illinois (Dual Language Educator and 2008 Midwest Great Debate participant)
“NHI helped me grow as a person and taught me that I can accomplish anything in the world if I work hard for it. Because of NHI, I have travelled across states to conferences and networked with all kinds of people. I have been a passionate advocate for my community relating on Immigration reform, LGBTQ Equality, Reproductive Justice, and much more. So thank you NHI, for showing me to believe in myself and be the change I wish to see in the world.” – Leo Castillo-Anguiano, San Antonio, Texas (Deputy Field Organizer and 2015 NHI program participant)
“Happy Birthday NHI! My best memory at NHI was marrying my best friend! Our wedding day was absolutely perfect thanks to the staff and support from the NHI. Thank you!” – Jessica Cantu, Kyle, Texas (Educator)
“I remember making connections with other people within my home community of El Paso, and striving to achieve my goals to be the best at what I was competing/presenting. I will never forget my time at Chicago LDZ in 1996 where I won best speaker of the Senate. It showed me that I could work hard, build positive relationships and achieve my goal of communicating my plan of action to members of my Senate and to members of the House. It was a great experience that I constantly share with other Hispanic students and parents. I wouldn’t change those experience for the world and I’m so thankful my family supported me in this experience.” Erika Tabullo Diaz, San Antonio, Texas (Special Education Teacher, 1995-1997 NHI program participant)
“I haven’t the words to describe NHI because it is absolutely the best experience I had in my entire life.” – Natalia Reyes Vega, Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico (Student, 2019 Mexico Great Debate participant)
“My best memories from NHI almost all came from Cele. It was so fun to be in San Antonio making friends from all over the world. I wish NHI the absolute best and definitely would not be the person I am today without being a participant.” Christian Guerrero, New Orleans (Elementary School Educator, 2012-2014 NHI program participant)
“One of my favorite memories is from the 2019 California LDZ. I will never forget how empowered I felt while delivering my Supreme Court Justice speech, pouring out my beliefs to the delegation and recognizing their interest in hearing every word I spoke. It was then that I realized that my actions and words actually have a tremendous impact, that I have an incredibly supportive community of people behind me, and that I was on my way to becoming the person I always wanted to be.” – Victoria Gasca, El Paso, Texas (Student, 2018-2019 NHI program participant)
“In 1993, I was awarded the best debater in the Senate at the LDZ session in Chicago. It was the first trophy that I won. I proudly display it on my desk to remind me that everything is possible if you dream big and work hard. Happy birthday to an amazing organization!” – Ramona Morin Aguilar, Ed.D., Garland, Texas (Director of Family and Community Engagement, Garland ISD, NHI alumna)
“My favorite memories of NHI include having the entire Brownsville delegation being asked to step outside the main hall for being too rowdy during National LDZ ’94; suffering through early morning jazzercise while the junior counselors ate donuts and making lifelong friends (both during the programs and afterwards) with people who shared similarly inspiring experiences, while learning the power of communication, organizing and community.” Atenogenes (Teno) Villarreal, San Antonio, Texas (Communications Coordinator and NHI program participant and junior counselor, 1993-1995)
“Being the Winning Coach with the BEST TEAM at the first ever Collegiate World Series in 1991! Coming back from a 0-3, to 3-3, to taking FIRST PLACE!” – Nicole Nieto, Kyle, Texas (Executive Vice President, NHI)
“Years ago, in Lockhart, Texas. I received a letter in the mail (1992) that said I was part of the top 25% of Hispanic/Latinos of Lockhart High School. The letter read that I was invited for a private meeting, less than 8 miles away in the small community town of Maxwell, Texas. It was there where I met Ernesto Nieto and Humberto Saenz for the first time. Here was Ernesto, talking to us in Spanish and English in his loud, boisterous voice, asking us what we wanted to be in life. The thing is … Ernesto wanted us to go before a podium and speak out onto a crowd of 20 or so in attendance for the meeting. One by one, we went around the conference table there at NHI Headquarters in the the old mansion house, explaining what we wanted to be in life. Then, it was my turn to speak out before the crowd. I said I wanted to be the first Hispanic doctor to cure cancer. As we finally heard the last speaker, here was Ernie … immediately responding to our answers. He said out of all of the speakers, the one memorable speaker he heard was Darrell Gonzales. He said he was impressed with my demeanor and poise of character. It was at that particular moment in my life I knew I could become someone.” – Darrell Gonzales, Lockhart, Texas (NHI program participant)
“I can’t imagine what my life would look like without the tremendous impact NHI has made. I met my closest friends and business partners through NHI; I changed how I view myself, my community, and my culture; I have life-long mentors and colleagues who challenge me in the best way possible; I have worked with hundreds of young leaders all over the country who inspire and energize me for what is to come; and I am part of an extended family of NHI Alumni who are like-minded, highly capable, and who are CHANGING THIS WORLD. I feel incredibly fortunate to be an NHIer for life. Happy Birthday to NHI and thank you to Ernesto & Gloria!” Olivia Travieso, San Antonio, Texas (OCI Group Partner and NHI alumna and volunteer)
Thanks to all who contributed memories; we’ll feature more this coming week as our birthday coverage continues.