Ernesto Nieto and Gloria de Leon featured in Houston Chronicle story on AOC’s “second home”
National Hispanic Institute president and founder Ernesto Nieto, and executive vice president and co-founder Gloria de Leon, were prominently featured in a Houston Chronicle story about U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that ran Monday.
The article, from Chronicle staff writer Jeremy Wallace, explores a number of connections the famous Congressional freshman has to the state, including some recent partnering with former HUD secretary Julian Castro’s People First Future. But the bulk of the article focused on how her development in NHI helped make Texas her “home away from home.”
The article starts with the revelation that Nieto was one of the first people that Ocasio-Cortez called in the summer of 2018, following her landmark primary win over incumbent Representative Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th District. The victory, of course, propelled Ocasio-Cortez to a leadership role among young Democrats in particular—she’ll be one of the featured speakers Tuesday at this year’s Democratic National Convention.
But it then went into reflections from Nieto and de Leon about the type of leader Ocasio-Cortez became, in part through her involvement with NHI—lessons that have influenced young leaders from both sides of the political aisle, as well as leaders who engaged civically rather than politically to develop and grow the assets in their communities.
The article touched on her LDZ experience, noting:
Ocasio-Cortez was tasked with building coalitions and galvanizing support in what could be intimidating circumstances with people she hardly knew. De Leon said Ocasio-Cortez stood out because she’d run for a leadership position and lose, but then try again and run for something else. She didn’t give up.
“We put her in a lot of command performance positions,” Nieto said. “We put her in a lot of positions that had her in the heat of potential criticism.”
It also looked at how she grew through NHI as she stayed involved as both a volunteer and a staff member.
De Leon said Ocasio-Cortez learned how to ask the right questions and how to dig a little further to find common ground.
“She’s a really good listener,” Nieto said. “She had an intellectual capacity and verbal capacity to explain to people, especially younger people, complex concepts.”
But if there is one thing NHI taught Ocasio-Cortez and other graduates, it is to how to process criticism and how to avoid discouragement, de Leon said. Part of the institute’s program is meant to build peer support systems for the students so they can rebound, and thrive.
In an article for the NHI alumni newsletter in 2017, Ocasio-Cortez talked about how the program helped teach community equity building skills that epitomized what her campaign tried to do. Instead of looking for outside experts to help organize, she said they learned how to build the skill within their community — a key tenet at the institute.
But also in a sign of her training, Ocasio-Cortez talked about how the program taught her to lead without being afraid of taking on tough odds or challenging conventional thinking.
“We’re always careful to be respectful, but we’re also unafraid,” she said. “To run an ‘unafraid’ campaign is actually pretty new. People are used to campaigns that are constantly focus-grouped and a sure thing. We’re not afraid to fall on our face sometimes and take a stand and have people respond and start a conversation.”
The article, if it could be boiled down to one sentiment, is the one Nieto expressed in recalling his first impressions of Ocasio-Cortez as a first-time NHI student:
“She is unafraid of anyone,” Nieto said. “She was just as confident back then as she is now.”
(Ocasio-Cortez is part of the Digital Leadership Symposium roster for 2020. The program, including online Q&A sessions with NHI alumni, was made available to all NHI students who enrolled in 2020 summer programs. Due to an unusually busy summer for Congress, NHI and Ocasio-Cortez are still looking to confirm a date and time for the online session, but it will be available for all students who were part of the summer 2020 cohort once it’s scheduled.)