June 26, 2017
The National Hispanic Institute has been teaching high school students for years to become leaders—without necessarily being about political leadership. The Great Debate encourages students to become better public speakers, and the Lorenzo de Zavala (LDZ) program allows students to learn public policy. At the LDZ, students go as far as to participate in a legislative session where they run for various posts — many become Representatives or Senators, creating their own version of Congress for just a few short days. While some NHI alumni do pursue political office, inspired by their experience, NHI members find different avenues for providing leadership and community engagement.
Now, however, three NHI alumni are looking to take a significant step beyond the leadership they’re already providing to seek election to the United States Congress.
George Rodriguez, an NHI Board of Directors member and Project Administrator for Greater Dallas’s Great Debate team, is running in Texas’s 32nd Congressional district, considered a swing district that extends from Dallas to its northern suburbs. George’s engagement goes back to the earliest days of NHI — he was elected Governor at the Texas LDZ in 1984, back when that was the sole NHI program; he met his wife, NHI Board of Directors chair Michelle Saenz-Rodriguez, at an NHI program they were staffing. Together, they’ve formed a law firm focused on immigration and naturalization law, protecting the rights of Americans, aspiring Americans, and undocumented immigrants. They were literally on the front lines fighting the initial implementation of President Trump’s Muslim-majority nation travel ban, which could be one of the most significant debates in this new century.
Miguel Levario, who attended the entire trilogy of NHI programs in the early ’90s, is running in Texas’s 19th District (covering a portion of West Texas including Lubbock and Abilene). Miguel is a professor at Texas Tech University, educated at Notre Dame, Stanford, and the University of Texas.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who participated in the 2005 National LDZ and the 2006 New York CWS, is running in New York’s 14th District, which includes the Bronx and Queens. As a writer and educator, she has remained involved with NHI as an educational director at CWS programs, a contributor to past NHI Magazine print editions, and as a consultant to NHI founder and President Ernesto Nieto.
Nieto commented on the significance of the three campaigns by noting, “It means that these NHIers see themselves as representing value to the American experience, and are not driven by an accommodating or timid view of themselves.”
We will be publishing interviews of these three venturesome candidates in the next several days.