Ernesto Nieto, Featured, Global Latino Community
A letter from NHI founder and president Ernesto Nieto
Dear NHI Familia:
I’ve talked a lot over the years about the concept of a “third reality,” and have written books about how a third reality lens has evolved my life over the years. A lot of that has to do with my wife Gloria, and her boiling down everything into three Third Reality operating guidelines: No crying, no comparisons, no complaining.
The two books I wrote, Third Reality: Crafting a 21st Century Latino Agenda and Third Reality Revealed: Vision, Persistence, and Inventing a New Latino Identity, presented summaries of my life experiences that shaped me as an adult. I looked at big topics like family, death, race, culture, government, civil rights, and skin color. I also looked at all-too-common life experiences that even today we face as Latinos: Inequity, injustice, structural limits, policy actions, racism and other factors that keep all too many Latinos at the bottom looking up.
I also wrote the books shortly after my father’s death, and I wrote the books to reconcile the lives of inopportunity that he, my mother, and grandmother had to endure. They grew up in socially, economically, and politically suffocating climates through no fault of their own. But they also taught me a lot about being generous with the resources they had and working to lift up everyone in my community through leadership.
Many of you know the history of NHI, how we built it from our belief that there was a better way than the two options Latinos were faced with. Before Third Reality, the options were either touching all the right bases for upward mobility or remaining discouraged and isolated in a cultural reality of no real value in the end.
We helped young people discover the idea of third reality, when the individual chooses to define the self, assumes control and responsibility over the outcomes that best serve his or her interests, and is primarily guided by the energy, innovations, and vision required to excel beyond the customary: The self-crafted state.
I remember lean times in our work to build NHI: Driving second-hand cars that were in danger of breaking down, not being able to take paychecks home some months, making hard choices. But we still proceeded on faith and a belief that this work mattered, and still matters.
In creating NHI, we first learned to experience the power to pivot and change ourselves. I was surprised and relieved when our first program in 1983 brought students who wanted to become leaders. In the days leading up to that first program, I could only sleep for minutes at a time, feeling anxiety, gnawed at by a fear of failure, worried that somehow, even though students had committed to come, that they’d back out at the last minute.
We are, in our local communities, in our respective nations, and together as a world, at a crossroads filled with uncertainty. We see the real and ugly dangers of a pandemic looming, not only on the health of our people but the health of our economy. There’s the potential for loss of income, loss of jobs, businesses shutting down, and people not having backup resources.
Right now, we are maintaining optimism that we can maintain social distancing as a society, that we’ll be able to host our 2020 summer programs, and that we’ll then go about recruiting for next year, but we are also preparing for contingencies in case any of our host schools cannot open their campuses to our students. We are looking for ways, even right now, to utilize online resources to reach our students, for our students to interact with our leadership coaches and with each other, to access our College Register, and to develop their leadership.
As our NHI staff was recently reminded: “Your thinking can either be guided and disabled by the current circumstances and the fears and threats yet to come, or you can boldly state what you intend to accomplish and proceed forward with all deliberate speed.”
I’ve already witnessed them going from hand wringing and despair to the exploration of program adaptations and even new inventions for the near future. It’s inspiring to see them change and to know that innovation will result.
That’s NHI: No crying, no comparisons, no complaining.
We plan to keep NHI moving forward. We’re an organization that doesn’t rely on government support or grants. In addition to tuition to our leadership education programs, which contributes a great deal to our annual budget, and the sweat equity we get from the volunteers that help us run our programs as a lower cost to students, we look to NHI alumni to “pay it forward” and help today’s and tomorrow’s high school students experience the same sort of education and camaraderie they got to experience.
At a recent board meeting, our board chair, Michelle Saenz-Rodriguez, was dismayed at the less than 1% NHI receives in annual contributions from former participants, As I explained to those at the meeting, we have three types of alumni: Those who warmly remember the NHI experience and its cultural and leadership value to their personal growth and development, those who see NHI as something they did in high school and want to know what they get in return for giving 50 bucks or so, and, those who deeply appreciate the value they received as former high school participants and intend to secure the organization’s future for those who are yet to come.
If you want to adopt the mindset of being more in control of the outcomes you most desire, and if sustaining NHI for future generations is part of that vision, do what your heart directs you to do and donate via this link.
Also, if you’re an NHI alumna or alumnus who’s lost touch with us, we’d love to have your current contact info and keep you up to date. NHI’s faced many challenges in its 40 years, and this might be one of its biggest. But we intend to be there with you on the other side of whatever this holds, and we hope to reconnect at the next Celebracion this fall if not before.
I have always been very impressed with your work and efforts to move the envelope for La Raza. My only connection to the National Hispanic Institute is that through our publication La Voz Newspaper, we try and given the organization as much coverage as we can. As I recall, we even put Ernesto Nieto on the cover of our November 2015 issue. Regarding the statistic about how much NHI alumni give to the organization after they have left and moved on, I too am shocked at how little it is. When Cesar Chavez was organizing farm workers he insisted that if they wanted a union they were going to have support it. This meant contributing $3.50 a month. The was back in the 1960s. There were those who complained and even criticized him for having poor people pay so much. He response was that if they wanted to break the cycle of poverty, they were going to have to sacrifice to make it happen. I was a farm worker up until 1970 but never a member of the union. I managed to get myself into college and graduated from UC Berkeley in 1974 with a degree in economics. I went back to work in the fields, but this time as as a labor organizer for the UFW in Watsonville, California. Like everyone on staff at the time, we were paid five dollars a week. We received 10 dollars a week for food and the union covered our housing. It was a indeed a sacrifice. But for all of us who believed in the struggle of the farm workers, it was the only way the dream of unionization and better wages was ever going to become a reality. It seems to me that if any of those who have participated and benefited from the NHI experience, they need to step up and make sure the same opportunities that they now enjoy may be around for future young people who have a dream of a better life.