Tip of Texas leaders remember Dr. Daniel Garcia
One of the National Hispanic Institute’s early leaders, Dr. Daniel Garcia, who was foundational in growing Brownsville into the region NHIers know as Tip of Texas, passed away on Monday. But for those working to carry on his legacy in the region, his contributions and his influence remain alive.
“Silvia and Daniel Garcia are educators with 80 years of experience between them in their long and storied careers,” began the section on the pioneering Brownsville couple in the November 2019 NHIMagazine.com article on the First Families celebrated at Celebracion 2019. The couple began their involvement in NHI when the first of their three children started in high school, but they stayed involved for years after their children moved through the programs, and provided support even as they were passing the torch to their successor.
“They were big mentors, supporters, cheerleaders, and teachers,” said Tino Villarreal, the current PA for Tip of Texas. “They played every possible role to allow young people to feel that they’re in control, to make decisions. That was the spirit that they had for so many years.”
“I was the youngest Project Administrator in the history of NHI thanks to them. They put me in a position to be in charge, to lead and manage, but they were there as my safety net, and I didn’t know that at first! I thought I was a young kid running the show. They really were the ones telling Ernie and Gloria at the time,” referring to NHI co-founders Ernesto Nieto and Gloria de Leon. “We’re handling the business over here. Like I said, they made me believe and I did a lot here, but they’re really the safety net. They allowed me to grow in a leadership capacity.”
Dr. Daniel and Dr. Silvia, as Tip of Texas students knew them, even helped arrange physical places for students to meet, first at UT-Brownsville (now the Brownsville campus of UTRGV), and later at Saint Joseph Academy, the private high school that’s provided a strong foundation for Silver Cup-winning Texas Great Debate teams.
“Dan brought a legacy of high expectations when it referred to education in our public schools,” said Ernesto Nieto. “He was always looking for better answers in educational attainment. He never questioned the authenticity and value of NHI leadership programs, but in fact, endorsed them,” “He’ll be greatly missed as an educational leader in our community.”
While the Garcias were professional educators throughout their lives, Villarreal notes they also understood what NHI was trying to achieve as a place where students would learn differently than they did in school. “They knew NHI had to be a completely different world,” he observed. “They knew that they had to create a different learning environment …They knew kids could create a dream world, and they facilitated that allowing us to build that kind of world and atmosphere and learning environment.”
While they emphasized the role that student leaders should have, with Villarreal remembering them saying, “You need to support them, you need to be their cheerleader, you need to inspire them, you need to help them along the journey,” they were also there to point out when they were acting too much like teachers and not enough like facilitators.”
Jorge Lee, the region’s current Assistant PA, remembers encountering them initially at a 2018 event helping celebrate 25 years of Tip of Texas, and not knowing who they were but definitely knowing their legacy.
“Dr. Daniel and Dr. Silvia were somehow incredibly equal parts general and soldier,” Lee observed. “They were people who were visionary, and they were also masterful executors of those visions.”
Lee notes in particular because of Dr. Daniel Garcia’s belief that the Great Debate is “a program that should be experienced by those who could most benefit from it, not only those who could afford it,” NHI at Tip of Texas will be creating a scholarship in the late leader’s name, with donations made via the Tip of Texas website going toward a fund providing select students financial assistance toward GDx tuition.