California LDZ brings immersive NHI leadership experience back to San Diego
The National Hispanic Institute has long traditions built up with its Texas and Colorado Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session programs, which have each been providing immersive leadership experience to students for more than 30 years. While the California LDZ doesn’t quite have that longevity, NHI programs in California do have roots in the Golden State — including a 1999 program hosted by the Claremont Colleges that helped one student go from NHI to the White House.
And, with the California LDZ returning to the University of San Diego after a year’s hiatus, NHI is resuming its relationship with USD. It’s putting down roots in a region integral to the U.S. Latino experience — bringing more than 130 students from across the U.S. (including Puerto Rico) and Mexico to experience the program.
“The California LDZ was an unforgettable experience conducted during an unprecedented time in our history and because of this, NHI is needed more than ever as a guiding Institution for leadership and thought development,” said Luis Gonzalez, who served as co-education director for the program.
“The LDZ is a major playground for these types of ideas, and there are ideas that were born at the California LDZ that are going to impact lives,” he reflected. “I got a glimpse into the amazing imagination and talents our community possesses. Our Latino youth plays an important role in shaping ideas that will impact others because of the foresight, creativity, and passion they displayed during the experience. Every individual attending the LDZ demonstrated that this NHI dream is not just a dream, but our reality; a reality where we are in control, we define who we are, and we design the society for generations to come.”
Victoria Sanchez, the program’s other co-educational director, noted, “One of the things so evident right from the beginning was that we had such a diverse group of students from all over the U.S., but also from so many different countries,” pointing out that many of the attending students drew on Latin American and South American heritage informing their perspectives.
“They were really just so excited to kind of bring all their ideas together. And with their different backgrounds and family histories, and just where they were from, they all had such different perspectives. And it didn’t take them any time at all to start bridging those perspectives and listening to each other and trying to figure out what that middle ground was going to be to achieve these ideas that they had, and really make it something tangible that they were going to take back home to their communities.”
She added, of the in-person experience, “Everyone was just so quick to come back into that spirit of familia and being around each other. Despite everything going on, it just felt normal to be back together, which was really, really awesome. It came together really quickly and beautifully, and everyone was just excited to be back in everyone’s presence again.”
Top elected officials at the session included:
- Governor: Jaxon Gonzales, Liberal Arts and Science Academy, Austin, Texas
- Lt. Governor: Sebastian Rocha, Saint Dominic Savio Catholic High School, Austin, Texas
- Speaker of the House: Leticia Marrero, Academia Maria Reina, San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Chief Justice: Nina Chessa, Coronado High School, El Paso, Texas
Five proposals were passed into law during the session.
- A proposal to establish a mentorship program that allows the Latino youth to have a successful Latino business owner as a mentor, authored by Senator Carolina Meza, Veterans Memorial Early College High School, Brownsville, Texas and Representative Stephanie Vela, Veterans Memorial Early College High School, Brownsville, Texas
- A proposal to create an annual festival for Latino start-up restaurants, authored by Senator Diego Varela, Veterans Memorial Early College High School, Brownsville, Texas
- A proposal to create an afterschool program that teaches young Latinos filmmaking and screenwriting, authored by Senator Jacob Rincon, Cathedral High School, El Paso, Texas
- A proposal to implement and continue trade schools within rural communities, authored by Senator Pedro Ochoa, Cathedral High School, El Paso, Texas
- A proposal to create The National Latino Ingenuity Challenge, authored by Representative Simon Gross, Energy Institute High School, Houston, Texas
Awards earned by students at the program included:
- Most Distinguished Representative: Maximiliano Mendez, Ronald Reagan High School, San Antonio, Texas
- Most Persuasive Representative: Jack Tusini, iSchool High at University Park, Houston, Texas
- Outstanding Legislator, House of Representatives: Stephanie Vela, Veterans Memorial Early College High School, Brownsville, Texas
- Best Debater, House of Representatives: Olivia Goodley, Cypress Creek High School, Houston, Texas
- Best Author of a Resolution, House of Representatives: Ryleigh Resendiz, Louis D. Brandeis High School, San Antonio, Texas
- Most Distinguished Senator: Marisa Bonacquisti, Denver North High School, Denver, Colorado
- Most Persuasive Senator: Pedro Ochoa, Cathedral High School, El Paso, Texas
- Outstanding Legislator, Senate: Eli Pittman, Energy Institute High School, Houston, Texas
- Best Debater, Senate: William Webber, McAllen Memorial High School, McAllen, Texas
- Best Author of a Resolution, Senate: Robert Violante, Liberty High School, Frisco, Texas
- Most Distinguished Attorney: Juan Jose Vivanco, Veterans Memorial Early College High School, Brownsville, Texas
- Most Outstanding Member, Supreme Court: Monica Resendez, Pebble Hills High School, El Paso, Texas
- Best Orator: Kalista Hein, Alamo Heights High School, San Antonio, Texas
- Top Attorney Teams: Grace Ornelas and Anaregina Solis; Juan José Vivanco, Veterans Memorial Early College High School, Brownsville, Texas and Mónica Resendez, Pebble Hills High School, El Paso, Texas
- Most Promising Leaders: Audrey Berryman, Veterans Memorial Early College High School, Brownsville, Texas and Caleb Solorzano, Central Catholic High School, San Antonio, Texas