Jaime Diez: From Saint Joseph Academy and NHI to a run for statewide office
When any member of the National Hispanic Institute’s alumni runs for public office – especially when it’s for Congress or a statewide office, fellow NHIers take notice. With that in mind, we put forth the following question to Jaime Diez, who participated in NHI while at Saint Joseph Academy in Brownsville, Texas, and is now making a run for the office of Texas Railroad Commissioner, which actually oversees natural resources like oil and gas and alternative fuels as well as critical infrastructure.
How were you involved in NHI, how did it help you get to where you are today and how did it influence your decision to run for office?
In 2011, I had my first meeting with NHI. It was a short orientation meeting at one of the classrooms at the University of Texas-Brownsville, which is now UTRGV. After the 30-minute orientation ended, the speaker and our soon-to-be head coach, Tino Villarreal, asked us to stand up and register for the event we would most like to do. Our choices were cross-examination, oratory, extemporaneous speaking, and mock trial. Each had a registration booth in a different corner of the classroom. I remember that a third of the students at this meeting stood up and walked to the front left corner of the room. I did the same. At that moment, I had no idea what the difference between the four events was, but I figured that whatever drew the largest number of people to register must be the good one. This is how I became a part of 2011’s Tip of Texas cross-examination team for the Texas Great Debate
In the following months, I learned a lot. Something I often look back on was my first cross-examination event. I remember my head getting light and my face feeling warm, and the nerves and outright anxiety and fear I felt standing up in front of my friends and coaches. I feared saying or asking something stupid. These emotions reached their pinnacle the moment before I opened my mouth to begin speaking. As I opened my mouth, I recall holding my notebook in one hand and using my other one to subtly tap my thigh to remind myself to breathe and speak slowly. As I began to speak, these feelings began to melt away. And as I continued to speak, in the place of these negative emotions grew a sense of calm. I eventually did ask something stupid, but even the actualization of that fear was never as bad as my imagination of it. I learned that I couldn’t control what had happened, and what was said was said. I learned that the only thing that I could control was my reaction going forward.
For those not familiar with cross-examination (or cross-x, as we call it), there is the affirmative and the opposition. The affirmative’s job is to challenge the status quo while the job of the opposition is to uphold it. Teams are told which role they will take just minutes before the presentations begin, so to be successful in cross-x you need to be able to thoroughly understand both sides of an argument.
Successfully accomplishing this is an exercise in empathy. Teams do not argue in favor of any position out of malicem but as an extension of having a different set of values. These topics are nuanced and successfully debating your point requires the recognition of this. This is something somewhat obvious to us, as in our early teens we are still figuring out where we stand on different things. It’s almost as if our default on a lot of this is “I don’t know.” This is a wonderful default to have, but as we mature, the hubris of adulthood then leads us to forget this.
Right now, I’m running for Texas Railroad Commissioner. Running for any political office requires wrestling with highly nuanced topics, and polarization guts this concept entirely. My NHI experience prepared me for this. This is the impact the Great Debate had on me. Thank you, NHI.