By Arthur D. Soto-Vásquez, President of NHI Collegiate Leadership Network

San Antonio, Texas — Each year the National Hispanic Institute invites the top Latino high school and undergraduates to San Antonio for a weekend of intense debate, competition and discussion concerning the future of the Latino community. Students come from Texas, the Northeast and increasingly from countries such as México, Panamá and the Dominican Republic. They are chosen based on their outstanding academic achievements and commitment to community involvement.

I had the honor of attending this year.

The mission of the National Hispanic Institute is to develop the leadership base of the 21st century Latino community. This is accomplished not by using the Civil Rights rhetoric of the past, or portraying our community as needy in order to influence giving by other groups. Instead, the NHI tries to create an asset-driven mindset, to help students use the resources at their disposal, instead of the rhetoric of deficits, to help them inspire social change.

The event kicked off with an official welcome to the San Antonio by Texas State Representative and congressional candidate Joaquín Castro. Following him, the president and founder of the NHI, Ernesto Nieto took the stage. In his remarks Mr. Nieto said “The time has come in the trajectory of our community where we must leave behind perceptions that no longer work and embrace those that will take us into tomorrow.”

The various age groups were then given unique challenges. High school sophomores debated the future of Latino international political order. Juniors graduating seniors were both challenged to creatively think of ways to add economic and intellectual value to the community. And college undergraduates were tasked to create viable social enterprises with both a clear vision and sound business models supporting them.

Even with a compact time period, the results were remarkable and exciting. Proposals utilized social media during the event, organizing hundreds of supporters within a day. Enterprises from the undergraduates are already in the start-up phase. Participants even bolstered their arguments by citing NewsTaco articles written by current Latino thinkers such as Dr. Joseph Villescas.

Winning undergraduate spokesperson Christopher Monsivais of McAllen summed up his experience saying, “What I took from this experience is that the potential and intellect of Latino youth is extremely versatile. Those who I teamed with elevated our idea and took it to the next level with their analysis, wealth of knowledge and creativity.”

Standing backstage during the awards segment where students’ achievements were celebrated, one could not help to believe the future could not be any brighter. A popular topic of discussion during the weekend focused on the “raw aggregate brainpower” of the young Latinos gathered in San Antonio. Among these 600 young people are the next great intellectuals, genre-creating artists, scientific and business innovators, and the social and political leaders who will shape the future of the Latino community, the United States, Latin America and the world.

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