Participants and staff from the 2022 Midwest Great Debate pose in front of one of the buildings in Augustana college in Rock Island, IL.
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By Vania Madrigal Ibarra

Currently, I reside in a community of 27,000 people. A population that continues to grow due to migration brings more people daily. I believe that my Latino community in Marshalltown still lacks representation of Hispanic leaders in our community. However, there are indeed adults of Latino origin who are known here in Marshalltown and I am proud that this is the case since they are role models. But, what about young leaders in my community? I admit that leading a group of people requires great courage and determination, however, a leader is not forged overnight. I can guarantee that being a leader requires much preparation and education. “Change and progress only happen through dedicated youth who are willing to take ownership and control over their preparation as future leaders of the Latino community,” says Ernesto Nieto, co-founder of the National Hispanic Institute. Since my first program with NHI in the summer of 2021, this quote has stayed in my mind. I have been able to see and feel it in my life since I assumed my role as an official student of the National Hispanic Institute until now. From NHI I learned that a goal is more effective if a large group of people develops it. In 2021, only two students competed in one of the programs offered by NHI, GDx, or Great Debate X, a series of virtual events that took place during the summer of that same year due to the still existing COVID-19 pandemic. I was saddened to see that many of my peers did not complete the summer program due to the lack of interest and representation our school offered us to experience. Still, I tried my best in the ZOOM rooms to get a high place in the competition.

I interviewed a Marshalltown High School student and asked her if she noticed that our fellow Latinos are involved in our community. Vanessa Medel said, “In our community, well, now there are more people and more leaders in programs like Al Éxito. But before, there weren’t many people involved. Now I see that we are aware of more opportunities through programs like Al Éxito and I think that anyone who has been or is in these types of programs can become a great leader in the Latino community,” Vanessa said.

Programs such as Al Éxito are offered in several districts in Iowa. This program also has similar purposes as NHI, but even so, I believe that there should be more programs that promote the leadership of the Latino community in order to teach and transmit the legacy that these organizations have achieved in communities like Marshalltown and around Iowa.

Finally, I asked Vanessa a final question about her perspective on the role our community plays as one of the most diverse in Iowa. Vanessa commented, “I don’t think we’re the majority in Iowa yet, but we could, we can be a great example since I contributed to a study in which it was concluded that we are more involved in the community than ever. In the same way, I believe that we can represent Iowa in other states of the country”, said Vanessa. Just as several members of our Latino community in this country have achieved important positions in different sectors, I believe that there is potential in my community in Marshalltown. We can get the number of young Latino leaders to rise more than ever since there are programs like NHI and Ál Exito that are willing to support our generations.

The National Hispanic Institute (NHI) is an organization that seeks to facilitate leadership, community-based learning, and academic/social college readiness opportunities for the Latino community during its summer break programs.

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The National Hispanic Institute has managed to expand its influence throughout most of the United States and even parts of Central and South America.

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So far, NHI has succeeded in forging leaders from the Latino community by recruiting students from high schools in most of the country and other parts of Latin America. NHI alumni have taken on great roles in politics, visual art, journalism, activists, humanitarians, scientists, and more. Among these are Jaime Diez (congressional candidate), Merced Elizondo (filmmaker), Oscar Lai (activist), Amanda Acosta-Ruiz (scientist), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (congresswoman), Raul Garcia (politician and activist), George Rodriguez (lawyer), among others.

For me, NHI has been one of the programs that have marked my stay in the United States. I have discovered skills that I never thought I would develop. I have given a speech in front of an audience of more than 150 people and I have managed to persuade more than half. But has this been enough? Can I inspire my community in Marshalltown? I might not be ready yet and it’s fine.

My purpose for this year during Hispanic Heritage Month is to influence my colleagues to be able to raise their voices in situations that require them to advocate for the Latino community. I hope to represent the values that have been taught and transmitted from generation to generation. I hope that our community continues to be appreciated for thirty days and hopefully shortly, it can last even longer, since it is estimated that in a few years we Latinos managed to expand our percentage of the population in the United States. Finally, I invite any young Latino(a)(e) who is enrolled in an Iowa high school to get informed and enroll in any program led by Latinos to continue growing and little by little begin to prepare to take the next step in their preparation as future leaders of our community in the United States. ¡Si se puede! 

If you are interested in learning more about the National Hispanic Institute or Al Éxito, you can go to their websites and explore the information that both programs offer to the public. NHI:https://www.nationalhispanicinstitute.org/ and Al Éxito: https://www.alexitoiowa.org/

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