A leadership program designed to immerse young people in the political process and give them confidence to speak out on important issues in Latino communities opens at the University of Rochester this week.
It's the first time that the National Hispanic Institute's Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session and its delegation of 150 high school students, mostly from Texas and California, will visit the Northeast.
The University of Rochester was selected, in part, because senior Catalina Berry, 20, from Woodlands, Texas, graduated from the leadership program and values its goals. "They don't let your age limit you. They saw me as someone who wanted to make a difference and wanted to help out in the Latino community," she said.
She had represented the University at college fairs in her home state and raised the possibility of hosting the program to Jonathan Burdick, College dean for admissions and financial aid at Rochester. College campuses are ideal locations since participants have strong academic records and plan to attend college. Berry will be this summer's on-site director from July 9 to 16.
After her experience at the Lorenzo de Zavala program a few years ago—it's named for the man who played a significant role in the Texas War of Independence and served as the new republic's first vice president—Berry started a Spanish club at her high school. Latinos were small in number there, but the club grew and she stayed with it until graduation.
The youth legislative program positions students to envision themselves as part of the future leadership in Latino communities. They create their own mock government for a week: get elected, pass legislation, and learn to negotiate and collaborate, among other skills. The costs are covered by the students' families and scholarships.
Berry was raised speaking Spanish and English and is now majoring in Linguistics and Spanish at the University of Rochester. For the last two summers, she has interned at the National Hispanic Institute. The institute was founded as a nonprofit organization in Maxwell, Texas, in 1979 by Ernesto Nieto and his wife, Gloria de Leon.