Latino Youth Forging the Future


Margil Sanchez Carmona

NHI participants walk across the Augustana College campus to attend a mock legislative session.

Katy Babcock, Copy Editor

Latino people make up 19% of the United States population. Comprising nearly one-fifth of the nation’s inhabitants, the prosperity of this ethnic group is essential to America’s future. 

The National Hispanic Institute (NHI) was established 43 years ago to transform young Latino students into community leaders. Connecting young people to their culture and building their leadership skills are critical pillars of the program. 

Today, more than 10,000 students have participated in NHI. One of these participants is Junior Margil Sanchez Carmona. Sanchez Carmona has been involved with NHI for two years, following in his mother’s and older siblings’ footsteps. 

There are four levels of the program: The Great Debate, Youth Legislative Session, Collegiate World Series and Collegiate Leadership Network. NHI mainly caters to high school students. However, there are internship opportunities available for those in college. 

Although national organizations have made strides in amplifying Latino voices, these efforts have not yet trickled down to the Quad Cities.

Moline, Illinois has the largest Latino population (17.2%) out of the Quad Cities. Such a sizeable group should have access to uplifting and educational programs like NHI but they don’t. 

Due to costs and GPA requirements, the young Latinos of the QC have been barred from reaching their potential.

Sanchez Carmona is determined to correct this injustice by forming the first QC NHI chapter. “I want to empower the local Latino community and help ensure the future of thriving young Latinos,” he said. Working with NHI volunteers and administrators, Sanchez Carmona hopes to overcome cost and GPA barriers to make the program more accessible. 

NHI is impactful because it balances individual and community growth by encouraging students to advocate for their passions. 

Another merit of the program is the comradery that blossoms from it. Often, participants interact with peers from across the country. “It’s a great place to have fun and meet people from all over the place,” Sanchez Carmona continued. Through his NHI experiences, he has built strong friendships.

One of those bonds was made with San Antonio High School senior Ren Leija. They have been involved in three of NHI’s programs and have been a dedicated volunteer. NHI has left an indelible impact on Leija’s life and they highly recommend others to join. “I’ve learned it’s okay to speak up and how to focus on the assets that our community has,” said Leija.  A true testament to the central mission of NHI, Leija plans to attend the University of Texas to major in Urban Studies and Health & Society. 

The organization is centered around the Latino community but also accepts non-Latino allies who wish to learn more about Latino culture. Raising awareness and appreciation of Latino achievements is another aim of NHI. Whether it’s art, activism, sports, politics, and so much more, the Latino population’s rich culture deserves to be recognized. Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) is an opportune time for allies to engage in local Latino cultural events. 

Still, each heritage month raises questions about the appreciation of different cultures, to begin with. Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate this beautiful culture but it’s important to celebrate this beautiful culture year-round. NHI is a cornerstone of this concept. 

NHI is a pivotal program in shaping America’s Latino youth, and consequently America’s future.