News | October 9, 2023
Ernesto Nieto established the National Hispanic Institute in 1979 with an ambitious goal: to steer the Civil Rights Movement in a new direction. In 1981, he was joined by his wife Gloria de Leon who helped co-found the organization’s youth development initiatives.
“We knew that the Hispanic community has so much to offer to this country, but it needed to be its own investor,” Nieto told Sands Team Members as part of the In Focus DEI Conversation Series, which provides insights into diversity, equity and inclusion issues from diverse community leaders.
“To become that, we needed to move from a mindset that focuses on being a minority community to a contributing one,” he continued. “We needed to adopt a new vision, and show our community that our culture, characteristics and history are all assets for playing an active role in American society.”
Held in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month 2023, the October 3 In Focus session featured Nieto in conversation about what drove him to establish NHI, the intrinsic assets Hispanic communities offer and opportunities the United States has with respect to addressing diversity. Sands has worked with NHI since 2021 and was integral in helping the international nonprofit organization bring its transformative youth leadership programming to Las Vegas high school students with funding from Sands Cares.
Nieto’s vision for NHI, particularly its focus on high-achieving youth, originally met with some resistance.
“In the 1960s and 70s, everything that focused on Hispanic youth was about deficits and how to solve problems; there was little to no attention focused on what we would consider to be good kids,” he said.
“But I’m a former teacher, and I knew we had to better prepare our youth for taking an active role in community development and advocacy. We wanted to help develop potential talent and switch their socialization from being deficit-based to focusing on their aspirations and strengths, and to make them feel wanted and appreciated.”
This foundational premise defines NHI’s curriculum. Through a series of leadership development programs beginning in the 8th grade and continuing through students’ rising senior summers, the organization aims to cultivate future civic and business leaders by progressively developing skills in communication, community advocacy and policy-making each year. The series culminates during the summer before students’ senior years with additional preparation for success in higher education and beyond.
Self-advocacy and asset-based thinking are woven into each of NHI’s yearly focus areas.
“It’s very easy to just dwell on problems, and it can be hard to see yourself as valuable,” Nieto said. “Our aim in all of our curriculum is to turn that around. We believe in self-development. We show them they have a place and a role to play in American society. We urge them to think about the assets and value of our community and how they can use them: we’re bilingual, we’re family-oriented, we’re hard workers, we’re good employees, we believe in our elders, and we’re adaptable because we’ve had to be.”
In addition to detailing NHI’s purpose and approach, Nieto discussed opportunities with respect to diversity and multi-cultural integration as a whole.
“This country is going through a lot of changes, and we need to define what our future will be. We may disagree on how to do that, but if we don’t get to a place of better understanding of each other and see the value of a diverse society, we will revert back to our past and could see segregation return.”
He believes transitioning how Americans address diversity is at a pivotal point because of broader socio-economic developments, including the growing multi-ethnic makeup of the United States and the transition to a more entrepreneurial society. Both trends are at the core of NHI’s youth development philosophy.
“The future of our nation is going to be more entrepreneurial than ever before, and we have to prepare for that era,” Nieto said. “We need to give our youth the skills they’ll need to be successful in college and beyond – how to make connections and communicate, how to advocate for a cause and motivate others. Those skills are going to be critically important as we look ahead.”
He also talked about how NHI instills a confidence in youth around their heritage, by fostering an asset-based view of the Hispanic community’s contributions to a changing American landscape.
“We’re [the Hispanic community] ready to integrate into an America that’s still being defined,” he said. “We bring a readiness for a more multicultural society because we’ve already lived in different cultures and influences. Today, we have about 2,000 students who join our programs each year from 25 U.S. states and seven countries. We believe they are going to be part of the process to continue to evolve America as an integrated, diverse nation.”
Sands’ In Focus DEI Conversation Series for Team Members is one of the company’s core DEI initiatives, which aim to build a collaborative and integrated environment in the workplace and at the company’s resorts by removing systemic barriers and creating opportunities for underrepresented groups.
For more information on the company’s DEI programs and accomplishments, read the 2022 ESG Report: https://www.sands.com/2022-environmental-social-and-governance-report/.