NHI’s history began years before the organization received its original charter from the State of Texas. It actually started in 1929 when newly married Santos and Esther Nieto decided to make involvement in the lives of people a part of their calling. What was learned from these two individuals eventually became the basis that led to the establishment of the National Hispanic Institute in 1979 in Austin, Texas. As the youngest of three sons, Ernesto Nieto realized that the work conducted by his parents extended far beyond the expectations of being park center directors. DeZavala Park in Magnolia, a tough barrio in southeast Harris County, became the means through which the lives of many Latino youth were changed.
Ernesto spent several years after the retirement of his parents interviewing them about their work and community approaches. He realized soon enough that his parents not only had a game plan in mind, but also operated out a well thought-out social impact theory. In fact, they were early forerunners of community social entrepreneurism that the latest articles on community development tend to talk about. It was this early knowledge of engaging people in determining their own outcomes and life trajectories that made the work of the National Hispanic Institute unique. The strategies and methods learned from two parents became the signature approaches of NHI’s work today as it approaches nearly 32 years of community involvement.
Only 90 students attended the first NHI programs in 1981. An additional 162 youth attended the first Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session in 1982. Today, 32 years later, NHI works both nationally and internationally. Over 4,000 students annually attend a variety of programs that are both age-appropriate for different grade levels and also engage students in advancing their skill levels and competencies in a number of areas in personal development. What is NHI’s ultimate goal? One only needs to ask Ernesto that question to get a response that has remained consistent for years: “Be the chief supply source of entrepreneurially-thinking leaders for a Latino community that can no longer rely on old ideas and paradigms for answers to the challenges of modern-day life; instead concentrate on equipping young people with the imagination, faith, and will to think creatively and work in collaboration with each other in efforts that change people from within.”