Latino high school students create change at Colorado State

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The LDZ group of 106 students who participated in the weeklong events. (Photo Credit: National Hispanic Institution)

Over 100 Latino high school students gathered on the Colorado State University campus last week to create proposals that passed into law. 

At the 2014 Lorenzo De Zavala (LDZ) Youth Legislative Session, students worked in teams for the weeklong government-like debate. Friday, several of their proposals were signed into law.

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“The first day I was scared if anyone confronted me, but by the end of this week, I am much more confident with having my voice heard,” said Bryan Adams-Colon, a high school junior from Pueblo. “I am willing to debate.”

Carlos Martinez, a junior counselor who participated two years prior, appreciates seeing the shy students come out of their shells and value their own voice.

“They (the students) really realize they have it in them to be heard and create bills that can be passed into laws,” Martinez said.

Whether they are shy or outgoing, the debates are a challenge for participants, according to Jonathan Goode, an admissions assistant director who coordinates the LDZ at CSU.

“The conference allows the opportunity for shy students to speak up and challenges outspoken students to find a focus,” Goode said. “There is a great deal of respect in listening.”

The LDZ conference is set up to mimic a governmental session. Student groups pass bills through the house, the senate and eventually the cabinet. At the beginning of the week, students assume their positions, and by the end, the approved bills are signed into law.

Each bill undergoes a lengthy process, consisting of debates and presentations. Students learn how to best present their bill, with the support of a cosigner. 

Goode, an LDZ alumnus, said that the laws signed during the week are only a starting point, then students are challenged to engage with their communities and put laws into action.

“We’ve seen a lot of bills, but my favorite that I have seen was by Zoey Hamilton who wants every Latino …. to be paired with a native  when they come into the school district,” said Maria Alonso, cabinet member and junior out of Texas.  

Immigrants who come to the United States often lack the confidence and language skills to build friendships immediately. According to Alonso, pairing them with local students gives them immediate friends and language skills.

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Zoey Hamilton, a rising senior at Poudre High School, had her bill “Rising Above to Create an Educated Future” signed into law July 11.

“The frustration of it has been very motivating,” Hamilton said. “A lot of what we have been doing you do not wrap your head around it right away, so it makes it more of an accomplishment once you get it.”

Hamilton said she looks forward to continuing her collegiate education at CSU and putting laws into place, even at her own school (PHS). Only one teacher signs off on it to make it official. 

Other bills involved create more funding for desalination of water, anti-obesity after school programs for kids and community business support. Governor Cody Hoffman, a student out of the Rio Grande area of Texas, signed them into place Friday afternoon.

Hoffman proposed a bill for cities to host cultural walks. According to Hoffman, the Rio Grande area is comprised of many different subcultures of Latinos accounting for many of the city’s cultural trademarks. 

“It would introduce all cultures while also unifying Latinos as a whole,” Hoffman said. 

According to Julianna Ortiz, a high school junior from Tuscon, Arizona, the conference enabled her to return to her community as a leader.

“This whole process taught me not to give up,” Alonso said. “I want to go back to my community and make a difference … I want people to say, ‘She’s different, she’s Latino.’”

Collegian Senior Reporter Josephine Bush can be reached at news@collegian.com.