He Opened for Hillary Clinton, but Came Back Inspired by the Latino Youth

I admit, too often I focus on what I have not accomplished instead of the great things that are happening every day. Last week was a powerful lesson in being present and staying optimistic.

At the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) Annual Luncheon in Kansas City, I performed before Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who addressed the 1,500+ crowd. How many people can say they danced Beyoncé’s Single Ladies on the same stage Hillary Clinton delivered a speech?!

Credit: Joe Hernandez-Kolski

But more importantly than opening for potentially the first female president, I interviewed our future leaders, doctors, teachers, engineers — and each of their powerful stories made me outrageously optimistic.

mitú partnered with NCLR to interview Latinos about what matters most to them. Giving young Latino voices a platform and connection to others like them as part of mitu’s 2016 election coverage. In three days more than 100 of NCLR’s youth summit participants from all over the country, including Washington, Idaho, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Illinois, shared personal stories and answered the questions, “What does it mean to be Latino in the United States?”, “What can the next president change that would directly impact your life?”, and “How does technology keep you connected to your culture and family?”

WATCH: Join #weareAmerica, Let Your Voice Be Heard

We heard about the sacrifices their parents made. We learned about their goals, being a double-major in biology and chemistry or being an early-education provider.

Credit: Joe Hernandez-Kolski

Britany Mojica is only 16 and she joined a club called Mind Drive that met every Saturday morning and there she learned how to restore cars. Now she can build electric cars from scratch! As incredible as her skill is, she fears she’s limited.

“Being an immigrant student, it’s really difficult to get funding. It’s not impossible, but it’s really difficult for me to find somewhere where I can go. I’m hoping for some kind of a reform so I can continue my studies and make everything that I’ve worked so hard for, worth it,” she told us.

READ: Gabriela Ledezma’s Turn at the American Dream

Many students described they’re driven by the sacrifices their families made to give them a better life, like Yuniska Castaneda, a community college student in Florida who honors what her parents did for her by going to college.

“It’s a bit stressful because you feel the need to make them proud and not disappoint them. But it’s something that I’m really proud to say that I am [first generation] because I’m the first one in my family to go and do this for them – to bring honor to my family.”

Being Latino in the US means you will face challenges, but you will overcome them.

For Ulissa Montes, there is nothing Latinos cannot overcome. When we asked her what it means to be a Latina living in the U.S. and she replied with a powerful statement: “Being Latino in the US means you will face challenges, but you will overcome them.”

READ: Chicana Trumps the Trump with Open Letter

We met so many talented students. Every time one of them spoke on camera, my heart grew a few inches. We met Isabella Serna who spoke beautifully about giving back. Last year she served at a Detroit soup kitchen and this year she’s preparing to go to Haiti on a mission trip with her church.

“I think it’s important that people reach out to those less fortunate. I have been very blessed and fortunate to be in the situation that I’m in today, so I think it’s just as important for other people to know that there are people with different problems and struggles and it’s important to reach out to those people and give a helping hand.”

Credit: Joe Hernandez-Kolski

Another student who stood out was Dustin, a young white kid from the south who found the courage to move away from his family to escape their prejudices toward minorities. He attended with Americorps, who partnered with NCLR to give out awards for service and leadership. Dustin was nervous to speak with us because he wasn’t sure his opinion fit. Once he got in front of the camera, he spoke of the importance of equal rights for all. His voice was nervous, shaky and dominant all at the same time.

READ: Are These the Mexican “Criminals” Trump Warned You About?

In addition to meeting the Líderes as they participated in mitú’s #weareAmerica campaign, there were numerous other moments that enriched my life. Not only was I fortunate to witness NCLR’s commitment to civic empowerment and enrichment for all Latinos, especially young Latinos but aside from the incredible Lideres voices, I also discovered a new crush.

Credit: Joe Hernandez-Kolski

Her name is Linda G. Alvarado. Linda is the president and chief executive officer of Alvarado Construction. She gave the most dynamic speech, destroying all constructs of what it means to be a Latina. She talked about her frustration growing up, being told constantly she didn’t look Latina – something many of us can relate to. She reminisced about a time when she would speak at conferences and was the only woman in the room. She spoke of the countless times she was told she wasn’t fit for her job because she was a woman – but ignored every one of those comments and kept doing her thang. I was smitten. As soon as she finished speaking, I ran to find her and take a picture.

Credit: Joe Hernandez-Kolski

Now, you may ask, how did you get to perform before the Honorable Hillary Clinton? After mitú asked me and Joshua Silverstein, my partner from Pocho Joe & Silverstein, to interview Lideres participants, I let my NCLR friends know about the gig. Two days before the luncheon they were told the luncheon could run long because of Clinton’s schedule. They asked if I could entertain the crowd in between former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and her. Absolutely!

WATCH: Join #wearemitu as We Take Over NCLR

I got the crowd going sharing my experiences as a half Polish-half Mexican and how people always relate that to food… yes, really. I followed with the Single Ladies dance and a special NCLR/mitú remix of my poem “Cool.”

Credit: Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Then Secretary Clinton took the stage. She spoke so eloquently, so down to earth. She didn’t scream or push too hard. She let her audience lean in. When she spoke of being a grandmother – that drew me in the most. That personal connection was powerful.

READ: Rafael Augustin’s Journey From Undocumented to Alumnus of the Year

In the end, even after hearing such powerful speakers, the most important part of the conference was meeting you, the Líderes. Each story and powerful voice stayed with me, such as Bernardette Pinetta, a political science major at UCLA and a Bruin Advisor for the UCLA Early Academic Outreach Program.

Credit: Joe Hernandez-Kolski

“I’m not a DREAMer, but my family was undocumented which is why I’m very passionate about an immigration reform especially when it comes to education. My cousin in particular is so incredibly smart and is one of the reasons I take advantage of my education as much as possible. All her awards and merits meant nothing if she didn’t qualify for in-state tuition, and back when we were growing up, there was limited information on how undocumented students could go to college. We (as a nation and as a community) lose so much potential by limiting what this group of motivated, intelligent, and talented people can do. We are not looking for handouts. We work hard. But if you promise financial aid to DREAMers, we will hold you accountable.”

We are not looking for handouts. We work hard.

I came close to tears so many times listening to these stories.

Credit: Joe Hernandez-Kolski

Too often I think older people get crabby about the next generation. Young adults on their cell phones look so disconnected from the world that’s around them. But that’s not true. We’re more connected now than ever. We are more aware of social issues than past generations. We’re sharing and liking and supporting one another. We’re telling our stories to the world.

We are more aware of social issues than past generations.

Now we want to hear your story. It’s so easy these days to put your camera phone in front of you and speak your mind. Go for it. Tell us what issues resonate with you. Tell us what changes you want to see from the next president. Tell us what about education is important to you. Tell us about those moments in your life you believe need to be shared with the world.

You have a voice. We have the platform. Take advantage of it.

What issues are most important to you? mitú wants to know. Let us know in the comments below.

And ICYMI, check out Pocho Joe & Silverstein’s performance.

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