Huntington High School senior Evan Aguirre and junior Emily Mirón recently spent three days studying the intricacies of state government in Albany and the role and responsibilities of members of the Assembly and Senate in New York’s representative democracy.
The Huntington dynamic duo was among 200 students selected statewide to participate in the Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute, which is now in its 27th year. “The Institute affords Hispanic youth greater insight into the dynamic nature of state government, provides a forum for students to share ideas and concerns impacting the Hispanic community and offers participants the opportunity to develop leadership skills,” according to a program profile.
Evan Aguirre and Emily Miron in the State Assembly chamber .
The two teenagers have both worked closely with longtime Huntington Spanish teacher Mercedes Peña, who also serves as faculty advisor of the high school’s Galápagos chapter of the National Spanish Honor Society.
In advance of the three day session in Albany, Mr. Aguirre and Ms. Mirón
participated in training activities on Long Island. The experience also included a tour of the state capitol, lectures and networking opportunities.
“The overall purpose of the initiative is student empowerment,” according to a program overview. The Institute’s goals for the student delegates included:
• The development of leadership skills in Latino/Hispanic Youth;
• The creation of opportunities for Latino/Hispanic students to interact with positive role models such as Puerto Rican/Latino elected officials, educators, and business leaders;
• The creation of partnerships and conversations among educators, business leaders and students;
• The development of an in depth knowledge of the state legislative process.
The Huntington pair and their fellow participants were organized into regional delegations before identifying and researching local issues, studying the legislative process and parliamentary procedure and debating selected bills.
Assemblyman Phil Ramos brought the Huntington duo on a tour in Albany.
Prospective participants in the 2017 Institute were required to complete an application packet and submit a typed resume along with two letters of recommendation and a “meaningful and responsive essay” of at least 250 words that described their interest in “leadership, government policy making, the issues facing youth and the Hispanic community and the qualities/experiences that make them an outstanding candidate.”
Mr. Aguirre and Ms. Mirón played the role of Assemblywoman Michaelle C. Solages of Valley Stream in the mock Assembly. The Huntington duo’s positions were in sync on most of the bills that were debated making collaboration much easier.
“Being a part of the Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute was an honor and a great experience for me,” Mr. Aguirre said. “It helped me see how the government functions at the state level. Participating in the mock debate was an experience I will never forget. Being able to be sit down in the assemblywoman’s chair was something I will always remember. This trip also gave me great pride in my Hispanic heritage. Being Cuban and Colombian, I was able to represent my culture and heritage and was able to see the struggles that Hispanics go through. I was able to meet so many people from around the state and discussed issues that Hispanics face.”
The Huntington duo also attended a dinner and dance with the other participants following the debate. “It was tons of fun,” Mr. Aguirre said. “We also were able to see the Assembly in action. I was introduced by Francisco Moya, a family friend of mine and an assemblyman from Queens, which was really cool since I was formally recognized by the state Assembly. Overall, this was such an amazing and fun experience and I made a lot of new friends and memories.”
The time in Albany was well spent in Ms. Mirón’s opinion. “This was the best experience I’ve ever had,” she said. “We trained for this day for a long time, doing homework assignments and research about the bills. We debated bills concerning police brutality, racial profiling and illegal immigrants not being able to attend post-secondary education and keeping families together instead of putting a child into foster care if their parent is caught by immigration. Getting the experience of a mock Assembly was great.”
Upon their arrival in Albany on Saturday, participates in the program were able to choose from among three workshops. I chose songwriting and it was so much fun,” Ms. Mirón said. “We wrote a song about a challenge that we as Hispanic youth faced, which we decided would be discrimination and labels, stereotypes and assimilating. On Sunday night we had a very nice dinner, where they presented some seniors with scholarships. The food was great and so was the music. Evan and I danced all night long with our colleagues. I met so many kids from different parts of the state. There was 200 kids from different backgrounds and cultures, it was just an unforgettable experience.”
Assemblyman Phil Ramos of Brentwood brought Mr. Aguirre and Ms. Mirón on a tour of the State Capitol on Monday. They were given VIP access to the Governor’s Hall and were also able to interview a member of the Assembly and express the concerns of their community.
“This program really made me want to enhance and empower the Latino voice,” Ms. Mirón said. “It’s in our hands to have the Latino voices be heard. I’m really looking forward for next year’s Institute.”