Latino high school leaders head to CSU for mock legislative session

Story by R. Armendáriz-Madrid 

On June 19, 150 high school sophomores and juniors will arrive on the Colorado State University campus to participate in the 27th Colorado Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session.

The Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session, or LDZ, is an intensive eight-day leadership program in which students participate in a mock legislative environment to learn how manage, navigate and create a large organization.

Participants will achieve these skills by running the government themselves after they have completed the process of creating and defining parties and campaigning for an elected office: governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, senator, attorney, one of nine Supreme Court Justices, or member of the House of Representatives.

Participants of the LDZ held in summer 2015
Participants of the LDZ held in summer 2015

In their elected positions, delegates are challenged to think deeply about current and future challenges of the Latino community and focus on the communities and their role in that future through proposals written and submitted by each participant.

Program participants represent the top academic tier of their schools and/or districts from six states: Illinois, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, Utah and Colorado, which will have the largest delegation in program history. All participants must have at least a 3.2 grade-point average and must be enrolled in a college-bound high school curriculum to participate in the LDZ. Students are identified through local recruiters, school counselors and community partners such as CSU’s Alliance Partnership, hosted through the Access Center; the Poudre School District; Colorado GEAR UP; CollegeTrack in Aurora; as well as other university partners like New Mexico State University, New Mexico Highlands University and University of New Mexico.

Personal journeys

During the LDZ, participants also embark on personal journeys that have a profound effect on their lives. Many of the students continue their journey with NHI by serving as recruiters and volunteers at the summer programs. David Ruybal of La Jara, who will be serving his second year as a junior counselor, said that he returns to the program because “it was a life-changing program to me. It inspired me to do better and make a larger impact in my local and Hispanic community. I want to be a great staff member that’ll help make an impact on someone’s life.”

For Armando Barraza of Commerce City, it was about finding a safe environment to share thoughts and push personal boundaries.

“I used to be a shy person,” he said. “After I attended LDZ, I was able to be open because the staff would constantly remind us to speak up because everyone has a voice, and our voice is even more important to be heard in the [Latino] community. When I spoke up, nobody judged me for what I had to say or made fun of me or the ideas I had; everyone was supportive of my opinion. I lost the shy part about me … I realized that even though your opinion may not always be agreed upon you still have the power to speak.”

It was in this environment that Alejandra Ruiz-Aguirre of Fort Collins found self-confidence.

“That self-confidence stayed in my life even after the program and changed the way I deal with various aspects of my life,” she said. “Also, it gave me a lot of hope … I used to feel like I was alone at this. I felt deeply inspired and empowered to do my best on what I believe.”

‘Experience of a lifetime’

They are three of the 21 volunteers that include high school juniors/seniors, college undergraduates, graduates and working professionals. The volunteers help make the LDZ an “experience of a lifetime” — a phrase that has been used repeatedly throughout the program’s 34-year history.

The Lorenzo De Zavala Youth Legislative Session was first held at the Texas Capitol over two days in 1982. By 1990, the program had expanded to the current eight-day program in three states. Today, the program is held at six sites in five states and in Panama. The program at Colorado State University has been co-sponsored by Colorado State University and the National Hispanic Institute since 1989 and is the longest partnership in program history.

Community members are welcome to observe the LDZ Youth Legislative Session in action during the following times:

  • Welcome Address & Opening Ceremony: 9-10 a.m., Wednesday, June 22, CSU Lory Student Center North Ballroom.
  • Closing Ceremony: 4:00-4:30 p.m., Friday, June 24, CSU Lory Student Center North Ballroom
  • Final Supreme Court Trial: 6:30-8 p.m., Friday, June 24, CSU Lory Student Center North Ballroom
  • Awards Ceremony: 6-8 p.m., Saturday, June 25, CSU Lory Student Center Theatre

For more information about the program, contact Connie Jaime-Lujan via email at or phone at (970) 491-4035.