Tony Diaz is the founder of Nuestra Palabra, a Houston-based nonprofit that aims to promote Latino literature and literacy. Since its launch in 1988, Diaz and his team have worked to educate, cultivate, and promote talent within the Latino community. It’s part of a greater belief that American culture must inspire and cultivate all Latino voices, including those of undocumented immigrants, to keep the Hispanic population — and the country — moving forward.
Diaz has seen firsthand the power that education has to improve the lives of immigrants and their children. He was born in Chicago to former migrant workers who received amnesty under former President Ronald Reagan. Diaz was the first male in his family to finish high school and the first in his family to attend college, eventually receiving an MFA in creative writing. “Education levels the playing field,” Diaz says. “In one generation my family has gone from the fields to a place where I now represent my culture on the national stage.”
Give them an education, and we’ve got thinkers, we’ve got entrepreneurs.
In the state of Texas, the opportunity to encourage and help kids reach their full potential is seemingly endless, Diaz says. “There are 2.6 million Latino kids in Texas. If 10 percent drop out, that’s 260,000 kids. That’s bigger than some cities,” he says. “Can you imagine an entire town of kids who never finished high school or went to college? If a student doesn’t finish high school, they’re more likely to wind up in jail. And of course you’ve heard the statistics: It costs more to keep someone incarcerated than to put them in school. But on the flip side, give them an education, and we’ve got thinkers, we’ve got entrepreneurs.” In fact, in Diaz’s congressional district, in a tiny pocket in east-central Texas, there are already more than 8,300 immigrant entrepreneurs, according to New American Economy research.
Diaz would like to see immigration reform that accepts law-abiding, undocumented immigrants and helps them improve their position in life in the United States, which he believes will boost both their own and the nation’s wellbeing. “In a perfect world, DACA and DAPA” — policies that defer deportation and provide renewable work permits to some undocumented parents and children — “would be extended,” Diaz says. “They don’t break laws, they have jobs, they’re hardworking folks. The prosperity of this nation is built on the backs of hardworking immigrants. It’s time to give back.”