Profile: Patricia Tototzintle on what it means for her to be Latina in Minnesota

Over 50 years in Minnesota Tototzintle has seen her community grow and expand across the state.

A woman stands in front of a colorful mural.
Esperanza United CEO Patricia Tototzintle stands for a portrait in front a of mural inside of the organization's St. Paul offices on Thursday. The mural, which has a working title of "Latina," represents what Esperanza United means to women from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: Oct. 5, 3:57 p.m. | Posted: Oct. 4, 8 a.m.

Patricia Tototzintle was born in St. Paul. For the past 50 some years she has lived on and off in the city’s west side. Tototzintle has seen many changes in the Latino community over the years. She is president and CEO of Esperanza United, formerly Casa de Esperanza, the largest nonprofit in the country mobilizing Latinos to end gender-based violence.

I asked her five questions about her perspective and experiences.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in Minnesota’s Latino community?

Over the years, certainly the diversity and the growth of the Latino community. I grew up when the majority of Latinos lived on the west side of St. Paul. Over the years there are many other communities in the Twin Cities where there are more Latinos than there are in St. Paul. 

One of the other changes that I’ve seen, as I think about our work at Esperanza United and looking at the issue of domestic violence in the community, is that it’s not something that’s hidden, like it was in many communities. The issues are talked about. There are women, men and other families, community members who will seek out assistance.

What is the biggest issue facing Latinos in Minnesota?

Well, there is certainly immigration-related issues, documentation issues and lack of support. There’s always going to be employment, education as well as others.  And the way I like to look at it is what are also some of the biggest strengths that allow us to continue to work and overcome some of these issues, and really advocate on behalf of ourselves as a community. I think some of our biggest strengths in Latino communities is the fact that family and community is inherent to who we are.  

What does it mean to be Latino in Minnesota?

Having grown up here in the Twin Cities, and having grown up in a family that spoke Spanish and was bicultural — for me, I love being a Latina. I remember people asking me over the years, when I would travel across the country, they'd say, “there's Latinos in Minnesota?”

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There have been Latinos over many generations in Minnesota. And so I love the fact that across this state, you could go to any county in the state, and you will find Latinos who live there — many who have lived there for many years, over generations, and others who have come to either work in the community and have settled out, or who just come to that community to be with other family that might have already been there. And so I see this community, and Minnesota as a place where my kids could be raised, and could become successful in what they do.

Why is it important for you to share your experiences as a Latina/Latino?

I've had really great Latina mentors over the years.  Women [to] look up to, starting with my mom. I have received from them things that have benefited me over the years. I'm a real believer in Latina and community leadership. I have to live out what that means to be a community leader, and what that means to be a Latina. It is always about using everything you have, whether it's my skills, my experiences, my background, using everything I have to benefit others and to provide opportunities for others.

I have a 4[-year-old] actually, she's now 5, she just turned 5. And she's entering kindergarten this year, she just started. Her name is Mia, she's my granddaughter. And I think about the world that I want for her as she grows up. I think about that and think about what stories do I want my granddaughter to grow up with? And what stories do I hope she can tell as she gets older or when she’s a young adult and as she has family of her own or partners of her own. And so for me, that’s important enough for me to be able to continue to look at what my leadership looks like, and how I support other Latinas in their leadership.

What is one thing that you believe people misunderstand about Latinos?

First of all, that they don't believe there's Latinos in Minnesota. But yes, we are everywhere. As I’ve traveled around for our organization, people want to focus on what we think of as weaknesses, or what they think of as weaknesses in our community. They [say we] don’t all graduate from high school, that not as many have gone to college as other communities.  And what I say is our community is as brilliant, as vibrant, as intelligent and gift-giving as any community. So, I think some of those misunderstandings that come is that people just don’t understand and don't get to know who the Latino community or communities are.

Vicki Adame covers Minnesota’s Latino communities for MPR News via Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.

Correction (Oct. 5, 2021): An earlier version of this story misspelled Patricia Tototzintle’s name.