Empowering Latin@ Leadership: Interview with Patti Tototzintle

In our last blog of our Hispanic/Latin@ Heritage Month series celebrating inspiring Latin@ leaders, we’re proud to highlight the Latina who has helped guide our organization for over 20 years, Patricia (Patti) Tototzintle.

About Patti Tototzintle

Patti Tototzintle is the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Esperanza United. Patti identifies as a Latina with Mexican roots and has been in executive leadership at Esperanza United since 2002, where she oversees all organizational programming, administrative and financial operations, and key collaborations and partnerships. She is passionate about developing the strengths of Latin@s and is recognized as a national expert on leadership development.

What does being a Latin@ leader mean to you?

In my eyes, my mom, who identified as Mexican-American, was a Latin@ leader. I always saw her as a leader, even though she didn’t identify as one. Since women like her were prominent in my family, I always assumed I would be the same.

Reflecting on what the women in my family gave me, I had the opportunity to think about my role in the community. What’s my role on behalf of women? What’s my role to ensure Latin@s of any age and background can look at me and see that I am someone they can trust, rely on, and can look to when needed? Therefore, being a Latin@ leader means that I am someone worthy of moving forward with and on behalf of others.

Why is Latin@ leadership essential for ending gender-based violence in Latin@ communities?

Lupe Serrano, who was a friend, mentor, and previous leader of Esperanza United, shared the philosophy that the missing component for ending gender-based violence is community. And to advance the movement, we need to embrace Latin@ leadership and get our voices front and center. 

What do Latin@s need to address domestic violence in their communities? And what don’t they need? Many Latin@s would say, “I need resources; if I know how to take care of something, I will do it, but if I don’t have those resources, how will I?” Latin@s have the wisdom and strengths, therefore they need to be at the forefront of this work.

Can you share a time when you felt the need to advocate for yourself and your community, and it made you realize that you are a Latin@ leader?

Twenty years ago, I helped create a leadership program that partnered established leaders who had training—city council, the mayor, etc.—to emerging leaders from rural communities of color. 

On their graduation day, one of the established Latino leaders said, “As Latinos, it’s important for us to build bridges with others in the community. Some will only teach us how to build a bridge, but you, Patti, taught us how to cross over the bridge and get to the other side.” I remember having tears in my eyes because he equated our work with the opportunity to cross over that “bridge” and create community. That day reassured me that I have a gift in community leadership. I still think of it today.

Share about how you helped bring Esperanza United’s Latin@ Leadership Fellowship to life. 

Historically, Latin@s have been underrepresented in the fields of policy and research related to gender-based violence. Because of this, the thought of elevating Latin@ voices in this field through a leadership effort was a dream. It was where I knew we needed to support Latin@s to show them how to build community, provide them with the resources to do this work, meet mentors, and more. All of this came naturally once we had the funding to establish the fellowship.

Today, we have had two cohorts of the Latin@ Leadership Fellowship, and we will go on another year. I know there will be a whole community of Latin@s that have experienced Esperanza United because of our leadership program, and that makes my heart sing. 

Finally, what advice do you have for emerging Latin@ leaders?

Latin@s, remember that we’re role models, and we all have the ability to lead, formal training or not. People will sometimes want more of you than you think you can give, but I say, why limit yourself? Don’t be afraid to be bold! Don’t be afraid to search for what you want, because we have it within us. 

But also, I believe it’s worth saying “no” when you need to because you can’t wear yourself out. We have only so many years to go when we’re young, so taking care of yourself and surrounding yourself with the people that you will learn from and lift you up is really important because you deserve that. We deserve it.