Empowering Latina leaders

Latinas de Lyndale program provides leadership, community-organizing training

The Lyndale neighborhood is arguably the most diverse in Southwest. From 1980 to 2000, the proportion of neighborhood residents identifying as white declined from 83 to 49 percent, while the Latino population increased from 2 to 21 percent.

The 2010 census numbers will almost certainly reveal even more diversity. During the last decade, the neighborhood has experienced an influx of Somali residents in addition to the continued inflow of Latinos. Lyndale Neighborhood Association Executive Director Mark Hinds said he expects the numbers to show that Somalis and Latinos now constitute the majority of the neighborhood’s population.

Neighborhoods like Lyndale face challenges when it comes to organizing diverse populations and ensuring that their voices are heard. Somalis and Latinos are often under-represented on neighborhood boards, and language barriers make it more difficult for such groups to interface with the broader population.

Last fall, the Lyndale Neighborhood Association rolled out a novel program that 
aims to address some of these challenges. The program, 
called Latinas de Lyndale en Liderazgo, provides leadership and community organizing training for the neighborhood’s Latina population.

The idea is to help the women become leaders in their Spanish-speaking community, with an eye toward eventually becoming leaders in the broader Lyndale neighborhood.

The program, which is funded by a $20,000 grant from St. Paul-based Nexus Community Partners, is spearheaded by Lyndale Community Organizer Sarah Scott and Latinas de Lyndale program assistant Taylor Shevey, both of whom speak Spanish fluently.

“A lot of the design of this program came out of conversations with the women last summer, and what a lot of them were really hungry for was to learn the skills that can help them have a positive impact on the community. [Latinas de Lyndale] first helps them as individuals, then as a team, and our long-term hope is that these women will help us shape the neighborhood,” Hinds said.

Shevey’s Spanish is impeccable and she clearly has a great rapport with the women, greeting them with effusive hugs and parting with kisses on the cheek.

Latinas de Lyndale “is really about making women feel useful,” Shevey said.

“There is such a large [Hispanic] population here, and there has been a general need for this program. It’s about taking the skills they already have and converting them into skills that can benefit the whole community.”

Since last November, the Latinas taking part in the program have met every other Friday evening at Zion Lutheran Church off 33rd Street & Pillsbury. Occasionally, an expert from the Latino community is brought in to speak with the women. Topics covered thus far include managing household finances, dealing with government bureaucracy, taking effective notes and community organizing, among others.

Following those presentations, the women break into small groups. They work on their public speaking skills and discuss ideas for their upcoming community projects, where they will apply some of the skills they’ve developed the program to a project meant to improve the Lyndale neighborhood in some way.

Maria Montes is a stay-at-home mom with three young girls and a husband who works full-time. She moved with her family from Mexico City to the U.S. about a decade ago and in recent years has become an active volunteer, helping to organize Lyndale’s annual La Posada event.

Montes said that she’s concerned about crime in Lyndale and wants to help Spanish-speakers understand where they should turn when they witness criminal activity. She also wants to make sure that neighborhood kids have things to do after school in the hope of keeping them off the streets.

Rosa Salinas is one of the younger participants in Latinas de Lyndale. She has no kids, and unlike many of her stay-at-home colleagues in the program, she works as a cashier at a Mexican grocery in the neighborhood.

Salinas said that she has recently found herself becoming more outspoken in support of her values both at home and at work, a development she attributes to the confidence-building and public speaking exercises that take place at Latinas de Lyndale.

“First, more than anything, I would like to help all the women I know who are being abused, and educate them about all the resources that are available to them, and where they can go,” she said, adding that her dream is to become a professional community organizer herself.

Other women were motivated to join the program to tackle neighborhood problems.

Narcisa has two adult sons. She says she joined the program after hearing about it through friends.

One of her main concerns is the condition of Lyndale streets, many of which are pocked by axle-busting potholes.

“It would be nice if we could do something to fix them,” Narcisa said.

The women are just beginning to plan their community projects, which will begin in earnest this spring and mark the end of the first run of Latinas de Lyndale.

Hinds said he has already been in dialogue with Nexus about expanding the program next fall to incorporate Lyndale’s significant Somali community.

“It’s all about being invested in your neighborhood. Yes, it’s about being a Latino leader, but it’s also about being a Lyndale leader — los dos,” Scott said.

Reach Aaron Rupar at 
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