When Maria Tototzintle was growing up, she gave a lot of thought to her career path. She saw herself working in the medical field one day. In college, she was working toward a biology major and excelling in all of her classes. But something changed along the way. She was also enjoying the art courses she was taking. She’d always been interested in visual arts and was especially passionate about sharing her view of the world through video. Maria realized she was more of an artist than a scientist. A supportive college advisor gave her the go-ahead to create a special major, and she embarked on an entirely new path to become a video producer.
Her college advisor was not Maria’s only supporter. Her mother, Patti, a longtime community advocate for Latino women and families, also happened to be the vice president of an economic development agency dedicated to supporting women and minorities when Maria was growing up. Patti not only encouraged Maria to pursue her dreams but also mentored her every step of the way.
After graduation, Maria started volunteering her time and talents to produce short videos for local nonprofits. As she was building her portfolio, she was introduced to a family friend at Minnesota’s public television station who was impressed with Maria’s work. She was offered a job as a production assistant. She’d be working on an educational program dedicated to empowering youth of color by encouraging them to use media to invoke discussion in the community.
Maria’s role at the TV station was the springboard for her next job as an access coordinator for a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping communities develop a common understanding through media. She enjoyed her job producing video segments, providing technical assistance and teaching classes, but she was also focused on building her own video production company. She began investing in equipment and started doing freelance work on the side. In 2006, she officially launched her video production company, Tequila Digital Media.
Maria had a personal interest in promoting the local economy of Saint Paul’s West Side—the vibrant and largely Hispanic neighborhood where she grew up. She made connections with nonprofits focused on economic and neighborhood development and began producing videos to highlight area businesses. Those projects were instrumental in moving Maria’s business plan forward. She had created a niche for herself and developed a passion for telling the stories of local entrepreneurs.
In late 2012, the nonprofit her mom once led enlisted Maria to create videos telling the stories of women business owners for its annual fundraising event. The videos debuted to an audience of more than 1,000 people and were instrumental in helping to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for the organization. For Maria, it was confirmation that she was doing the work she was always meant to do.
Author’s note: I first met Maria Tototzintle in 2012. For several years, we worked together producing videos for the women’s economic development agency her mom once led. She was one of the most creative and talented people I’ve had the privilege of working with. A calm force, she never ceased to amaze me. During one video shoot in particular, after she finished filming the owner of a trapeze center, Maria decided to take a swing on a flying trapeze. I was in awe. She had the courage to climb that tiny ladder several stories up to take that giant leap. In December 2018, when I got a message from her sister Mari that Maria had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I was in awe of my dear friend’s bravery all over again. Ten months after her diagnosis, Maria lost her battle to cancer. While nothing can fill the void in the hearts of her family and friends, her legacy lives on in all of the stories she told so beautifully over the years. She has influenced the lives of many in so many wonderful ways.
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story and Publish Her as platforms for doing so.