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These stories were created by ThreeSixty Journalism’s summer 2023 News reporter Academy high school students under MinnPost’s leadership and in partnership with the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

Education breaks cycle of gender-based violence 

“I don’t want my daughters going through all these expectations of this society, that they can not go outside at night just because of the way they’re dressed.”

Beverly Martinez, Nallely Castro Montoya and Felix Martinez-Paz
Beverly Martinez, Nallely Castro Montoya and Felix Martinez-Paz
ThreeSixty Journalism/Ben Hovland

It was only after becoming a father that Felix Martinez-Paz realized he had a lot to learn. 

Before his daughters were born, Martinez-Paz didn’t understand some of the hardships women face. That’s when he knew he had to do something about it and help others do the same. 

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“Everything started clicking in my head,” Martinez-Paz said. “I don’t want my daughters going through all these expectations of this society, that they can not go outside at night just because of the way they’re dressed, or if something happened to them just because of the way that she was dressed.”  

It was after this realization that Martinez-Paz joined Esperanza United, a national organization based in St. Paul, Minnesota. The nonprofit’s male audience asked for a male coordinator to lead conversations on breaking down traditional gender roles. Now Martinez-Paz works to rethink traditional gender roles as a men and boys coordinator for Esperanza United.   

Martinez-Paz’s role is one part of Esperanza United’s efforts to organize and teach Latinx communities to help end gender-based violence. The organization’s various programs and methods consist of not only starting important conversations, but also running community-strengthening activities and offering other resources, such as a women’s shelter.  

The organization hosts a virtual youth-led conference that allows youth of diverse backgrounds to talk about their community independently. The conference consists of three different sessions: gender-based violence, mental health and general community. Ultimately, though, the topics are decided by the youth participants.  

Esperanza United’s goal is to help communities by specifically accommodating that community’s needs. For instance, the nonprofit formerly had an annual mother-daughter retreat, but after hearing from the community, decided to change it to a child-parent/guardian retreat.   

Since Esperanza United’s founding in 1982, it has continued to grow, both locally and nationally. According to youth amig@ coordinator Nallely Castro Montoya, “the youth bring their parents or their parents bring their kids. So it builds that trust, with the community, and being present in the community has also really helped.”   

That trust, along with personal connection, is what has allowed Esperanza United to communicate with the community so well. About 95 percent of the staff is Latinx, which allows them to bond over similar experiences and concerns, but also helps overcome toxic, traditional gender roles that can be embedded in culture. When it comes to family especially, traditional roles can be more prevalent, as well as harmful. To combat this, Martinez-Paz and his team use what they call the “family approach.”   

“We work with the whole family and have these discussions,” explained Martinez-Paz. “They’re very difficult to have. They’re not easy, and sometimes considered taboo topics. So people try to avoid them just because they’re difficult.”   

According to the team, in many Latinx families and other communities of color, there are instances of “machismo,” which is the sense of being manly and self-reliant. The concept usually affects male figures in families that enforce toxic masculinity and encourage the harmful cycle of traditional roles placed onto boys and males in households. Having men and boys acknowledge this can be difficult, especially if they’ve been used to this mindset for a long time.   

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According to Martinez-Paz, traditional gender roles are “one of those topics that you need to start from scratch so everybody has an understanding, especially for me working with men, to be sure that they understand that the women in our lives suffer and are victims of gender-based violence.”