New social media campaign talks up Twin Cities Latinos

Milissa Silva-Diaz takes daily pride in the business her family nurtured on St. Paul’s West Side — from a hole-in-the-wall convenience store in 1979 to a 20,000-square-foot grocery, butcher shop and restaurant today.

So Silva-Diaz, the co-owner and CEO of El Burrito Mercado, was thrilled to lend her story to a new public awareness campaign to stir up pride in Minnesota’s Latino community.

The Minneapolis Foundation launched the social media push to mark Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs through the middle of October. The campaign also doubles as a coming-out event for a new coalition of Latino leaders in business, government and academia spearheaded by the foundation.

“This campaign is about celebrating the strengths and talents of Latinos and immigrants so that more Minnesotans are aware of the assets we have in our own backyard,” said Luz María Frías, vice president of community impact at the foundation.

The campaign also coincides with the final stretch of an election season in which the benefits and costs of immigration have been under an intense spotlight. But Silva-Diaz said that although that adds to the timing, making a political statement on the eve of the election was not the goal of the campaign.

It all started in February 2013, when Frías and Mike Fernandez, at the time a vice president at Cargill, reached out to fellow community leaders to enlist them for a new consortium called LatinoLEAD. The group would advocate on issues important to local Latinos, including education.

Until now, most of the work has involved building the organization behind the scenes. Now, organizers hope it will play a more public role; that begins with the social media campaign, with the hashtag #WeAreLatinoLEAD, featuring notable Minnesotans of Hispanic heritage.

Silva-Diaz said such a campaign would have resonated with her as she was growing up, the St. Paul-born daughter of Mexican immigrants. At the time, the metro’s Latino community was much smaller and less visible; her parents’ store was the only place to find Mexican groceries in town.

“It was something I always hungered for, to have more role models, more Latinos in positions of leadership,” she said.

Talking up Latinos

The store, which now employs 85 people, grew as the community expanded as well. But, said Silva-Diaz, local Latinos still rarely talk up their achievements. That’s where the campaign comes in.

Others featured are Peter Reyes, the first Hispanic judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and Luis Fitch, founder of UNO Branding, which has created campaigns for Fortune 500 companies including Pepsi, General Mills, Target and Nike. More than 5,000 Latino entrepreneurs in Minnesota generate annual sales of more than $1.6 billion, the #WeAreLatinoLEAD campaign proclaims.

The campaign reached 34,000 people on social media during its first week in late September. More than 3,700 people have engaged with it on Twitter, Facebook and other media.

Silva-Diaz said her two teenage daughters have tuned in as well.

El Burrito Mercado marks Hispanic Heritage Month every year, with postings on its social media accounts and with specials in the restaurant and store. But this fall, Silva-Diaz said, the campaign has made the event extra festive.

“This is a perfect time to show off our talents,” she said.