The Tobar-Espino family has lived in three countries, but has always called Los Angeles home. Virgina Espino is from a Mexican-American family with roots in Chihuahua and Guanajuato; Héctor Tobar is the son of Guatemalan immigrants. They have been married since 1993, when they both quit their L.A. jobs to go to graduate school. Virginia, then an elementary school teacher in Boyle Heights, pursued a PhD in History, first at Claremont Graduate School, and then at Arizona State; and Héctor left the Los Angeles Times to earn an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Irvine. Virginia eventually earned her doctorate in History, and currently works as a researcher and interviewer for the Center for Oral History at UCLA. Héctor went on to write four books, including two novels. He also returned to the L.A. Times, where he was a national correspondent and foreign correspondent and book critic.
The family’s two oldest boys, Dante and Diego, were born in California but raised with Hector and Virginia in homes in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Mexico City, where Hector worked as a foreign correspondent. Their youngest daughter, Luna, age 10, was born on the night of a full moon in Buenos Aires, Argentina; she is a passionate reader and rock climber. Dante is now a student at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, while Diego is studying Latin, Drama and other subjects at Flintridge Preparatory School. The Tobar family has always tried to teach their children about the variety and richness of Latino history and culture. They have traveled extensively through Latin America; from rural Argentina, to Uruguay and Ouro Preto, Brazil, and Tlaxcala, Tula and Xochicalco in Mexico.
In their professional work, Virginia and Héctor have sought to preserve, defend, and advocate for the Latino community, and to celebrate the community’s fortitude. Virginia’s doctoral dissertation examined the sterilization without consent of Mexican women at Los Angeles County General Hospital in the 1970s, and the Chicana-led efforts to end forced sterilization. Her work is set to be released this year as a film, partially funding by public television, called “No Más Bebes Por Vida.”
As a researcher at UCLA, Virginia has worked to build the university’s oral history collection, conducting dozens of interviews with Latino and labor activists who are key figures in U.S. and Southern California history. Héctor’s work at the L.A. Times included countless articles covering elections and revolutions in Latin America, and immigration in California. His four books take on various aspects of Latino identity; from the Guatemalan refugees in his first novel “The Tattooed Soldier,” to the idiosyncratic artist and housekeeper anti-hero of “The Barbarian Nurseries,” his second novel, which won the California Book Award and was a New York Times notable book. His nonfiction “Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish-Speaking United States” describe the spread of Latino culture across the U.S. His most recent book on the Chilean miners, “Deep Down Dark,” was a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.