Atlanta United partnered up with Soccer in the Streets (SITS) and the Latin American Association (LAA) to use soccer as a means to educate on topics that affect Latino youth acclimating to living in two cultures.
“The purpose of the event was to connect students to somebody who is an immigrant, who is like them,” Eliezer Velez, Managing Director Youth Programs at the LAA said. “That they are facing the same challenges that they are facing and to show them that it doesn’t matter that you are an immigrant student or a son of an immigrant, you can be successful in life. And how you can adjust being bi-lingual, being bi-cultural and learning and growing how to adapt to these new systems and new culture that is in the American culture and how you can coexist with both cultures and empower yourself to do the best you can be.”
The students were not aware that they would receive a visit from three Atlanta United players. Once the players arrived, the students gathered around wanting to take pictures and talk with them. From the sideline, the parents encouraged their children to play their best as they were playing alongside professionals.
The practice varied from the players trying to steal the ball, training drills, and even Torres playing goalkeeper and referee all at once.
After practice, the students circled around the players ready to engage in conversations regarding soccer and their experiences in a bi-cultural world. For their part, the players took turns sharing their experiences moving from their home countries to Atlanta and what they learned along the way.
Sosa kicked off the conversation by sharing his experiences moving from Argentina to Atlanta and what he is doing to adapt to living in a new country.
“This is my first year living in the United States,” Sosa said. “I come from Argentina, and we speak Spanish there, I’ve started learning English this year.”
Torres shared his experiences moving from Mexico to Atlanta and revealed how someone’s advice impacted the way he viewed new situations.
“Adapting was a little complicated for me,” Torres said. “It isn’t easy because I’m from Mexico and there is a different culture. But, something that helped me a lot was a word someone shared with me: adaptation. If you can adapt to a place by preparing, studying, getting close to people who want to help you grow and adapt to whatever place you go, it can become much easier.”
Lopez shared his experience moving at a young age and leaving his support group and family back home in Paraguay.
“When I turned 18, I had to move here by myself, away from my family and friends and I think that’s the hardest part for a soccer player when they leave their country for the first time.” Lopez said. “You have to be prepared mentally because one day in your career you’ll have to go through that situation and in that moment, it is important to know if you’ll keep going in your career or if you’ll leave it behind to return to your country.”
The evening ended with the students and parents gathering around the players to take pictures and thank them for sharing their experiences with them. The players said their goodbyes, and Sosa gave his shirt to one of the students from the program.
“The event went well,” Jorge Ortiz, Northside Program Manager at SITS said. “It connected their experience that they viewed as uniquely theirs and showed them someone older, a professional who is like them.”