SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. (KCAU) – For many people in the Hispanic community, soccer is more than just a game.
In the US, it’s called soccer. But around the world it’s known as Football. Many Hispanics, like Erick Galvan, are introduced to the game early in life.
“I started playing soccer, wanna say, at about the age of 5. My dad introduced me. It was a lot of just seeing him play that got me into it,” said Erick Galvan, a soccer head coach in South Sioux City.
“I actually lived in Mexico a little bit growing up. I moved here about, in the first grade. And I remember my farthest back memories in soccer were playing in kindergarten I would play in recess and what not, you know. All of the kids would play and I just kind of wanted to fit in,” said Juvenal Ramirez, who plays recreational soccer in South Sioux City.
The sport finds a way to remain an integral part of life, even after childhood. For Galvan he transitioned from playing soccer in high school and college to now being the head coach for South Sioux City High School, the same team he used to play for.
“Soccer right now, I would call it a lifestyle, because a lot of these kids they love it, they want to come play. Whether we want to come do sprints, but get better at the sport. I think it becomes a lifestyle and that’s what they want to do, they want to be here,” Galvan said.
Juvenal Ramirez credits soccer with helping him adjust to life in a new country and more.
“Growing up here as a hispanic, gangs were a big thing growing up in the early 2000’s. So it’s just a way for us to keep out of trouble too,” said Ramirez.
Ramirez mentioned the game and his teammates playing a crucial role in fine tuning his English.
“I’m a firm believer that people will learn better when they’re put in situations where you kind of have to learn the language.So it was a way for me to kind of force myself to communicate with them as well. Because I was taking this ESL classes where I got all of these kids with me, but all they speak is Spanish too. So I’m not really obligated to put myself into practice and use my English skills,” said Ramirez.
As Ramirez continued to establish himself in the United States, he recalls meeting immigrants at soccer fields and helping them in their journey for a better life.
“Their story goes kind of something like hey I just got here from Mexico, Guatemala or just any Hispanic country. What’s there to do, you know? We become friends, we kind of help them get in the groove of things. So now coming from a different country, it takes adapting, you know. Maybe they’re looking for a job, well hey I know this place is hiring, it’s a great way to work. Maybe they’re looking for some place to rent. It just brings people together,” Ramirez said.
The progress made to make the sport readily accessible in Siouxland is worth noting.
“Growing up man, there wasn’t that many opportunities for us, like these soccer fields are nice but they’re relatively new. They haven’t always been around. Now we have like I believe one soccer club for like all the tri state area so I think that was huge too and just getting so much more people involved,” said Ramirez.
“I think for us, right now for the 2009 boys, when we go out to games the parents are always there. It’s a joy having, looking at the sidelines and seeing all the parents come out and support them,” said Head Coach Galvan.
For many Hispanics, weekends are devoted to soccer. And whether its a standard Sunday league game, or a crucial playoff fixture, the sport finds a way to band people together.
“There’s always taco trucks, they always got the ice cream, the paletero, which is the ice cream man with the little cart and whatnot. It’s great, you got people bumping music. Most of these guys out of the starting eleven, a good 5 of them actually played on my soccer team growing up so I mean it’s just great, you know, you make lifelong friends too,” Ramirez said.
And, Ramirez says soccer serves as a bridge for Hispanics, like himself, to stay connected to home.
“I’m Mexican, that’s where I came from and I’m proud of it, you know what I mean. This is something that I did in my home land and it builds a sense of pride almost that you want to do good,” said Ramirez
Galvan and Ramirez’s stories are a testament to the impact soccer can have on the Hispanic community and the lives of people trying to make a name for themselves. One kick of the ball at a time.