Youth Development in the South Valley

Quote: “A lot of the times politicians don’t sit down and think about the different impacts students have. They don’t realize that kids from different high schools are going to react different to policy changes.”

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I was born and raised in Mexico City. The reason I moved to New Mexico was that my father was coming here. We only got to see him Christmas and New Years. We started coming over here in 1991 for vacations, to spend a little bit of the summer time with him. Finally in 1994 he decided to go back. He was tired of life of being here for almost a year and only seeing two weeks out of the year. So he took the decision that we were going to start life here in the United States. That’s how we ended up here in New Mexico.

My name is Carlos Alberto Mandujano Garcia. Born and raised in Mexico City until I was 16 years old. I grew up with my grandma. She was raising 4 kids at the time, so it was pretty interesting plus my little brother and myself. My little brother was only 4 or 5 at the time. Growing up with her was like she was my mom and my mom being my older sister. Our family was around all the time. It was pretty neat, but it was a big change for me. The way you live in Mexico is totally different then here and coming straight to high school. I didn’t know any English at the time. Like nothing! It was a challenge. I went to Rio Grande High School. They had a bilingual program there that really helped me out to learn English. My 1st year I only took one class in English. I had a translator just for me only for one class. All my other 5 classes were in Spanish. My last class was in English and my translator would translate the full class for me. It was until my 2nd or 3rd year of high school that I started seeing more people from Mexico start coming in.

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Cultural Changes

Food was a big change for me. In Mexico you don’t need a car. You don’t need people to drive you around. You can just walk or take a city bus. Here, if you don’t have a car, you can’t move. It’s a big change. In Mexico City you can do whatever. For example, to play soccer, you can just open the door and play in the street. Here, it took me almost 2 years to get on a team and start playing the way I would play in Mexico City.

In terms of friends, the same, you would just open the door and go play with your friends. Here, not so much.

In Mexico City you are pretty much living on top of each other. For example, in one street you have like 5 friends already. And here, in one street you only have like 4 or 5 houses.

I live in the South Valley here in Albuquerque. It is so spread out here. It’s a bit like being in my roots here back in Mexico. Although I was living in the city in Mexico City, I had family who had ranches. So we went down there and spent time in the ranch. Being in the Valley is kind of like that atmosphere. It still has a Mexico background feel to it in the Valley.

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Mentoring Youth

I work in the flooring business and I help with the scheduling. And I am high school soccer coach at Rio Grande. I like it because I get to see how the kids improve their lives. Being down there in Valley you get to see kids who come from broken homes, single parent homes, where they work a lot, where the kids have to take care of their siblings. Now having been there for 12 years, we see kids who have graduated from high school or from college and have jobs being teachers, nurses, being in the army… that really motivates me to continue.

You keep the students focused and you give them something to look forward to after school. A lot of kids they don’t have anything to do after school, then they start getting into trouble. They start to change. The way we run our [soccer] program is kind of like a family. It’s not like students just show up and play; it’s more than that. You play for us, but it’s more like we want to know how you house is, how is your grades, even when the season is over we stay in contact with them through the whole year.

We just came out of the best season in school history! It was a big achievement for us.

I identify as Mexicano 100%. Siempre busco mis raíces, orgulloso de lo que soy. Siempre busco reflejar lo que he aprendido de mi país, de mi cultura. De la manera en la cual mis padres y mis abuelos me enseñaron lo que soy. No me considero Chicano. Sí Hispano pero cien por ciento Mexicano. La vida en México se puede decir que es una vida mas alegre, mas familiar. Pero para oportunidades es aquí. Tengo mejores oportunidades, y mejor vida económica. Pero siempre veo mis raíces a lo que soy para poder mejorarme cada día. Nunca se me olvida de donde vengo.

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Challenges For Youth

You can see the struggles with students in terms of identity. Technology has changed kids a lot now especially. It’s not like back in the days when you can be more open to what you do. Being on the Internet now is harder for kids to find their true identity until later in life. Now it is all about being on their phone or tablets. And it affects the way you are or the way you are going to be in what you really want. That’s why for me technology really changed the identity of the kids.

For me growing up it was a soccer ball every day. Being in the streets just playing. No adult supervision. I sneaked out of my house to go play [laughter]. People got mad when you hit their doors or windows [playing soccer], but everything was fine [laughter].

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Soccer As An Outlet

The last years that I was in Mexico City I was getting into a lot of trouble. Skipping school, just not showing up, just ditching a lot, hanging out with the wrong people. Soccer was my outlet! My mom told me that if I continued skipping school, she would take soccer away from me. That’s what kept me back on track to continue school.

The same with a lot of our students. They love the game and they want to be there. If you look at our kids right now, we have an average of 3.8 GPA out of 30 girls. They are really focused on their school right now. We force them to, but they really dedicate themselves to school.

We have one kid who is going to graduate this year who came to us a little bit late. She was a sophomore when she came to us. Great potential as a soccer player, bad attitude. She didn’t want to work hard, she didn’t want to do anything. She just wanted to play. We didn’t know her that well at the time, so we thought she was just a lazy person. I remember that Erika [Assistant Coach] had a conversation with her and that’s where we found out that she was going through a rough time. She had gone through a car accident. Her and her brother had been fighting for the front seat. She lost, she went to the back. They got into a car accident and the brother died. That changed her attitude. She was going through a very rough time. But after that conversation she got attached to us. Originally her grades were really bad, she had a 1.5 GPA. She has a 2.5 GPA now. She is going to graduate from high school and one of the most dedicated girls we have. It is great to see the impact on the girls we have.

Those type of stories impact me as a coach more than a game, it impacts me to see what we get in return. For example, coming out of the best season in this program, being in the top 10, and they didn’t get invited to the final soccer tournament. Most coaches would say that they are done. For us, it’s more than that. We have an alumni game every summer. And for example, to see one of our girls graduate and now she is a high school teacher, or other girls in other professions… that makes you feel like you are doing something right. Some of our girls after 10 years; we still get a text from them once in a while to share an experience about something we did while we were in high school. We are doing something right. We are impacting their lives a lot. It’s good motivation to keep going.

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I would recommend we give more attention to the kids. A lot of times we spend a lot of time fighting for things we are never going to do [politics]. Somethings that might just be a waste of time. Honestly we got to provide foundations for our kids. Right now, we don’t do a good job with that as a society. We see the impact with our girls, but if you see the rest of the schools, there is a lot of problems. There is not enough programs for kids to stay busy after school, to keep them motivated to go to school. We have to find a way to keep kids motivated and make things fun. A lot of times we make all of these rules that we tend to overdo; strict rules that we end up losing interest with the kids. A lot of the times politicians don’t sit down and think about these impacts. They don’t realize that kids from different high schools are going to react different to policy changes. They have totally different problems. But if you just focus on the problems that La Cueva and Sandia have, you are not going to take care of the problems here in the Valley. It’s about taking the time to understand what a kid really needs.

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New Mexico Reflections

Albuquerque is like a small town, but still a big city. In Mexico City it’s a big city and fast pace of life.  Here, it feels like I enjoy more of my life. I go to work and come home and still got time to do stuff. It feels like a small city compared to the bigger cities. Opportunities are important, and I am taking advantage of my opportunities. I have a good life right now. And here in New Mexico we still have a mix of Hispanic and American cultures, so I can still get both.

The red and green chile was different for me. And when they use to say burritos, I didn’t know what that was [laughter]. The burritos are more from the north like Chihuahua.

As I mentioned earlier, when I moved here I didn’t know any English and the fact that Rio Grande had that bilingual program really helped me out. It made me feel comfortable. That the school was taking a different approach to teach kids from a different country. That really made me feel at home. That really made me feel proud of being in the state of New Mexico. And then the mix of the cultures made me feel a little bit at home. Now I am proud to say that I am from New Mexico. 505, I’m all about it! It really impacted me to feel welcomed to first 2 or 3 years. If I would have gone to school somewhere where they would have pressured me to learn English, I don’t know if I would of lasted. Especially because of the culture change and feeling alone. The people here are very humble. Here where I work we have people who are from the United States, from Mexico, and people who are true New Mexicans. That’s what made me feel comfortable here.

A lot of times you get people coming in who are doing bad things, but not all the people are the same way. A lot of people just want a good opportunity and to come here and work. Building fences the way “he” wants to do it, it’s not going to stop nobody! Believe me! It’s just a waste of money and a waste of time. They got to find a better solution and a balance. For me, that’s just a quick patch that “he” promised during his campaign. I think there are better solutions than that because that is not going to stop nobody, people are still going to come across. “He” might create jobs for a while, but then after that what? What’s going to happen? People will be out of jobs.

We get together every Sunday as a family. Even though it’s only 20 of us here, we always get together. When it was in Mexico City, it was like 80 to 100 people all the way to like 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. And that’s a little one in Mexico City [laughter]! That’s just people coming in to say hi to us and grandma.

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2 big goals as coach: 1 of them is to win our district for the 1st time and the other is to actually go to state for the 1st time. That’s the big goals we have for the next 3 to 4 years. The only way to go to state is to for sure win your district. We have a freshmen generation that we just see so much potential. And we have more kids who are doing to be coming to us in 2 to 3 years that they have amazing talent. We are looking forward for that. They just got to maintain their grades!


I grew up with my great-grandfather alive and he got to be 105. What we liked about him was that every night he would sit with us for an hour for dinner and tell stories. He was part of the [Mexican] Revolution back when he was young. He would tell us stories about what he did or people that he would know. How everything was changing from that time to these days. 

My favorite story from him was that he was born in Guanajuato and then went to Mexico City to get a better life for everybody. He had 3 sons. He raised everybody in one house of one room. Probably a 10X10 if I remember correctly where it was their living room, dining room, and bedroom all in one. 

He would tell us stories of adventures of people who knew Zapata.

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Photo Credits: Bobby Gutierrez


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