The city under my name on the Duke Volleyball roster is my “hometown” of Louisville, Kentucky. But that “hometown” is not where my heart is. Although I spent my high school career in Louisville, I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
I grew up surrounded by a loving, hardworking, passionate culture. I like to think that I carry those characteristics with me when I step on the court. All of those characteristics would not be embedded in me without the help of my family. Both my mom and dad were born in Argentina. My grandfather on my dad’s side played professional soccer all through South America, but eventually moved to New Jersey when my dad was three, in order to give my dad and uncle a better quality of life. My dad and uncle went on to play soccer in college and professionally. My grandmother on my mom’s side played basketball in Argentina and was on the national team. They moved to New Jersey later on, but not until my mom was eighteen. So, one could say that sports are in my blood.
"I couldn't think of a better place to grow up."
My parents knew each other when they were younger in Argentina, but it wasn't until my mom moved to New Jersey that they got together. Once they were together, my grandparents decided to move to Puerto Rico to retire. But after a couple of months, they missed the working life and opened up a pizzeria. They asked my mom and dad to move down to help out. That’s when my brother and I come in.
I couldn’t think of a better place to grow up. It was all amazing to me - the people, food, beaches, everything. The island is known for its love of volleyball. I tried a lot of sports growing up, but I was most drawn to volleyball.
I lived for it.
When one of my coaches was presented with a coaching opportunity in the states, he asked my parents if they would be interested in moving so I could pursue my dream of playing college volleyball. It was an extremely tough decision. Do we leave the life we built and worked so hard for? Do we leave all of the people that have become family? Do we sell the pizzeria and the Argentine restaurant? In the end, we decided that moving to the states would give my brother and me the best chance of playing in college.
"To say it was a culture shock is an understatement."
We moved to Evansville, Indiana, where my coach got the head coaching job at the University of Evansville. To say that it was a culture shock is an understatement. We went from having a beach downstairs to living across the street from cornfields. I experienced snow for the first time. We had gone to a private school our whole lives, and now we were in a public school having to decide what to wear every day and riding a bus to and from school. My classmates didn’t speak Spanish or listen to Spanish music. They had gone to school together for years, and friend groups were already set.
During this time, my dad had to stay back in Puerto Rico to sell the restaurants and the house. It was really hard navigating this new world, especially without our dad who speaks fluent English and has lived in the States his whole life. I didn’t like seeing my mom sad without our dad. She could speak English, but not very well. My brother and I had to be there for her. We spent a lot of time together at home, doing things as a family so she wouldn’t feel alone while my dad was home. That being said, the people in Evansville were very welcoming and did their best to make the transition smooth. I made a lot of great relationships with my classmates, even though I was only there for a year.
We learned that there was a better volleyball club in Louisville, Kentucky. So, after a year of driving 4 hours a day for volleyball practice in Evansville, we moved to Louisville. I started high school this year and it was an easier transition than the move before. We were more familiar with the people, especially their southern accents, and how to navigate the states. It was looking like my dad was going to be able to move with us.
But that was before Hurricane Maria.
Puerto Rico was hit hard - physically and economically - when the hurricane came. The power was out for days then weeks. Everything on the island was paused. I watched helplessly from the states as my dad, best friends, and the rest of the country went through this. But, as I said before, Puerto Rico is full of loving, hardworking, and passionate people. They were able to come together and get the country up and running again.
"Every time I get ready for a practice, life, or game, I remind myself who and what I am doing it for."
Since I moved away, there has not been a day I haven’t thought of my friends back in Puerto Rico. Although I no longer have a blood-related family back home, I still see my best friends like family. I try to go back to the island as much as possible. My best friend, Eugenia, and her family have always treated me like one of their own and continue to do so. Her family and so many others have been the people that have supported me every step of the way. They are my family.
Even though I left in the eighth grade, when I go back and visit, it feels like no time has gone by. I made it a point to be in constant communication with my friends once I left because those are relationships that I want to keep for life. The people in Puerto Rico worked so hard for me - the least I could do is work hard for them. Every time I get ready for a practice, lift, or game, I remind myself who and what I am doing it for. Not only do I do it for my family and friends but I do it for those who may not get the same opportunity as me. If they can get back up from a recession, hurricane, corrupt government, and an earthquake, then I can go give my everything on the court.
"Wherever life takes me next, I will never forget where I came from."
My family has been through so much to get me where I am today. Never did I think that I would be at the school of my dreams because of volleyball. I am extremely thankful to those people in the states that helped me get to where I am today. But I have no words to describe the gratitude and pride I have for my people in Puerto Rico. They kept me going even when I just wanted to give up and move back. They have been and will remain my family even though we aren’t blood-related. I will always strive to make them proud. Wherever life takes me next, I will never forget where I came from.
(Photo Credits: Reagan Lunn, Cami Nazor)