Young Voices is a series of interviews conducted by Occidental College students, assisted by the Keck Grant, for Professor Jan Lin's Urban Sociology course. Each interview highlights an individual who has made an impact in their communities.
Raul Macías, a successful businessman who came from Mexico 30 years ago, started the non-profit Anahuak Youth Soccer Association ten years ago in northeast Los Angeles to improve academics, health, and leadership through physical activity and places to play. Anahuak helped create the Rio de Los Angeles State Park at Taylor Yard, which opened on Earth Day 2007.
As Macías told KTLA news, Anahuak is not about making soccer players, but making good citizens. Macías started Anahuak after neighborhood children asked him to donate $30 for referees and expenses. He agreed if the youths would tell him the results of each game. Macías eventually took over coaching: "They kept losing, week after week. They needed somebody to push them to do things right, to show them how to be winners."
Can you describe Anahuak's reputation?
Anahuak's reputation is that it is a non-profit organization that uses the sport of soccer to benefit the community by helping create respectable youth.
What is the difference between Anahuak and other soccer organizations?
The difference is that we are more focused on creating citizens rather than athletes. This means that much of the instruction in Anahuak is to help our families and youth understand coalition building. We do this by influencing them to help out in the community. Also, through working with other organizations to create new opportunities for youth.
What inspired you to do this? I read about kids asking you for money to help supply referees -- but why did you take the initiative to create this organization?
The truth is that I was desperate. I witnessed a lot of crime and shootings in this area [Highland Park] because gangs had a lot of fame back in the day. You could not get from one neighborhood to the other without running into problems. It was completely segregated by territory. Everyone would talk about it being bad but no one would do anything. So I took the initiative and realized the best way to get kids off the streets was through soccer. After a couple of years I unconsciously realized that the formula for decreasing crime among youth was providing them with a safe location, where they could be kids. Having a safe location for kids to be able to play, that is ultimately the difference maker.
Who inspired you to do this type of work?
My inspiration comes from people that did this for me when I was young. A man named Santana taught me that I had to use my time to do something enjoyable while helping others. He organized a group of about twenty of us and would have us play soccer one day, and do school work the following day. He did this for a couple of years out of the goodness of his heart and you could see the impact he had on our lives. Not a single person from our group got into big problems, joined gangs, or was ever arrested growing up; the same cannot be said about the people that were not part of our group.
This man made a difference in my life because he cared selflessly for me, and I think when people do something for others unselfishly it makes a difference. That is what I am trying to do now; it is like a chain of gratitude.
How has Anahuak developed and grown over the past few years?
It has increased rapidly and in a short span of time. When I first started this we had twenty children, then we grew over the years to around five hundred. Today we average around twenty three hundred youth every year. It has a fast growth, which is good because it gives us an opportunity to impact more youth. But at the same time it can be very stressful because we never say no to any child regardless of whether they can pay to participate. We believe it is a right for youth to play, and an obligation for parents and grown ups to make that possible.
Do you believe social media is important for your organization?
It's very important! Social media allows for information to travel much faster than going door by door. I think this has been one of the biggest factors that has contributed to the rapid growth of Anahuak.
How do you guys influence younger generations?
We offer an organized way to learn rules, discipline and habit. We do this by having good coaches who care about their players. On the soccer field there are many circumstances that translate into life. For example, when things do not go your way on the field and emotions start flaring, you receive a teaching of how to control your anger via a yellow card. This creates discipline that creates composure for tough situations. It also teaches you to work as a team; not everything you do in life is going to be on your own. This is a fundamental base for how society works, and I think all team sports teach you good discipline, teamwork, and a habit of giving your best.
What types of problems do you typically run into when working with a younger generation?
Issues typically include the way some youth dress, especially when they are going through their rebellious stage. The way we handle that is we let them know they have to dress presentable to give the team a good image. Another value we are trying to restore is boys respecting their elders. A lot of youth have little or no respect for the elderly because no one has taught them. We try to teach them gradually, and not just how but why they should demonstrate respect.
What is your impression of the local scene over the past few years?
My impression is that the local scene has improved greatly over the last few years, and we along with other groups have made a difference. We can see this in the decreased juvenile criminal activity in Highland Park. We have more schools, because we as a community have asked for more schools. When the community wants something we get together and fight for what we deserve. Anahuak and other organizations have made a great difference in Northeast Los Angeles, one of the most progressive areas in the county of Los Angeles.
With what other organizations or people do you collaborate?
We collaborate with City Councilors like Eric Garcetti, Ed Reyes, Jose Huizar, and Tom LaBonge. We have close relations with Heal the Bay, Sierra Club, Tree People, Faller, and The City Project. Also with Robert Garcia, the governor of Anahuak. We are affiliated with Cal South (California State Soccer Association-South) and West Soccer Federation. We are part of the Mexican Federations in COFEN. We work with various consulates in Mexico and are an integral part of the Consulate of Highland Park. We have extensive programs with the Santa Monica Mountains and with the San Gabriel Mountains.
Do you believe you represent the local culture?
Definitely. This is a pro-athlete and pro-youth culture. In sports a youth feels the freedom to make individual decisions. A young man carrying the ball is responsible for continuing the game. The decisions to pass, keep the ball or kick the ball are his to make, and often their decisions are right ones to make. This helps build good character and great decision-making in the classroom, and later on in life and in their careers. We ultimately represent the culture of the young.