As a kid, Jose Santibanez showed up at school every day not to learn, but to play soccer. He was undocumented and struggled to motivate himself, despite his intellect.
Fleeing an abusive husband, Santibanez’s mom brought her four kids from Mexico to South Central Los Angeles to live with family in 1989. While his mom worked 14-hour days in a factory, Santibanez’s high-school-aged sister stayed home to take care of him and his brother. When his family moved to Durham, his love for soccer took hold and trumped his dedication to his studies at Durham’s School of the Arts. As Santibanez puts it, he was a good kid, but aimless. He knew his options were few as an undocumented student, and didn’t see any point in trying hard for good grades.
After high school, he spent years coaching club soccer and working odd jobs to make ends meet. Despite marrying his high school sweetheart, an American citizen, he didn’t pursue a path to documentation, it took the 2012 Obama-era DACA program to convince Santibanez to try for papers. When that documentation came through, it brought with it the opportunity to coach high-school teams and to hold director positions within the soccer clubs where he had dedicated so much time.
The newfound sense of security and permanence came with a drive to improve the lives of the kids he coached. Raising a bi-racial son with his African American wife prompted him to support other black and brown kids growing up in the Triangle. In 2017, Santibanez started the nonprofit Bull City Futsal, a program that holds 6-8 week workshops at Durham-area schools and teaches futsal, a smaller-scale version of soccer, while connecting kids and their families with community resources they might need. Their partners include El Futuro mental health clinic, Polanco Law, and community youth group Blackspace. He was also recently named the sports director for the Durham YMCA. Host Anita Rao talks with Santibanez about building a better future for his son and becoming the role model he needed as a kid.
On Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) conducting a raid at a factory in L.A. where his mother worked:
And they started to separate the people that had documentation and did not. [...] And as they were separating the groups of people, she was waiting for her turn to get asked. And there's a group that were safe on one side of the room, the group that had papers … They were like: Hey, come over here … I think they found a way to make her feel the sense of urgency to come over. And so when the immigration officers weren't looking, she ran over to the other side ... And that's the way she was able to stay safe.
On the effect of DACA on his professional life:
I remember when DACA came around, I kind of felt a sense of motivation where I felt this is my opportunity to do more. I think I maybe made some excuses before [based on my status], so when that came around and I knew [I] would qualify for it, [I] kinda was like: Oh, this is my time to do something. And so it definitely changed the sense of my drive.
On why he didn’t apply for residency after he got married:
One of the things was like, hey, we can't really afford it. But I think now, I've never wanted to be American. I love living here, I think I'm extremely Americanized, obviously. All I know is the U.S. But it's hard. I think for me personally, it's hard to want to be American or to have that goal [or] desire. Growing up with a lot of racism and kind of seeing that, for me personally it's kind of hard to [accept]. Why would I want to be American when there's a [program for me] to work here and make a living here and be with my family? I'm very content with that. Obviously, there [are] a lot of benefits to being a citizen, which is something that I have to navigate through with my family and decide eventually.
The driving force behind starting Bull City Futsal:
The way I coined it is a community outreach through athletics. [Being] in club soccer for a long time [and] coaching high school I kind of felt that, specifically youth programs or sports such as a club soccer, it's not really about the kids, it was really about the money. Like how many teams, how many families can we get to pay X amount of money? ... I think when you work with kids, you have a responsibility to be invested in their holistic development. And that's how the whole idea started. And so I wasn't really happy at the club I was in. And then again, with the political climate, I felt that I needed to do more. I see having my son as a huge motivator and [it] changed my life completely. I try to be a good role model with my kids I coach, but it was one of those things where [only] while I was in front of them I was a good role model. I think I was your normal, early 20s kid, having fun, but not really doing anything more outside of that. And so having my son definitely motivated me to be a better example, and hopefully [I’ll] make him proud.