Jessica Mendoza, an Olympic gold medal winner with the U.S. softball team, says that young Hispanic women can dare to be different by going to college and dedicating their energies to sports.
“In the Latino community there are many cultural barriers and preestablished roles so that girls remain inside the home and do not devote time to sports,” Mendoza told Efe.
“Playing sports, in particular, causes Latinas to have more confidence in themselves, they are a road to education,” she said.
Born on Nov. 11, 1980, in Camarillo, California, Mendoza is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants.
Graduating in 2003 with an M.A. in education and social sciences from Stanford University, Mendoza was the school’s Athlete of the Year in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
Among the awards she has won are a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, two world cups (2006-2007), two world championships (2002 and 2006), two gold medals in the Pan-American Games in 2003 and 2007 and a silver medal in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, among others.
“A problem in the Hispanic community is that many girls and boys are overweight,” said Mendoza, who is a reporter and analyst for ESPN.
“So we have to provide the incentive in Latino homes ... to get out of the house to play sports,” she said.
Mendoza said that her love of sports started in childhood because her father coached baseball, but as a Latina she always noticed that she never saw Hispanic girls as models to follow in sports.
“I started playing baseball at 4, but I only played with males and at 8 I began playing softball with other girls, the model to follow was my dad, who is a bilingual coach and on the field would direct one person in English and, at the same time, he’d give tips to another in Spanish,” she recounted.
“My father played a lot in school and because of his talents in sports he was able to study in good schools and do well in all academic areas to be successful in life,” Mendoza said.
Married to a civil engineer and the mother of a 3-year-old boy, Mendoza also devotes herself to giving motivational talks to young people in U.S. schools and abroad.
“I like to focus myself on seeing how I can help in the Latino community with my words,” she said.
Mendoza said that she knows very well that in the Latino community there is a cycle in which girls begin to have children at an early age and don’t continue their studies at college.
“We new generations of Latinas have to be different and to dare to be the first in the family to think differently about enrolling to study at community colleges or universities,” she said.