Seven Latinx athletes talk heritage and representation in sports
Latinx students, who make up just 4 percent of Yale Athletics, described their experiences of joy and pride while representing their cultures across Yale Athletics.
This piece was published as part of the News’ 2022 Lifting Up Latinx Identity special issue, celebrating Latinx Heritage Month from Sep. 15 to Oct. 15.
From track to sailing to soccer, Latinx athletes are excelling.
Football player Joe Gonzales ’25, grew up playing sports in an area with very few Hispanics. Gonzales, a Washington native, is Mexican on his father’s side of the family and a defensive back on the football team. He told the News that he appreciates his team’s “broad spectrum of cultures and ethnicity.”
“I am proud to be a Hispanic athlete and to represent my heritage every time I strap up the helmet,” Gonzales said.
His Hispanic heritage, Gonzales said, has “strengthened” his relationship with athletics.
Gonzales’ favorite player of all time is NFL star Tony Gonzalez, who he respects both on and off the field.
“Seeing someone on a stage like that, in the NFL, with my last name was so awesome,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales is one of seven Latinx athletes who spoke to the News about their relationship to sports during Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Yale Athletics held a “Noche Latina” at Reese Stadium to celebrate its Latinx athletes.
Around 40 Yale student-athletes identify as Latinx out of over 1,000 student-athletes at Yale, according to Yale Athletics assistant director Sam Rubin.
Moving from the gridiron to the docks, California native Ximena Escobar ’25 is one of a handful of Hispanic sailors competing for Yale.
The Mexican-American sailor recently aided the women’s sailing team to come in second in the FJ fleet and third in the 420 fleet at the Yale Invite hosted at the McNay Family Sailing Center on Sept. 17.
Escobar’s parents moved to San Diego when she was young and put her and her older brother into an aquatic summer camp that included sailing. As she watched her brother become one of the best sailors in her hometown, she was motivated “to take sailing seriously,” she said.
Now, Escobar has worked her way to the top and is on the 2022 NEISA Women’s Crew of the Year Watch List.
Her teammate, Carmen Cowles ’25, grew up speaking French and Spanish at home and has always considered Spain a “home away from home.”
The Hispanic female athlete has found that being multicultural has helped her “connect” with competitors from other Hispanic or Spanish-speaking countries.
Carmen Berg ’26, also on the sailing team, feels “wonderful” that she is part of an extended Latinx community that shares the same values of hard work and collaborating as a whole in the same fashion that athletics does.
“As a student-athlete, we are training and competing as one; working for the victory and bringing all teammates up to the podium,” Berg told the News.
Berg is part Puerto Rican and commented on the strong role of women in her family. Berg explained that in her culture, “Gran Madre, Madre and Tia are strong role models and worked alongside [her] male role models in business and in the home.”
However, Yale Athletics has supported Latinx heritage events around campus to promote even more inclusion among its student-athletes.
Women’s volleyball first-year, Isabella Mendoza ’26, calls Miami, FL home. There, she felt that she was able to connect with various coaches and players because they all spoke Spanish and shared many of the same customs that she knows from her Ecuadorian parents.
Mendoza also mentioned the accompanying “culture shock” that comes with being Latinx on majority-white teams that do not share these same customs. But coming to Yale has also presented new opportunities.
“I have a unique story to tell people, whether it’s about how my parents came to the US or how I learned to speak English,” Mendoza said. “I am also able to listen to new stories and ideas that weren’t there back home.”
Dominican women’s soccer player, Giovanna Dionicio ’23, is a seasoned player who also played for the Dominican Republic National team while at Yale.
“Being able to play for my heritage and represent the Dominican Republic has helped me appreciate soccer in a different way and makes me more grateful to play the sport each time I go to compete with them,” Dionicio said.
Dionicio said that she loves being a Latinx athlete at Yale and has never felt “limited” as an athlete due to her heritage.
Christian Pereira ’25 is Mexican-Cuban and performs in the long jump special event for the Track and Field team. Soccer has always been a big sport for Pereira culturally, and he would always heer on Team Mexico in international competitions. Although he chose to pursue track at a collegiate level, he will “always have a soft spot for soccer.”
Pereira said he has thought about quitting sports a couple of times in his life, but his dad encouraged him to stay.
“He thought it would be essential to my self-realization to overcome those challenges, and he was right,” Pereira said. “Must be the Cuban grindset.”
SAAC Executive Board members Chelsea Kung ’23, Ashley Au ’24, and Kaity Chandrika ’26 described the organization’s diversity goals in a joint statement.
“It is important that we continue to embrace and welcome the diversity amongst our student-athletes in order to continue making strides towards creating an inclusive and equitable community within Yale Athletics.”
Escobar, Cowles and Berg will look to defend their title as the top sailing team in the country this year.