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Maricela Cruz — Cultivated in Alisal

Maricela Cruz

Owner, Salinas Fútbol Central

Maricela Cruz

Maricela Cruz was born in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico, and she began her schooling at the Alisal Union School District in the fourth grade, when her family moved from Watsonville to Salinas.

“We started attending Frank Paul in the portables behind the school. I was there until VRB was open.”

Ms. Cruz, who served as Alisal USD trustee for five years, was later transferred to Virginia Rocca Barton and was part of the inaugural class. She also attended summer school at Bardin Elementary.

“From Frank Paul I remember the portables in the back, and my friends. The principal at the time was Mr. Cabral, it was interesting to work with him (later). There were a lot of teachers like Mr. Gilkey who were good to my sisters.”

Sixth grade was her best year, once she was at the brand new school and with a teacher who pushed her and her classmates to do more.

Mr. David Robins “would take us to breakfast on Saturdays for a book club, and we would later write reports. If he would see us bored, he would give us middle-school level work,” Ms. Cruz said. “There was a group of five or six students who were doing well and (he) would give us extra work. We would complain that he was giving us too much work but that was a way to keep us engaged.”

After attending El Sausal and Alisal High schools, Ms. Cruz joined the labor force working in electronics. Then she transferred to the non-profit sector, where she remained for three years. Later she got a job at the Monterey County Office of Education in the Educational Services Division.  She then promoted to the Teacher Resource Center, Migrant Education, and a few years ago to the Alternative Education Program, for a total of 18 years.

While growing up, the Cruz family returned in the off season to Mexico, where they ran a grocery store. Her parents also sponsored a soccer team, and Sundays in San Francisco del Rincon were the days of fútbol. So when her child and nephew were ready to start playing soccer, she decided to continue with the family tradition and help with organizing the team. That was 20 years ago, and in the interim she’s seen the lives of hundreds of players blossom.

One team grew to four and pretty soon she was helping with more than training the students. Because she also helped with the purchasing of uniforms, she had to deal with the ugly side of the sport, which manifests in the form of discrimination against women. As team manager, she wanted to look for the best uniforms at best prices, but distributors and outlets never treated her with respect -- she figures it was because of her gender.

“I was not served. It was like ‘she’s a woman, she probably doesn’t know anything about soccer or what she needs to buy.’ In two or three occasions I was given really bad deals that affected my team, and the vendor’s attitudes were ‘if you don’t like it, tough.’ That attitude and the support I had from my partner encouraged me” to open a business.

She started little, from home, then moved to a 300 square-foot store. People started coming, and six months later they moved to a 600 square-foot store. A year and a half later she moved to a 2,000 square-foot store, where she remains.

“People would tell me, don’t take that risk, don’t do it that fast, you won’t be able to manage,” she said. “And look, here we are 7 years later.”

These days, Ms. Cruz only manages one team, Salinas FC, which is trained by her partner Santiago Morales. At Salinas Fútbol Central, she sees the boys she used to train and remembers fondly the trips they took and the memories they shared.

“It’s a fun way to see kids grow up,” she said. “You see the ones who excel, the ones who lag begin and you know you had some influence over their pursuing school. It’s a great feeling.”

Ms. Cruz loves Alisal because it resembles Mexico: you see people walking on the streets all day, people who know each other and say hello or stop to ask for advice. For her, it’s hurtful to hear negative comments about home.

“It feels really bad when people speak ill of Alisal or about Salinas because I have a special love for it. I feel safe, I’m not afraid of walking around here. I’m happy, I would not change it unless I went back to Mexico. “

Even though she did not come to Alisal until she was a bit older, the experience gave her an opportunity to anchor herself in the community.

“I love it, I love the kids. Here is where I formed my teams, where I raised my children, they also attended schools here. I see their teachers and I see them with much love, much respect and I always thank them. Sometimes, when I used to go on trips and said that I’m from Salinas, people used to say ‘oh, I’m sorry.’ I don’t want people to see us like that. I’m proud to be from here. I want this place to be seen as a good place to visit and to shop, to know that we’re going to be nice and helpful, with the type of attentiveness you won’t find anywhere else.”