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Moline soccer coach helps other immigrants adjust
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Photo: Paul Colletti
Whether on or off the soccer pitch, Moline High School coach Rick Sanchez has devoted his life to helping youngsters make the adjustments he and his siblings made as second generation Mexican-American immigants.
Rick Sanchez was born and raised in the Quad-Cities, yet the 44-year-old also lived the immigrant experience.

His family bounced between here and their home in Mexico after his birth before finally returning in 1976 to settle in East Moline.

Now, as Moline High School's longtime soccer coach and truant officer, Mr. Sanchez shares some hard-won life lessons to help today's kids and families trying to make that same transition.

"It's all about getting them to see there's a bigger world and it's OK to expand your horizons beyond your family's front door," Mr. Sanchez said. "With my soccer kids especially, I pound it into their heads they have a talent that can help them get a college degree and get off the street corner."

The 1986 United Township grad got the same message from his high-school soccer coach, Jose Diaz, who encouraged Mr. Sanchez to play while enrolled at Lincoln Junior College and the University of Illinois-Springfield (formerly Sangamon State).

Mr. Sanchez had brothers in college at the time; yet that idea, and becoming a coach someday, seemed foreign to him at first.

"But when I got back home and started working with the club kids, I quickly realized I could make a difference in their lives,'' Mr. Sanchez said. "Especially with the Latino kids, I understood where they and their families were coming from. Their issues were the same we'd had."

Mr. Sanchez's father, Tomas, first came to the area in the 1950s with his father and two brothers, looking for work.

Tomas Sanchez first toiled at Moline's old LeClaire Hotel before returning home to Leon. He brought his growing family back with him to the Quad-Cities after landing a job at the railroad in the 1960s.

Mr. Sanchez and one of his sisters were born here, but the family moved back to Mexico for nearly six years before Tomas Sanchez landed a job at the John Deere Foundry and decided with his wife, Jovita, that America promised a better life for their eight children.

"It was very difficult," Mr. Sanchez said of the transition. "We were your typical Latino family now, that can't communicate, with the kids always helping out at doctors' appointments and so on.

"It's a huge personal sacrifice, living thousands of miles away from the rest of your family and then dealing with a language barrier and very real culture shock, with so many differences in the way of life.

"For instance, my dad walked to work early on here. That's just the mode of transportation down South if you don't take the bus. Most people didn't have the privilege of owning a vehicle like we do here today."

Mr. Sanchez had plenty of struggles himself in school, with the family leaving here when he was a toddler and returning when he was in the second grade. To this day, his family still speaks Spanish in his parents' home.

"It's not like today where they have English as the second language (programming)," Mr. Sanchez said. "There were some bilingual programs back then in certain schools, and that did help. But you'd have to deal with the typical kids-making-fun-of-you adjustment or not understanding what was being said in the classroom."

The language barrier is the biggest reason Spanish-speaking families tend to be more insular, Mr. Sanchez said.

As was the case in the Sanchez home, many families also rely on older siblings to share in the household work, including child care, with both parents typically working.

"I know some of my older siblings were working jobs at 12, 13, 14 to help my parents while we were living in Mexico," Mr. Sanchez said. "So when we got here, they continued doing whatever they could to help.

"As the youngest, I had more time and freedom to do other things, though, because I didn't have anybody to take care of but myself. Plus, as a boy in the Latino culture, I was already permitted to do more outside of the house."

Mr. Sanchez fell in love with sports, with football topping the list until high-school soccer was founded during his junior year.

"I really didn't feel comfortable until probably late in my junior-high years,'' Mr. Sanchez said. "That's when I started making friends from playing sports.''

The biggest difficulty, Mr. Sanchez said, was not learning English quickly. Reading English, especially during the avalanche of college course work, was tough with Spanish as his native tongue.

"That's a lot of translating in your head," Sanchez said. "But the message is you can do it. I did. We all did. You have to if you want to make it here."

— Location: North America, bordering the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, between Belize and the United States and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between Guatemala and the United States.

— Population: 114,975,406 (July 2012 estimate). No. 11 in the world.

— Languages: Spanish only, 92.7 percent; Spanish and indigenous languages, 5.7 percent; indigenous only, 0.8 percent; unspecified, 0.8 percent. Indigenous languages include various Mayan, Nahuatl and other regional languages.

Source: CIA World Factbook.

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