Outside The Glass, the world’s oldest squash podcast, is a radio show with a new episode dropping at the beginning of each month. Reyna Pacheco, the first urban squash player to turn professional, is ranked world No.87. A graduate of Columbia, she is based in Amsterdam. In episode twenty-three, Pacheco spoke about her childhood in San Diego.
Outside The Glass
Where were you born?
I was born in Tijuana, right across the border from San Diego. My mom, my brother and I moved to the U.S. when I was four. My mom didn’t know anyone here. She came here literally with $20 and two kids, me and my brother who was six. She was working cleaning houses. My mom was away for work a lot and we waited for her to come home. She would figure out a way for it to work for us. I remember her working a lot, all the time.
Were you fluent in both Spanish and English?
I worked a lot on my English. Even thinking back now, my math teacher in sixth grade, she would give me English books to take home and she told me not to speak Spanish very much. This was the time when you wanted your kids to not have an accent. You wanted to speak fluent English and not speaking like you were a foreigner. It is a very different time. Now it is actually a good thing to have multiple languages. You wanted to sound like everyone else. I did work. The grammar was different in Spanish, I would pretend in my head that it made sense. No one in my house spoke English except my brother and I because we were going to school. It was two different worlds for sure. I worked a lot on getting rid of my accent. Now that I am older, I wonder why—I want to have my accent back. To Mexicans I sound American and to Americans I sound Mexican. You can’t win.
You were not documented for a period?
The idea of college and education and of all that, I couldn’t do it. At the time there were heavy immigration raids. You would see ICE right outside our homes in our neighborhoods because we were in a heavy immigrant-populated neighborhood. They were striking down on people hiring illegal immigrants or undocumented people. So when that was occurring, even the option of working in the U.S. was non-existent. I think back on it now it was completely irrational for me to pursue anything. It was almost that I was non-existent to the system.
I understood that. I actually asked my mother the other day about when did I know that I knew that I was different or that I didn’t have the same opportunity as other people. She said it was when I started to travel for squash. She said we would drive up to LA from San Diego and there is actually a checkpoint where they they’d check you for ID. Thank God at that time they only ask for an ID. They wouldn’t ask for a California state ID or anything. I had a school ID and so I was fine with the squash team. And even though was only going to Los Angeles, it was a big deal.
It stressed me out because I hadn’t told anyone, I hadn’t told urban squash. I remember Renato Paiva, the executive director of Access Academy, always said he would never hang out with anyone who wasn’t doing the right thing. For me, the way people speak about it in politics, people speak about it left and right, but it is my life. It is not until you know someone who is going through it that you really start to think about it critically.
Renato found out when I was invited to go speak to the Olympic Committee in Europe, when I was a junior in high school and I couldn’t go because I couldn’t leave the country.
I was working so hard to achieve something. I had a lot of friends who were undocumented who just kind of gave up. Not give up but they said, “you know this is the realistic thing. Most of us are low-income and so what I can control is helping my family. I can work. I speak more English than my parents so maybe I can help them that way.” You know for sure that there is a 100% chance of helping your family that way and that there is a 5% chance, if that, that anything else will work out.
I experienced it. I was working really hard. I broke top fifteen for US Squash but I couldn’t even compete in the National Juniors because I wasn’t a U.S. citizen. That is what I wanted my whole life, to compete. I worked to qualify and then I couldn’t compete.
But I didn’t want anyone to come and knock on my mother’s door and say that her daughter wasn’t working hard enough. What was under my control was giving 100%.