Kicking out prejudice: Jacinto Ela Eyenne

Rootencial presents Jacinto Ela Eyenne, a former professional footballer born in 1982 in Añisok, Equatorial Guinea. He arrived in Spain’s Canary Islands when he was just ten months old. He spent much of his childhood there before moving to Barcelona at the age of nine, where he still lives today.

Jacinto’s greatest passion is writing. He spends as much time writing as he can, while also working in a primary school to help children with learning challenges to effectively integrate in the classroom.  Before all this, however, Jacinto was a professional footballer, a profession that he dedicated much of his childhood and adolescence to.

Jacinto had a successful career as a professional footballer. He spent 13 years playing with top-tier teams across Europe, including Southampton FC, Hércules FC, and Dundee United FC. He played for a host of second- and third-division teams before retiring from the game aged 26.

I was the first Spanish player younger than 20 years of age who  played in the Premier League.. I went with the peace of mind that, if nothing else, I would at least come back having learned English.

Kicking out prejudice: Jacinto Ela Eyenne

Audio in Spanish

The fact that you are black forces you to try harder. When you are “different”everyone expects you to do a little more and go a little further. You can’t just do the same as everyone else. This creates an additional pressure on you, but this can be a good thing. It can create a positive expectation as one gets attention, and it forces you to always have to be exemplary.

Jacinto tells us that his racial identity has made him “different”, creating a constant pressure to be “better than the rest.” He sees this as a good thing, though, since it has helped him to always work harder, strive move, and go the extra mile to be exemplary.

Jacinto’s status as a black man not only defines how people see him, he says, but also how they perceive the black community. He therefore acts not only for himself, but on behalf of this community. People form their opinions and expectations on the basis of the people they know, and then form generalizations about other similar people – for better or worse.

Jacinto believes that schools must educate their students about diversity, and should challenge perceptions of those who are not culturally or ethnically “Western.” Teachers must be empowered to engage with these topics.

I found success the very first day I started working in a school. You feel that you are “useful”, because no matter how little you do, you still help a lot of kids. If the children see an improvement in their studies and lives… you know that you have done your part.

Looking back, Jacinto admits that his definition of success has changed.  He used to value football’s financial rewards, and the visibility and recognition that it brought him. , Now 34 years old, he defines success in terms of service and his positive impact on society. The opportunity to work in education is today a source of great gratification, he says. Jacinto is happy to have the chance to support and work in favor of people of his own race, adding his contribution to society and contribute to enriching the ecosystem of the school he works in. He hopes to help build role models for other children and their parents in the school.

Sometimes, we inherit fear from our from family, from ignorance… But we must not be afraid. Nobody is facing a problem today that nobody else has ever also faced. All problems have existed, and there are people who have solved them.

We tend not to say this… But when you are different, you have to behave perfectly. For black people, your race can come to taint your behavior. In western countries in particular, people tend to lean on people they know – in both good and bad times. Through good self-conduct, you help shape more positive popular perceptions of your race and family.

Jacinto’s optimism shines through when he talks about his days as a player. He feels enormously happy and proud of his youth, particularly when he played for the Spanish national team at youth level and won world youth championships. He is perhaps most proud of having moved to England to play at just 19 years of age with a positive attitude and great motivation.

Having arrived in Barcelona, football became a way for Jacinto to make friends and integrate into this new city. With a natural talent for the game,  he quickly rose through the different leagues and ability levels. Around the age of 15, it became clear that football could become a career option for him.

The hardest thing has always been getting used to living apart from my family, changing cities every year, changing teams every year. It’s not easy.

Jacinto recognizes that football has allowed him to earn money, travel and have visibility. But that came at a price; time away from his family and friends, changing city and team every year. He lived alone in Southampton, with all his family back in Spain. At times, he questioned whether football was worth making these sacrifices.

[My current profession] is a good haven after retiring from football. Once you leave the game, it can be hard to find your place in society.

For Jacinto, nobody can simply “decide” to become a professional footballer.  The sport is like a lottery where “many play, but very few make it” as a pro. Despite being one of the very few who did make it as a professional, Jacinto decided to retire early, having promised himself that he would leave football if he had not made it to the first division by the age of 24.

He admits that this decision was not easy, and he struggled afterwards to work out what he would do next. He says it was pure destiny that he found his current job in a school, helping struggling children to succeed, also allowing him to find a sense of social purpose and protection.

Jacinto underscores the importance of not being afraid to make mistakes and always giving your  best. Learn from the situations that others have already lived through, and how they overcame their challenges.

You must have the courage to always go forth with your head held high.

Jacinto advises young people to never believe that their origins or race can be an obstacle to achieving their dreams. The world has changed a lot and we can knock these barriers down, especially the personal ones. Instead of feeling insecure, you have to keep fighting – bravely and with your head held high – letting the people around you see that you are sure of yourself.

We are all human beings. No one is better than anyone else.

This is how Jacinto defines the philosophy that young people should always keep in mind. He also encourages everyone to accept that we all are wrong sometimes, and that we should listen to other people and their perspectives and to be challenged – through understanding and listening.

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