Kicking out prejudice: Jacinto Ela Eyenne

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 behaviour. In western countries in particular, people tend to lean on people they know [to draw conclusions] – in both good and bad times. Through good self-conduct, you help shape more positive popular perceptions of your race and family.

Rootencial interviews 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. Having started his football career when he moved to Barcelona, ​​at that time, for him soccer was nothing more than an activity to integrate into society and make friends in his new host city. However, thanks to his footballing ability, he was soon promoted across divisions and at age 15 the possibility of having a professional career as a footballer arose. It was not until this moment that he realised that doing so was possible.  “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.”  Jacinto tells us about this experience in this interview and what his two professions (as an athlete and educator) mean to him.

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

Kicking out prejudice: Jacinto Ela Eyenne

Audio in Spanish

Jacinto recognises 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. At the age of 19, he lived one of his greatest adventures: going abroad to play with a new team in the Premier League, Southampton FC. To do this he had to live alone away from his family in Spain and despite his great passion for football, he tells confesses, at times, he questioned whether football was worth making sacrifices at all costs.

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 generalisations about other similar people – for better or worse.

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’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.

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.

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

Jacinto talks about his current profession, and he shares that due to the multiculturalism of Spanish schools today, it becomes even more important for schools to educate their students about diversity, and have teachers who represent the existing diversity in the community. He believes this is essential in order to challenge perceptions and to ensure that students who are not culturally or ethnically “Western” do not feel different or indoctrinated.

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 in his 30s, 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 that share a similar cultural and ethnic background to him, 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.

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.

Jacinto recognizes that there are obstacles that can paralyze one in his career to achieve his goals. He shares that the main one is fear and sometimes he tells us that we may inherit fear from our from family, due to the lack of information. To combat this, he mentions the importance of reading and learning a lot, along with the constant desire to learn to listen to others as everyone can learn, particularly from those with whom we share less in common. Jacinto also underscores the importance of not being afraid to make mistakes, always giving your best and reading as these can provide important tools to overcome fears that paralyze us from attaining our objectives. In particular for reading, he emphasizes one can often find solutions to problems or challenges we encounter and that others already have faced and solved.

You must have the courage to always go forth with your head held high.” This is the message that Jacinto send to young people, emphasizing the importance of keeping one’s head up regardless of one’s origin, race or social status, and disallowing related thoughts to become barriers that may impede us from pursuing our dreams. Jacinto reminds us that 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 “learning, understanding and listening…”

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