This is supposed to be the most memorable and joyful time in Anay Garcia‘s young life.
Through her diligence in school and skill in soccer, Garcia earned a scholarship to play the sport at The Master’s University in the most difficult way, impressing coaches at the small private NAIA school at Santa Clarita, Calif., despite missing her senior season at Sunnyside with a back injury.
The injury, which required her to go to a hospital for treatment, is one of the least of her obstacles in life.
She was raised without a father, who she said “stopped being around a long time ago. He just didn’t want to take the responsibility of being a father.”
Garcia will be dropped off at The Master’s University this weekend by her brother Jesus with their mother Juanita Navarrete able to come along to give her daughter her love and best wishes on her college career.
This is supposed to be the most memorable and joyful time in her young life, but nobody knows when her mother will see her again.
“Last year, she got stopped,” Anay said. “She got pulled over by the police and my mom is undocumented, so right now she’s kind of in the process of the deportation.
“The last court date they did say that she was going to be deported. However, we kind of appealed it so that we can get more time with her. Usually, the appeal process takes like about a year.”
Asked about what it will be like when she and her mom part ways this weekend, Anay said, “For the most part, yes, it will be emotional.”
PREVIOUSLY IN WINGS OVER BROADWAY SUMMER YOUTH SERIES:
As Anay was growing up, Juanita Navarrete tried to contribute to society, working two jobs, at least 12 hours a day. She has never had a day off as far as Anay can remember. After putting so much time into her job at Tito’s Pizza in Green Valley, Juanita was offered by the previous owners to buy the business with Anay’s aunt, Maria.
“Now, my mom is actually a business owner, so she’s working even more. She works from open to close, which is about 13 to 14 hours,” said Anay, who then paused for thought.
“It was definitely really hard growing as a soccer player because I didn’t have the full support. Like ’til this day, as sad as it is, my mom’s never seen me play soccer. She’s never been to a single game and it’s not her fault at all. She’s just always worked.
“While other people had the support of their parents picking them up and being like, ‘Oh, it’s time to go here, here and here,’ I didn’t. It was all self motivation.”
Her brother took on the responsibility making sure she made it to her workouts with the Tucson Soccer Academy up to two years ago. Working many hours himself, he drove her to the practices, bought her cleats and purchased a bike to help her get to school.
Her father figure became Sunnyside boys soccer coach Casey O’Brien, who taught at Summit View Elementary School when Anay attended school there. They have known each other for the last 10 years.
When they first met at Summit View, O’Brien said Anay was part of a group of about 10 kids of whom he saw great promise, and he wanted to make certain they did not stray from their studies and fall victim to dropping out or becoming disenchanted with school.
When Anay left for middle school without O’Brien around every day, her educational outlook started to unravel.
“I got straight D’s,” Anay said. “I basically did what every other kid did; I tried to be cool. … I was a disrespectful kid. I even went back one day to apologize because I realized how idiotic I was.”
An important development occurred when O’Brien transferred to Lauffer Middle School when Anay was about to start seventh grade. He made Anay and the group of promising kids from Summit View switch to Lauffer with him.
Anay was boosted once again by O’Brien when he was hired at Sunnyside at the same time she was as a freshman. The others did not take advantage of his encouragement.
“Those were kids who really put a lot of heart and soul into what they’re doing when they were younger,” O’Brien said. “We built it all together, so why not keep going? It would’ve been nice to see everybody through to the end, but it didn’t necessarily work out like that. She’s the only one who made it.
“Out of that core group, everybody else, a lot of them, dropped out. Most of them dropped out actually by about their sophomore year (in high school). We just all kind of lost touch and she’s the only one that kind of just stuck it out from that atmosphere.”
She can’t fathom what life would have been like without O’Brien. All the while, he had his only family and kids to tend to at home. He was also a teacher and a coach to many in Anay’s time there before she graduated in May.
Anay’s future became an important equation in both of their lives. That included the soccer field, where O’Brien suggested her to go although at first she wanted to play basketball but her height (about 5’7″) became an issue. Anay also had the background of playing soccer in Mexico where she lived as a young child after she was born in Tucson. Her mom tried to make ends meet with family help in Mexico until Anay was able to return.
“We would put a bunch of plastic bags in Mexico together and put a little bit of clay in there and made a soccer ball,” Anay said.
After Anay recuperated from her back injury, she tried to cope with her mom being detained by sticking to her studies and practicing exclusively with the state champion boys team at Sunnyside this last season.
“O’Brien’s the one who kept me on track. He’s the one who set all my goals, like making sure I had straight A’s,” said Anay, who carried a 4.0 GPA throughout high school. “We used to do like three practices a day (with the boys team). He always made sure I was on top of everything and that I succeeded in everything.
“I always strive to be better than average.”
She will double-major in accounting and finances at The Master’s University. She aims to earn a doctorate in finance. Her career goal is to franchise restaurants in California.
O’Brien tries to stress to his soccer team (that won its first state title in school history and was unbeaten at 24-0-2) and to other students at the southside school that it is not an unrealistic plan to make something of themselves in the same way Anay has overcome harsh realities to keep her dreams alive.
“These same situations keep coming up with some of the kids at the school — deportation issues, kids getting into trouble, just kids not having support at home, having no finances, having nobody that talks about college around them,” he said. “I’ve been running into the same issues every single year now. So when they pop up, I finally have kind of an answer because I’ve done it and I can say, ‘Hey remember this guy? Remember what we did with him? Remember where he went or where he didn’t go?
“Now, we actually have examples that are relevant to them. So it’s working out really well. This is my fifth year at Sunnyside, so now the people that I talk about, they know, because they are people that stick out in their mind. If I tell them a story about a kid, that name makes sense to them and they know where that kid’s at now because this community is so tight knit. A lot of kids that we had didn’t necessarily live up to their potential and now they see that. I think that they’re starting to see what they can do for themselves to get past that.”
No better example of perseverance exists than Anay’s story.
The ordeal after her mom was apprehended about 14 months ago understandably could have derailed any 16 year old.
“We did not know what happened (after her mom got pulled over),” Anay said. “We couldn’t find her. She was missing for a while. We could not find her for a week. She was not properly processed.
“She said that she was taken first to Eloy in one of the pound cars for dogs. It still smelled like dog. They took her to Eloy. There wasn’t any space. Then they took her to Florence. There was not any space, so she came back and stayed at the Pima County Detention Center. There was no space there also. We didn’t find her until she was able to call us when there was space in Eloy. So basically they just kept her confined until there was room for her when they deport more people.”
Faced with this trauma, Anay and her brother had to come up with approximately $14,000 in lawyer fees to get her mom out of the detention center while filing an appeal. They had to work while receiving some help from family. All the while, they also had to help take care of their sister Katherine, who is now 11.
“For three kids who are 22 and under to try to get through this financially, that’s crazy, man,” O’Brien said. “And they all had to take care of their sister at the same time. So obviously it’s like, ‘Hey, I could play soccer but I also could take care of my 10 year old sister.’ It’s making the right decision while making the wrong decision for your future, you know? What a tough spot.
“How do you even decide this is more important than this? You have to sacrifice. She literally had to sacrifice a bright future just to survive.”
For nearly six months, their mom was detained at Eloy and Anay and her sister were denied entry to visit her for almost three months because of their age.
This situation and her back injury made Anay so disheartened she contemplated quitting soccer. She put her aspirations for the sport on hold. As O’Brien said, she lost nearly a year of training and momentum in the sport.
“And then we just built her from the ashes for like six months,” he said. “We just went really hard the last six months. And then thank God an opportunity arose and somebody was willing to take a chance on her again.”
Sunnyside boys soccer coach Casey O’Brien
“These same situations keep coming up with some of the kids at the school — deportation issues, kids getting into trouble, just kids not having support at home, having no finances, having nobody that talks about college around them. I’ve been running into the same issues every single year now. So when they pop up, I finally have kind of an answer because I’ve done it.”
After this weekend, Anay must cope with the thought of her mother’s pending deportation while trying to excel in the classroom and at the soccer field far from her mom and home. Because of the demands of school and her sport, Anay admits she does not know when she will see her mom again if her mom is sent to Mexico while she is in California.
It could be months, maybe years.
She is handling this realization as well as posslble because of the confidence she has acquired under O’Brien’s guidance.
“I think I’ll be fine,” she said. “For the most part. I mean … it’s been my life for the past since I can remember. There’s always been something.”
“Always been something” includes growing up without much in terms of money and raised by her mom after her father left. Trying to mature in school where many other students might not have the focus or confidence. Training many hours in soccer while attempting to balance the load with academics. Working her way back from a serious back injury. Helping her mom and brother take care of her little sister.
More than anything, it is realizing her mom is about to be deported and knowing her mom’s aspirations of continuing to run her own restaurant in the United States — where she sought a better way of life — will no longer happen. Her mom’s dream is about to end while she starts to pursue her own ambitions in California.
“After everything she’s gone through, what really could you throw at a person after that, doing all that so young?” O’Brien said. “Now it’s about building yourself up from what you have learned already, which a lot of people don’t learn those lessons until later in life, sometimes too late.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.