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Castillo and Vasquez celebrate heritage

Posted Sep 29, 2010

October is Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans and celebrate Hispanic heritage and culture. In honor of their heritage, Luis Castillo and Louis Vasquez visited students at San Ysidro Middle School to stress the importance of academics and character.

Growing up, Luis Castillo loved to play football video games.  However he never felt comfortable creating a player with his last name because he wasn’t used to seeing a jersey with a Hispanic name in the NFL.  

On Tuesday, students from San Ysidro Middle School learned two options to name their players -- Castillo and Vasquez -- when Castillo and Louis Vasquez visited their school to talk about setting goals and taking pride in their heritage.

“I couldn’t think of a Hispanic player in the NFL as a kid,” said Castillo, who lived in the Dominican Republic as a child for a few years. “Today is not just about going out and talking to a group of kids. It’s going out and talking to some kids that have a very similar background to the one Louis and I have.”

Castillo and Vasquez, who are two of only a handful of Hispanic players currently in the NFL, were greeted by more than 100 students when they entered the auditorium. Before speaking to the assembly, the players listened to a student mariachi band performance of “Cielito Lindo,” a popular song from Mexico.

Both players spoke about making the right decisions to help lead successful lives.

“We’re here to tell these kids they can achieve anything they want, whether it’s being a teacher, doctor, athlete or a musician. The sky is the limit. We’re just opening the door for them and trying to be positive role models, letting them know they can make it too,” Vazquez said.

Castillo shared his thoughts and the greatest piece of advice he received from one of his college coaches: be accountable.

“Don’t downplay what you can achieve because of where you come from, how much money your family has or what school you go to. You also need to be accountable for yourself. It was one of the greatest lessons I learned at a young age,” Castillo added.

The loudest applause came after learning that both Castillo and Vasquez spoke fluent Spanish.

“There are other Hispanic players in the NFL, but many don’t speak a word of Spanish. Louis and I take pride in our culture and language is an important part of that. The kids here can identify with you and they can say, ‘You know you come from where I come from,’ and it’s not all about being a football player; it’s about being able to achieve whatever your heart desires,” said Castillo.

Principal David Torres, who accepted a $2,000 Chargers Play60 fitness grant from the team, believes Castillo and Vasquez couldn’t have been better role models for his predominantly Hispanic student body.

“A lot of our students don’t have an opportunity to go to a football game,” Torres said. “The Chargers coming down to our school and being so accessible allows our kids to see them as role models. They’ll always have this memory of these two players with similar backgrounds coming in to talk to them. Luis and Louis are a true example for our kids.”

Castillo and Vasquez later joined the kids for a Chargers Junior Training Camp where students had an opportunity to run through five different football skills stations.

“My heritage gives me a sense of pride,” said Vasquez, who is of Mexican descent. “I do feel the need to give back to my Hispanic community and get the message out that we can achieve anything.”

The Chargers will celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month on Sunday when they play host to the Arizona Cardinals. Pre-game festivities will feature performances by Mariachi Real de San Diego and traditional ballet folklórico dancers from Chula Vista.
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