For our next featured guest on Beyond The Locks we have an empowering story from an ex-professional and a national soccer player, Sergio Valencia. I personally know Sergio as he was once my coach when I played on one of his teams. Team players called him “Profe” (Teacher) as he was a talented and well-respected coach. When he isn’t being a coach, you can find him rapping in spanish, cracking jokes, or even break dancing.
Sergio’s coaching career took flight when he moved to the United States in 1999 and formed the New York Soccer Latin Academy in 2002 with Francisco Guerrero. Since then, he has become the director of the Hempstead EOC Soccer Club and coached at the Rough Riders’ youth levels. Sergio this year was signed as assistant coach for the Rough Riders 2017 season.
After rising to the top division of the El Salvador Professional League as a player, Valencia was offered a spot on the El Salvador National Team. He was a member of the 1998 squad that fell just short of qualifying for the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. His professional playing career came to a halt after 11 years.
Some Quick History
Before we dive into this interview Sergio mentions civil war and I would like to take some time to give some context. From 1972 through 1992, El Salvador experience a civil war between a military led government and a coalition of various revolutionary groups. During the war the public experienced violence, youth were recruited to join the fight, and many were taken and eventually disappeared. Although the conflict has been resolved some say that El Salvador still has much to improve as violence can still be found.
Where do you currently live?
Currently I live on Long Island, New York.
When did you decide to grow out your hair?
This was something that was decided for me, since my parents let me grow my hair out and I got used to it since I was a child.
Why did you grow it out?
I liked it and it became a habit.
Growing hair out is hard. Did you learn something about yourself?
Growing out long hair becomes something personal which also brings an identity that already exists within society. Also, I learned that it is difficult when hair is not maintained.
Do the men in your family treat you different for having long hair?
My Brothers (I have 4) never expressed anything because I had long hair. They have always had it short. From what I can remember my hair always has been long or shoulder length.
Were there any difficulties having long hair in El Salvador?
My adolescence was difficult, since there was an internal war in my country (El Salvador) and it was common for the rebels (Guerrilla) to have long hair. The army treated me badly more than once for this reason. Also in High School they urged me to cut my hair but I always was able to dodge this requirement.
Were you ever asked to cut or trim your hair at work?
No job has ever asked me to cut my hair. I also have never been denied for work due to the length of my hair.
I was a professional soccer player for 15 years and have been a soccer coach for 20 years.
In 1989 in my country there was the Ofensiva Final where many cities were taken by the guerrilla, and the army entered to liberate these cities. There were soldiers of the army who tried to arrest me and suspected that I was a militant of the guerrilla. My mother defended me in three occasions and ended up not being able to leave home for 15 days until everything was normalized and when finally the army and the guerrillas withdrew.
In front of my house, an army soldier was watching and waiting for me to leave so that he could attempt to capture me. Also in my last year of high school, the principal (who was a former military man) wanted to cut my hair from the first time he saw me. I did not let him. He wanted to expel me so that I did not continue to study there, but his superior did allow him because I belonged to the soccer selection of El Salvador and my school. He was so furious that he called some of his ex-military colleagues and had them wait for me to leave the school. That day many fellow students interposed themselves between the ex-militaries and I. I do not know why, but they ended up withdrawing and only verbally offended me (it was wartime in El Salvador).
How often do people tell you to cut your hair?
Before it never happened, but now I have been told by at least 5 people because they tell me that I am older and that long hair on an older man reflects lack of maturity and rebellion. They say that my style is out of use and they tell me I am stuck in the 80’s.
What does your hair mean to you?
It is part of my personality, after playing soccer for a long time it became part of my identity. The hobby (soccer) recognized my hair and those who were fans or admired me wanted to have hair like mine.
Did you have supporters when growing your hair out?
I never had a support. Maybe my parents, since they let me grow it out since I was a baby and I do not recall them forcing me to cut it.
On the contrary my mother once discussed with a Principal of my first year of high school because they wanted me to cut my hair. Frustrated, my mother went to the school and express to the Principal “is that what we paid for?” She said that they should care more about my education than my hair. I was then transferred to another school.
Sergio lightly touched on the Latin American perspective of having long hair. They viewed him as a rebel. Today many Latinos still view long hair as messy, rebellious, signs of being a troublemaker, and the opposite of what it means to be a man.
Sergio’s story of constant conflict with military, civil war, and school administrators is not something that all longhairs may face today. For those that don’t we should be grateful that we don’t face these threats and have more freedom to express ourselves.
If you do face this challenge, know that you have fellow longhairs that you can reach out to for support. Sergio was blessed that he had both soccer and the support of his family to keep his hair flowing.
Do you know someone else we should interview for this series? Let us know in the comments, amigo.
Steven “El Pelo Suelto” Jimenez is a latino software engineer from Long Island, NY, relocated to the California Bay Area for a job opportunity in the Silicon Valley. You can find him either nose-deep in a book or lost listening to hip-hop, funk, or salsa. Read his longhair story, Road to Long Hair.