During the last Olympic Games, the world witnessed, in awe and admiration, what happens on the tennis court when there is a combination of hard work, determination, and heart. Not only can those factors make a difference in the player’s life, but also it can impact a whole country. In this case, it resulted in a gold medal for tennis pro Monica Puig, a young Latina, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Florida. This was the first Olympic gold medal for Puerto Rico.
For someone like me, who is passionate about raising bilingual and bicultural children, watching her being interviewed with such fluency in English and in Spanish and listening to her boast about her heritage is an experience that bring tears to my eyes every time.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview this remarkable tennis champion and learn about the special relationship she shares with the woman who inspires her every day: her mother.
HipLatina: You were born in Puerto Rico. How old were you when you moved to Florida? Was it for tennis?
Monica Puig: Yes, I was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Miami when I was about one years old. It was because of my dad’s business that we made the move.
HL: Ms.Marchán, was it hard to raise your daughter bilingual and bicultural? What are some things you did to encourage the language and preserve the culture?
Astrid Marchán: It was not hard to preserve the language. I knew that at school here in Miami, English was going to be spoken all day. Therefore, since Monica was very young Spanish was the language spoken at home. Also every summer my parents took both Monica and her brother to Puerto Rico to be on the island with family and enjoy the culture there. This was very important to me that she knew where she was born.
HL: Monica, how old when you when you knew you wanted to play tennis as a career? Did it seem like a viable career option all along?
MP: I always dreamed of being a professional tennis player and follow in the footsteps of my idols. But it wasn’t until I was about 16 that I really believed I could be one, and that is when my career really started.
HL: Did you have a tennis mentor? Who is your favorite tennis player?
MP: Growing up, I had a few different coaches who were great in their own right, and helped me become who I am today. My biggest idol was Steffi Graff.
HL: As your practicing got more intense, how did you manage school and tennis?
MP: It was not very easy to be honest. At some stage we decided that I should do online/home schooling, as this provided me with the best solution for my hectic travel schedule. It worked out really well, as I could do everything I needed to do online and on the road.
HL: Ms. Marchán, tell us about Monica as child. What was she like? Did she have a favorite doll or game? Besides tennis, of course!
AM: Monica was a very happy girl. She was very “girly” – she wore dresses and big bows like the girls in Puerto Rico. She didn’t play with too many dolls. She loved to be outside playing with her brother. From very young she was active and loved sports. Whatever her brother did she copied.
HL: Do you visit Puerto Rico often? What is your favorite thing to with your mom when you are there?
MP: Yes, I go to the Island very often. It is my home, and it feels 100 percent like that. I love PR deeply, it is in my heart forever, so I try to spend as much time as possible there when I can. My favorite thing to do there? That’s not hard, going to the beach, of course!
HL: What is a mother/daughter date like?
MP: Oh, let me tell you – they are FUN! Lots of laughter, and being silly mostly. I am lucky to have a mom like mine.
HL: Now that you won the gold medal at the Olympics, what is your next goal?
MP: I have a lot of them, but it starts with improving myself, and my tennis every day. I would love to become number one in the world, and win a Grand Slam one day. But I also know these goals require an incredible amount of hard work and sacrifice, which is something I do every day.
HL: Who inspires you?
MP: I have a few people that inspire me, but it starts with my parents. They have been there from the start, through thick and thin and, will always be there.. My family means a lot to me and is very close to my heart.
HL: Ms. Marchán, did you always know your daughter had a good chance at success in tennis? If so, how did you know (other than her skills on the court, of course)?
AM: Like so many parents, you always think that your child has a chance – in this case, tennis for Monica. But it was hard for me to believe that one day Monica could be what she is now, a professional tennis player.
There were so many obstacles, and in my view, so many girls when she was starting tennis that were better than her. There were the ones that had everything, for example, more money for traveling, personal coaches, among other things. I just stayed focus on the path. Never paid too much attention to them and I tried to do our thing. I guess perseverance was the key for her success. We never gave up but I assure you there were highs and lows. But in the end, when Monica was 16 and got to the finals of the Australian Open Juniors and the French Open Juniors, I just knew she had a chance to make it into the pros. I think she proved it to herself that she could do this as a career; and she was right!
HL: Monica, do you have a message for young Latinas that want to pursue a tennis career?
MP: Yes, I do. No matter how big your goals or dreams are, you can achieve them. Never stop believing – the sky is the limit and if you set your mind to do something, you can do it. To achieve your goals and dreams, it often takes years of hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance, but ultimately, you will get to where you want to be if you 100 percent believe in it.