Mentor tries to help a young talent find his footing
JUN 19, 2014 1:03p ET
Aside from soccer, it’s Chika's baby daughter Delilah – whose name is tattooed in black script across his forearm – who provides him with the greatest source of joy. It was four years ago when he first met her mother, Jennifer. He was living with his mother Guadalupe and stepfather on Cerritos Ave., an exceedingly rough stretch of Long Beach where gunshots and gang-related activity are commonplace. “It was pretty bad,” he recalls. “Always people arguing outside. You couldn’t be outside past 7 p.m., because once it got dark, the violence started.”
Jennifer, a pretty brunette who worked at the time as an usher at the Home Depot Center (now the StubHub Center, where LA Galaxy and Chivas USA play), had accompanied Chika’s cousin to one of his soccer games. “She randomly asked one of my friends, ‘Can I get his number?’” he recalls. “She made the first move.” The pair dated happily for three years. It was during a June 2012 shift at Chika’s job at the rim factory, where he mans a casting machine from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., when he got the fateful text message. “I was super-stoked,” he recalls of the news. “I was scared, but I was stoked at the same time. I felt at the moment it was right because I was having a child with the girl I loved.”
At that time, Chika and Jennifer were living in another sketchy area of Long Beach, in a cramped home at 15th St. and Atlantic Ave. with his mother, stepfather andChika’s half-siblings, Julianna and Raymond, now 9 and 6. Issues had already begun to bubble up in the close quarters (“My mom’s a very jealous person,” he says), and with the baby on the way, the couple decided the time had come to get their own apartment. They did, and within months, they were bickering, andJennifer soon moved back in with her mother.
After the birth, the couple drifted even further apart. Things grew downright contentious during the custody hearings. Chika missed a key meeting – he claims he would have been fired had he skipped work to attend it – and full custody was granted to Jennifer, while he was accorded visitation rights twice a week, which he adheres to religiously. Jennifer currently works as an assistant manager at a Taco Bell and takes pharmacology classes at night, while her parents trade shifts watching the baby. “She’s the type of person who has everything she wanted because she would do anything for it,” he says, adding that he hopes to convince her to allow him more time with Delilah. The prospect is bleak, however, as these days their communication is limited to a few text messages about bills and scheduling per week. From reports he gets from her mother, Jennifer has a new boyfriend.
Chika again lives with his family in a tiny, two-bedroom unit on the second floor of a run-down apartment complex in an area not far from, but much safer, than the gang-infested neighborhood the family once called home. He shares a room with his little brother and sister, who sleep in one bed while he occupies the other. His mother does not work, so Chika’s contribution to the rent is greatly needed. The rest of his paycheck goes towards food, diapers and toys for Delilah. “He’s matured because of his kid,” observes Hector Polo Jr., Chika’s mentor and soccer coach. “But on the other side, he’s still young, he wants to wild out. Here I am trying to slow the motion down.”
Hector has for years been trying to convince Chika to attend classes at Los Angeles Harbor College, where he could earn his GED while playing for their soccer team – what, in Hector's mind, amounts to twin tracks to bettering his lot in life. Chika says it’s a nice thought, but ultimately unrealistic because “they won’t help me make money.” As for a raise – he’s been earning the minimum wage rate of $8.50 an hour the three years he’s worked at the rim plant – he doesn’t feel the timing is right. (And besides, he says, “They usually say no to everybody.”) Nevertheless, Hector perseveres in mentoring and encouraging Chika, putting his soccer skills front and center at community outreach events like an upcoming clinic in Mission Viejo where Chika’s street soccer crew, the Concrete Royalty boys, will school 200 kids in soccer moves. “He can’t be working these kind of labor jobs having that kind of talent,” Hector sighs.
Ask him for his dream scenario and Chika doesn’t breathe a word of multimillion-dollar product endorsements or packed stadiums chanting his name. Instead, it’s all about his family. “I want everything for everybody," he says. "I don’t get to see the mother of my child. I would like some family time – her family, my family, she takes her boyfriend, I take my girlfriend, we both take our parents and we go out to eat all together. But our schedules are pretty busy. I don’t think that’s going to happen.”