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El Viaje: JTA details his journey in proudly embracing Mexican roots

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  • Editor's note: "El Viaje: The Journey of Juan Toscano-Anderson" is a three-part series across NBC Sports Bay Area's digital, social, and podcast platforms, culminating in the full TV show debut on Oct. 6 at 6:30 p.m. In Part 1, Kendra Andrews details Toscano-Anderson's journey to embrace his Mexican heritage while growing up in East Oakland.

Juan Toscano-Anderson loves letting people know where he’s from, down to the block. Heck, he wears it on his chest and back every time he puts on his Golden State Warriors jersey.

Jersey No. 95 -- to represent 95th Avenue in East Oakland.

Once he slipped up. "I'm from the Bay Area," he said back in March before quickly revising himself, "Wait, I'm not from the Bay. I'm from Oakland."

The immense pride Toscano-Anderson has for his hometown is a common trait found in most Oaklanders, including myself. But The Town isn't Toscano-Anderson's only home. It's also in Mexico.

Toscano-Anderson's family immigrated from Michoacan, Mexico, in the 1940s and immediately settled in Oakland. They've been here ever since.

Juan Toscano-Anderson graduating Castro Valley High School
Courtesy of Juan Toscano-Anderson's family
Juan Toscano-Anderson with his family as he graduates from Castro Valley High School.

Finding his identity

Oakland is no stranger to people with mixed backgrounds. It's a city made up of an incredibly diverse population, making those of us who tend to fall in minority races or are biracial feel more at peace. You hardly feel out of place.

However, sometimes there is still an internal struggle figuring out where you belong and how you identify. In my case, I was raised in a predominantly white family and went to a predominantly white school. My dad and my sister were my only regular exposure to other Black people.

Toscano-Anderson grew up in a similar situation, only with his Mexican roots.

"My relationship with my Mexican heritage was, it was different," Toscano-Anderson recently told me. "I would say, like at home, it was just like all Mexican traditions. I grew up around [an] all Mexican family. But I never really indulged in the culture, per se. I don't want to say I didn't accept it. I just, I was living in urban culture.

 

"I knew that I was Mexican. I knew my family was Mexican. I knew who I was. I think it's just there's a difference, you know, like actually indulging in, you know, the culture to traditions, the language, all of that stuff."

Earlier in his life, it was easier for Toscano-Anderson to identity as Black because of his surroundings. Outside of his family, most of the people he interacted with were Black. He listened to rap music and spent most of his time in "the hood."

It wasn't until he was a bit older that he made a concerted effort to get more in touch with his Hispanic roots. He made it a point to become fluent in Spanish, and took a trip to Chevy, Mexico, with his grandfather to see where his family was from.

Toscano-Anderson has faced racism from both Mexicans and African Americans, telling him he wasn't enough of either to consider himself a Mexican man or a Black man. It's another experience I share in common with him, often being told I acted or sounded "too white" to be Black.

It's never an easy critique to hear. But as a child, it's even harder. At a time when you're trying to form your identity, this kind of commentary makes it nearly impossible.

Toscano-Anderson's mother, Patricia, tried her best to flip the narrative for Juan and his siblings.

"I always said, 'You guys have two reasons to be proud,' " Toscano-Anderson's mother said. "And I always tried to embed that in them in it, and let them know that it didn't make them any less."

That message is easier to tell someone than it is to actually have the words stick. But eventually, they did.

"I think I have gone above and beyond to show that I accept who I am. I know I am Mexican. I know I am Black,"  Toscano-Anderson revealed. "But, with all that being said, I feel like I have done myself a disservice by trying to make people happy. At the end of the day, I accept that I am in a different category of my own. ... I am done trying to show people that I am Black and I am Mexican.

"I can get in where I fit in in the hood, and I can go to a quinceañera and speak Spanish. I am versatile. I am starting to accept that and who I am. I'm just Juan, the biracial guy. ...

"I'm in tune with both of my heritages, and I love that about myself. I love who I am. I think it's the best of both worlds."

Juan Toscano-Anderson as a child
Courtesy of Juan Toscano-Anderson's family
Juan Toscano-Anderson, even as a child, always appreciated his mother, Patricia, raising him in a single-parent home.

Overcoming hardships

Patricia was a single mother of four. She did her best to provide for her children, but it never was easy to balance being a solo parent while maintaining a job in social work to support them.

 

Juan often was late to school -- not because of rebellion, but because his mother was spread thin -- and during class, he wasn't fully present. It got even harder when their home burned down when Juan was in third grade.

"We were houseless, we lived in a car, and from here and there to different places," Patricia said. "Of course we had family, but you know, who wants to go to their family with their children? I don't know if it was my pride or selfishness, but I have no regrets."

That's when fate intervened. Patricia was called into a parent-teacher conference with Toscano-Anderson's teacher, Willhemina Attles. Yes, the wife of Warriors legend Al Attles. She noticed that he seemed to be happiest when he was playing basketball in the schoolyard. She was aware of the struggles the Toscano family was facing and wanted to help, so she suggested Toscano-Anderson enroll in the Golden State Warriors youth camp.

"She never mentioned Mr. Attles was her husband, and I mean, I knew [who] the Warriors were, but I didn't know any of that," Patricia said. "Juan didn't know either. At that time, the only NBA player he knew about was Allen Iverson."

Patricia explained to Mrs. Attles that while she'd love for her son to be involved, but she simply didn't have the money for it.

Mrs. Attles told her not to worry about it. "I'll take care of it. Just make sure he gets there," Patricia recalls Mrs. Attles saying.

RELATED: JTA incredibly surprises camper with free trip to Cancun camp

 

A love for basketball is born

Mrs. Attles was right: Toscano-Anderson was happiest when he was playing basketball in the yard at Stonehurst Elementary. A large part of that was because it was a space for him to let out his competitive juices -- which he's had since birth.

"I had an itch to compete all the time, whether it's who's gonna wash the dishes the fastest, you know, who's going to get from point A to point B, the fastest who's gonna make 100 threes the fastest. I just love to compete," Toscano-Anderson said. "That's what makes me go."

But at a certain point, the competition on the playground wasn't enough for him. So when Mrs. Attles stepped in and brought him to the Warriors' youth camp, it unlocked a new level of competitiveness in Toscano-Anderson. It also unlocked his passion for basketball.

"It was like something to feed off of," the Warriors forward said. "Like, wow, I get to beat all of these kids? Like, let's do it, as opposed to just beating up on the kids at school and in my class all the time. That got pretty boring after doing every day at recess. ...

"To just have some better competition, there were a lot of kids there that were older than me, and that were actually pursuing basketball and had game. And so that was kind of humbling. That showed me like, oh, I got a long way to go to get better."

 

Toscano-Anderson still plays with that same mindset in the NBA. His competitiveness always is on full display -- perfectly depicted in the play against the Boston Celtics that resulted in him needing 27 stitches in his head.

"Even with knowing that final part of the play, I would still make the same play 10 times out of 10," he said.

His drive to get better also is intact. At first, it was about making the Santa Cruz Warriors during a tryout. Next, going from a two-way deal to a standard NBA contract. Now on that standard contract, Juan is ready to prove that decision was the right one.

And playing alongside players such as Steph Curry and Draymond Green and seeing the championship trophies the Warriors won without him is constantly humbling him and serves as reminders as to what level he wants to reach.

  • In Part 2 of "El Viaje: The Journey of Juan Toscano-Anderson," Kendra Andrews breaks down just how much of a long shot Toscano-Anderson was to make it to the NBA.

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