As with so many immigrant stories, Juan Gallego’s is at once both ordinary and extraordinary. Facing the threat of persecution from paramilitary groups in Colombia, where he was born and raised in a small town just outside Medellin, Gallego and his family fled their homeland and sought asylum in Massachusetts 15 years ago.
There, the family faced a different set of challenges. Starting over meant having to learn a new language, new customs, and a new way of life. Growing up in Chelsea, a city just north of Boston that has a Hispanic majority and the greatest concentration of poor families in the state, Gallego had to also contend with his parent’s divorce and financial constraints as he was raised by his mother and sister.
Later, as a football coach in college, he met students who faced hardships similar to those he had seen or experienced in Chelsea: crime, hunger, a broken home, language and cultural barriers, lack of school resources, and mental health disparities.