by Kayla Blau
After months of staying inside due to COVID-19, young people are in dire need of spaces built around connection and community. Cultures United FC is offering a rare opportunity for youth and young adults to build community through a hometown soccer team at no cost to participants.
Founded in 2020 by Sebastian Diaz, Cultures United is officially part of Cascadia Division of the United Premier Soccer League, but it’s much more than just football (aka soccer) — it is a mission-driven endeavor rooted in social justice, inclusion, and the celebration of diversity.
Diaz is from Boyaca, a farming region in the mountains of Colombia. In search of opportunities, he and his mother moved to Montana, where he pursued his dreams of playing professional soccer all while learning a new language and adjusting to a new country.
“By senior year, I was the captain of our soccer team, and all I wanted to do was play pro. I asked my coach to write me a letter of recommendation, and he told me something I’ll never forget. He said, ‘People like you should work at McDonald’s.’”
Diaz didn’t let that stop him. He obtained a partial scholarship to University of Montana, and after a slew of injuries sidelined him, he started coaching. Once he graduated, he became the soccer commissioner for the state of Montana.
Diaz went on to bring a Soccer Without Borders chapter to Seattle in 2018 and quickly realized he wanted to create his own program focused on building community through soccer. Cultures United initially started as a one-off soccer festival full of music, food, and community building.
“After the event, people kept asking for more, for the next event. At that point, I knew Cultures United was bigger than soccer,” Diaz shared.
From there, Diaz got in touch with Chelsea Football Club through Instagram with a proposal for a soccer program with an emphasis on community and inclusivity. The football club responded with a plane ticket to New York City for Diaz with a chance to pitch a formal proposal. With their financial support, Cultures United Football Club (or Cultures United FC) was officially born.
“We now have three teams for youth and young adults, soccer camps, and training sessions. Our programs are completely free to the young people, because we want to reach immigrants and refugees that don’t have access to be on a team because of money. When I talk to the kids I coach, I’m really talking to younger me. I’m giving them the support I didn’t have, especially as an immigrant or refugee.”
Pascual, one of the players on the young adult team, described Cultures United as “a family that can support me and understand what I’m really going through.” Pascual came to Seattle as an unaccompanied refugee from Guatemala as a teenager and said the support from coaches and other players pushed him to work harder and pursue his dreams.
Diaz recently teamed up with Mista Bee, a local educator, to launch a Cultures United podcast (streaming on Spotify) to spread positivity and connection through conversation.
“This has become way bigger than me and way bigger than soccer. With the podcast, we hope to preach growth, overcoming adversity, and focusing on the positives rather than the negatives. We can all learn from each other through conversation, regardless of our origins,” Diaz shared.
“We had an episode with guests who identify as LGBTQ, so if a young person that’s listening in is questioning their identity or feeling like they have to hide their identity, they have examples to look up to. We’re about empowerment and dismantling misunderstandings and injustices through conversation,” Mista Bee said.
The Cultures United team advocates for justice when the mics are off as well, using conversation to push local soccer leagues to be more accessible for everyone, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and racial identity.
“If there’s no inclusion, there’s no unity,” said Diaz. “We welcome all players into our community, because unfortunately that’s not the case for all teams. We’ve had fans of opposing teams yell racial slurs at us and at other teams, and I’m pushing for every team in our league to denounce racism and exclusion. So far only two teams have done it. I’m having lots of conversations with the other coaches to try to change that.”
As for the future of Cultures United, the opportunities are endless. A new partnership with Seattle Sounders FC has just been finalized, and season two of the Cultures United podcast promises some exciting guests. This summer, three soccer camps and free drop-in soccer camps will take place at Jimi Hendrix Park. Mista Bee said he’d love to see a “global Cultures United movement,” and Diaz envisions partner programs in Colombia and across the globe. They also hope to one day have a brick and mortar space with a wellness center and creative studios accessible for all. Cultures United is completely volunteer-run, and they are always looking for more volunteers, donors, and players to join the family and keep the spirit of Cultures United alive. For more information, please visit the Cultures United website, or contact them at email@example.com.
Kayla Blau is a Seattle-based writer, consultant, and youth advocate. More of her work can be found her website.
📸 Featured Image: Cultures United youth adult team. (Photo: Sebastian Diaz)
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