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USTA Florida’s mission is “to promote and develop tennis for all.” As a core value, we believe in providing opportunities for everyone to participate in the game of tennis, regardless of skill, age, physical ability, gender, ethnicity, economic background or sexual orientation. As Sept. 15 – Oct. 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the Florida tennis community.
We want to introduce you to Daniella Estrada-Torres, an 18-year-old embarking on her first year of college at the University of South Florida to obtain a bio-med degree. The 2020 Bartram Trail High School graduate has been playing tennis since the third grade and became a certified PTR tennis professional as a teenager. Estrada-Torres was born and Jacksonville and currently lives in St. Augustine.
How did you get involved in tennis?
I first got involved in tennis when I was in third grade. At the time I was trying many different sports, trying to find the one that I could see myself playing for a long time. When my best friend, who was already practicing at Saint John’s Tennis Academy (SJTA), told me about tennis I decided to give it a shot and I have been playing ever since.
What do you enjoy most about the sport?
I enjoy that tennis can be an individual and team sport at the same time. When I was younger, I struggled to like team sports because I’m very competitive and when I felt my teammates weren’t giving all of their effort, it frustrated me. When I started to play tennis, I saw that the effort was more dependent on myself which I liked but I could still have the support of others through team tennis and high school tennis.
You became a PTR-certified tennis professional, how was that rewarding for you?
It was very rewarding to become PTR certified because honestly, it wasn’t something that crossed my mind until Coach Heather Diegan recommended that I should go through the course. It showed me another reason why all the years of playing has paid off. Not only was I learning from my coaches – Larry Hedges, Heather Diegan, and Patrick Diegan – to play better in my matches, I was also retaining this information and I am now able to pass the skills I’ve learned and new ones on to other younger players so that they can fall in love with the sport too.
What message do you have for parents about tennis?
My message to other families is to be patient and supportive. Every time your child goes onto the court, there is a possibility of it being a good day or a bad day for them. It is difficult to see your child struggling in a match, especially when you know they are better than how they are playing. I have experienced this when I watched my teammates play in high school so I can imagine it is ten times more difficult when it is your own kid. Be patient with them as they are learning new skills and it is difficult to put what you have learned in practice into matches; the environment is completely different. I was very blessed to have parents that have always supported me, and I wish the same for others.
What is your heritage?
Although my sister and I were both born in Florida, the rest of our family is from Puerto Rico. We grew up learning Spanish and English at the same time and we were very involved in our Hispanic culture as well as our American culture. Almost every summer we flew to Puerto Rico to see our grandparents, aunts, uncles and the rest of our family. This is where we truly got the culture and language because we had to speak in Spanish the entire time that we stayed there. We experienced all the delicious foods that my grandmothers make, and we learned about their past. During Christmas time, my parents always had us celebrate in the typical Puerto Rican way, with arroz con gandules y lechon (rice with pigeon peas and pork). We also celebrate Three Kings Day which is more popular for gifts in Puerto Rico than Christmas.
Why is celebrating Hispanic heritage important to you?
It is important for me to celebrate Hispanic heritage because I don’t know everything about my own heritage. Since I have lived in Florida my whole life, I have missed out on some of my culture that I would have experienced if I were living in Puerto Rico. Even though I do visit and practice some of my culture, I am a more Americanized version. I use this time to dig deeper into who I am and to who my family is so that I can show my kids what my heritage is and what theirs is too.
How has your Hispanic heritage inspired you in tennis, or, your life in general?
My Hispanic heritage has inspired me in tennis and in life by showing me that there are other people like me that I want to strive to be like. In tennis, Monica Puig inspires me because she became the first person to win an Olympic Gold medal for Puerto Rico. I strive to be someone who accomplishes something great for my culture and community like she did. In life, my heritage has inspired me to set a good example for younger Hispanic girls to show them that they should be proud of who they are and where they come from.
Why is it important to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in general, as well as in tennis?
It is important to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month because every day you encounter new people who have completely different backgrounds from yourself. It is beneficial for everyone to do their part in learning about others’ heritage and culture because it allows you to be a more educated individual and can help get rid of stereotypes and prejudice. Hispanic Heritage Month should be a time to remind non-Hispanics and Hispanics to try and learn something new about the culture and to recognize the Hispanics that have contributed to our society.
It is also important to celebrate in tennis because tennis is an international sport where it is likely that you will encounter someone from a Spanish speaking country. That gives you the opportunity to use what you have learned during Hispanic Heritage Month as an insight as to why they are the way they are. There are also many great Hispanic players that should be recognized. Being a minority can sometimes feel like you don’t belong in a group or that other people are judging who you are but through celebrating how we are different and learning about it, it helps the Hispanic minority feel more welcomed.
Why is it important to not only support and celebrate other cultures, but be inclusive to all?
It is important to be inclusive to all and to celebrate other cultures because nobody deserves to feel like they don’t belong. Inclusivity is being open and welcoming to people who are different from you. Knocking down those preconceived notions about other cultures and people allows for greater diversity and inclusivity. Accepting someone even though you come from different places or believe in different things is how tensions in the world are going to diminish.
If you had to share your message of unity, what would it be?
My message of unity is to try to accept one another. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone you meet – that’s not realistic – but showing acceptance instead of hate to others will allow for more talking and less fighting. Instead of arguing with someone to try to prove that what you believe is the correct way to think, try to listen and learn about what they are saying. You do not have to agree but acknowledging differences instead of fighting over them will unite opposites.
To learn more about USTA Florida’s diversity initiatives, click here.