When Luis Pepen Matos’ parents met, they moved from the Dominican Republic to Peru.
Not the country Peru — the town of Peru, New York.
“I wish we would have moved to a warmer place,” Pepen Matos said.
Born in Quisqueya, San Pedro De Macrois, D.R., Pepen Matos was only 12 years old when he moved to America.
“The town was poor, my family was poor,” he said. “My mother had to go work in a hotel across the country.”
Like most kids in the D.R., Pepen Matos grew up playing baseball as a way to escape poverty.
His uncle, Wilkin Vinicio Valera, quit school so he could focus primarily on baseball, but injuries derailed his career and he wasn’t able to get a Major League contract.
It was Valera who influenced Pepen Matos’s interest in baseball, which he saw as an outlet to distract him from his less-than-ideal living conditions.
Life in the D.R. wasn’t great.
When his mother was away, he would stay at his grandmother’s house with his older sister, cousins and two aunts. Luis said that during this time he would explore the town.
His mother, Ada Matos, worked in a hotel across the country. Sometimes, Luis would go as long as a month without seeing her.
Ada would get only three days off, using it to visit her son. Luis said that she never saved money for herself and made sure the family had everything they needed.
“The fact that she worked so hard for us makes me believe that if I ever meet anyone that’s worth it,” Pepen Matos said, “I will work just as hard for them, if not even more.”
Ada would meet Michael Dashnaw in Peru and Pepen Matos’ life would change.
Thinking he was going to live in a city like New York City, Pepen Matos was in for quite a surprise when his family moved.
“I didn’t think I’d be surrounded by mountains or the Adirondacks,” he said.
Pepen Matos had severe culture shock.
Not only was it too cold for him, but a language barrier kept him from fitting in right away.
“I tried speaking to people when I first came here, and even though they didn’t understand anything I said, they still treated me nicely,” Pepen Matos said.
Luis’ high school teacher Mr. Falzerano helped teach him English.
“He put a lot of work into me that he didn’t need to,” Pepen Matos said. “Even when he wasn’t getting paid by the school.”
With all the work put into his life by his mother and his teacher, Luis turned his appreciation for the kindness and help he received into helping others.
Head coach Kris Doorey said Pepen Matos is a respectful young man who is always caring toward others.
Just ask junior catcher Alex Rodriquez from Carolina, Puerto Rico, about when he first joined the team.
Rodriguez said he felt a little out of place when he first joined the team, but Pepen Matos approached him and said, “Hey, I’m Dominican, I also speak Spanish, don’t feel weird. I know it’s kind of awkward the first time when you meet different people, especially when you don’t speak the same language that you are learning.”
Or ask Fumiya Nakano, who was raised in Hyogo, Japan, before coming to the States.
“When I can’t understand what the coach says, he always explains it for me,” Nakano said.
And with the prime years yet to come for Pepen Matos, the future for him is bright.
When he came to America, he said he thought there were a lot of opportunities. He said he realizes now that even though he took advantage of opportunities given to him, there are a lot of people in the United States who don’t have opportunities to do anything.
This is why he became interested in Criminal Justice — not because he wants to make people pay or prosecute people, but to help others and avoid violence.
“America is the land of opportunities, and then you have its own citizens who can’t even get out of poverty themselves,” he said.
And with all the love and kindness from others, Pepen Matos still misses one person in his life: his sister, Angeles.
He has seen her only four times in his entire life because she sill lives in the D.R.
He wants to see her grow up before his eyes.
“She is a lot like me. She’s creative, she’s very wild, she doesn’t pay attention in school, and that’s how I was when I was a little kid,” Luis said. “I want to see her at that stage when she’s little before she grows up.”
To view more of our videos, visit our Multimedia page.
Email Alex Ayala at firstname.lastname@example.org