Carlos Paez drives on a North Florida defender in 2019. | THE ALL STATE ARCHIVES

Between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated to recognize the contributions, cultures and history of Hispanic heritage.

Women’s soccer defender Celeste Espinoza and men’s basketball guard Carlos Paez take the influence of their Hispanic cultures from their families and bring it to their game.

Paez, a junior, grew up watching his father and brothers play basketball in Venezuela. He was gifted at soccer but found more opportunity in basketball.

Celeste’s mother immigrated to the United States at the age of 8. She comes from a family where athletics are a big deal, especially when it comes to soccer.

Their families taught them more than just how to play a sport; they instilled in them the value of hard work and sacrifice.

“I watched my mom sacrifice so much for me and my brother to be able to have the things we had as a kid,” Paez said. “I think that shows a lot on the court. I sacrifice my body a lot, (and) I put my body on the line to get things done.”

“My parents sacrificed a lot,” added Espinoza. “They provided a lot for us to be where we are now. Being a minority doesn’t come as easy; you have to work 10 times harder.”

While hard work and sacrifice are part of being an athlete, Hispanic culture has lots of joy and charisma to break up the seriousness of the game. Paez is known as one of the happiest — and loudest — players in the locker room because it’s a way he connects with his teammates.

The Hispanic community at Austin Peay is small. The university reported only 830 Hispanic students out of the 10,272 enrolled in the fall of 2020, and just 41 of its 1,594 faculty and staff are identified as Hispanic or Latino.

Despite the small numbers, both athletes feel a great sense of acceptance and take pride in being part of their community during Hispanic Heritage Month at APSU.

“I always represent where I am from and I will always represent my culture, and I wear that with pride everywhere I go,” Paez said.

“The fact that we celebrate to let people know that we are still out there, especially with everything going on recently, we really don’t get talked about,” Espinoza said. “It’s nice to be celebrated instead of not being celebrated. The recognition is nice.”