Lead by Example
Pleasure Point’s Marciano Cruz uses his experience as an immigrant to inspire others
By Neal Kearney
A young boy wanders outside of his neighborhood in San Pablo Huxtepec, in Oaxaca, Mexico, allured by gleeful noise of children playing in the streets. Before he realizes it, he’s walked straight into a large celebration. The six- year- old almost fled, but was halted by the hypnotic dance of a colorful, candy stuffed piñata tied to a tree, swaying in the wind. He sees the group of ten-year-old boys lined up in a row in the street. A man approaches.
“Would you like to race?” he asks benevolently. The boy looks down. He’s barefoot, wearing hole ridden pants, tied together with a rope around his waist. He looks up at the other kids. They are all wearing new shoes and shorts. They are also all laughing. At him. He hesitates for a moment, but the thought of all that candy dancing around inside that purple and yellow piñata firms his resolve. He nods his head at the man and approaches the line. The man blows a whistle and the boys are off. The older boys blaze past the barefooted boy. But not for long.
Talking over coffee in a quaint, yet hip Pleasure Point coffee shop, I listen to Marciano, “Chango”, Cruz recount this defining moment in his life. One that instilled a courageous approach to a living where the odds have been stacked against him his entire life. I’m transfixed by Cruz’s story, an intimate insight into the life of a man I’ve known for over twenty years.
“Little by little, I started passing everyone and before I knew it I had won! The man who got me to enter the race tried to grab me to celebrate my win and I got so scared (laughs). I was so shy that I got scared and I started to run away. So I kept running out of that place and didn’t even get any candy (laughs)”
Cruz has been living in Pleasure Point for the past twenty years and is recognizable in the lineup by his dark brown Mayan features, loud laughs and piercing whistles of excitement. Despite learning the sport in his thirties, the Oaxacan native has honed his longboarding technique over the years, become a very skilled and valued member of the Point’s surfing scene.
He’s also been serving the community at large for over twenty years, namely his efforts at the Resource Center for Nonviolence, and organizing, “La Liga De La Comunidad”, an all-ages soccer league that is one of the largest in the County. Despite his successes in life, Cruz still must continually worry about assimilation into a country where people of color like himself are constantly up against the ropes.
Born in 1963, Cruz didn’t see his father very often as a kid, as he would head to the United States to work. Like most young boys, Cruz idolized his absent father, and Cruz missed him desperately while he was gone. One time when he was six, his dad brought home something that would come to signify Cruz’s life forever.
“One time, he (Cruz’s father) came back from the States and brought a back a watch; one of the watches that when you push a button it lights up. At the time I couldn’t believe it, and I became so curious about all the things I’d never seen before in my land or my life”.
This fascination with the wonders of American life and a strong desire to not only be with, but to be like his dad, are the catalysts which prompted Cruz to join a large group of young men on an illegal border crossing. Cruz was 13. When he arrived at the border, he called his father. He told him not to come to where he was. He was afraid Marciano would face hardship because he was brown. Cruz was crushed, but with no money, he kept running North.
It wasn’t long before Cruz began working in Moss Landing. He lived in Watsonville, and it was there that he was exposed to the life of the streets for the first time. “We went to a dance in Watsonville,” Cruz recalls. “One of my friends got stabbed. That was the first time I saw little gangsters in the street or people that relate to the streets. I got attracted to the streets; because of the way they defended us a and gave us a way to survive”.
In the late 1970’s, Cruz and some friends moved to the Beach Flats area of Santa Cruz. It was becoming a dangerous place, infested with crime and drugs. Yet it also offered sanctuary to the marginalized members of society; who felt strength in numbers and easier ways to make money than picking strawberries in a hot field all day, even if it meant crime or violence. Over the years, this affiliation caused Cruz trouble with the law, yet he continued to hang out with his trouble-making crew until 1989, when his world changed forever.
“I met a woman– a beautiful woman with red hair from Michigan. She became my wife and I started trying to change my life. I started to work in the Parks and Recreation cleaning up the Beach Flats because I got in trouble there, and she soon became pregnant with my first child, Anthony. Seeing my son being born changed my life because seeing this little guy made me look back on things and the way I lived my life– and I didn’t want him to go through what I did, so I started working hard to fit in this society.”
This community outreach started in the form of Cruz speaking about injustice in American society. Cruz caught the attention of Scott Kennedy, who was the vice mayor and co-founder of the Resource for Non-Violence. Kennedy would prove to be Cruz’s largest supporter and gave him the support he needed to turn his life around.
“Nobody believed in me more than Scott,” Cruz admits emotionally. “He knew I wanted to survive and see my kid. He sent me through a lot of trainings to be different and to maybe learn more about living in our society. So, through that, the courage came to start doing things in the community.”
Cruz started a Kids Club that was successful in the Flats; a place for kids to go on field trips and to do positive things to do in their community. Cruz began to volunteer at the Resource Center for Nonviolence, and, along with his public speaking, he started a Kids Club that found great success. It was a safe place for kids to go on field trips and to do positive things to do in their community, as opposed to falling victim to drugs, gang life, and crime.
It was during this transformative time that Cruz moved to Pleasure Point and learned to surf. He was learning at the same time as his six-year-old son, Anthony, and soon became hooked. The healing powers of the sea became a new focus for Cruz, and he translated that energy by introducing his Kids Club participants to the sport as well.
“Water is an extension of life,” contends Cruz.
“I believe the water heals the mind and spirit, and it allows me to help people as much as I can. It gave me the strength to be able to survive; to allow me the stability to help my family and help my community. To share this gift with the children of our community is a blessing”.
You’d think that for someone who’s worked so hard to change not only their own life, but the lives of countless others would be rewarded later in life with comfortable means to live. This is not the case for so many Latinos like Cruz in our country. The man must scrape by to afford to support his family, which now includes two more daughters, Esperanza, and Susana. He stays afloat by landscaping and selling some of his paintings, images that are based heavily around Cruz’s past and identity: La Virgen de Guadalupe, the Mexican Flag, Mayan statues, among others.
Even with his own economic struggles, Cruz has selflessly sacrificed time and money for his community, especially with La Liga. If a player can’t afford cleats or jerseys, especially kids, Cruz will dig into his own savings to make sure that there’s enough resources for his players. He understands that meeting to play soccer every week and having the camaraderie of La Liga behind them, the Latino youth of the area will have positive alternatives to the streets to occupy their time.
Resource Center for Non-Violence co- founder Peter Klotz-Chamberlin, can’t praise Cruz enough for his work—especially his efforts with La Liga de Comunidad.
“Cruz’s dedication, especially for the kids has been amazing. The league brings together people from different sides of town, of the county, different gang identified areas to play soccer. I think it was an important means of violence prevention and community building among immigrants”, says Klotz-Chamberlin.
Cruz knows both sides of being an immigrant, from the positive people who helped him assimilate like Kennedy to those who judged him for the color of his skin.
“I know it’s hard to change everyone, but this is the philosophy I live by; if you help just one person in this world, that person can help others. That’s what I believe. We have a lot of successful youngsters that I’ve coached who’ve ended up playing for Carmel and Salinas High Schools. The idea is to keep guiding, to keep encouraging others to be positive and do positive things in society around us, that’s what keeps me going”.
In 2008, the Mayor of Santa Cruz proclaimed May 12th, Marciano Cruz Day.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Resource Center For Non-Violence contact them at
612 Ocean St.
Santa Cruz, CA
An edited version of this story was featured in Santa Cruz Waves