Ray Duran: Californian turned Texan.
The Texas Story Project.
Ray Duran was born in Los Angeles, California, on May 4th, 1966 and grew up in the Los Angeles Harbor town of San Pedro, California, from age 5 to age 26. He says “It was truly a blessing and a most humbling experience to grow up just minutes from the Pacific Ocean and its blanketing shores, one that I appreciate now, more than ever, and hope and dream to return to, someday.”
However, moving to El Paso, Texas after college when he was 26 years old has given his life a new meaning and filled it with so many blessings with friends and family, and a plethora of memories, that he never expected when moving down here to Texas.
He, his wife, Martha, and son Joshua, moved to El Paso in 2002, when Joshua was barely 2 years old. He did this so that his wife's parents could be closer to their only grandchild. Weeks after he moved there, Ray landed a teaching position at Ysleta High School which was his wife's Alma Mater, and taught English to 9th graders and coached softball and basketball. He said it was a great experience, especially winning 5 District Championships in softball, and coaching the only "18 girl" freshman basketball team in the city. One of his fondest memories from Ysleta was during softball season when the local news channels came to cover one of their most intriguing games of the season. He said it was “an exciting experience to have all 4 local news channels there, at our softball field, in 2007, and a packed house, to watch us play for our 5th straight District Championship versus our rival, Del Valle High School, whom we defeated 2-1, in a thrilling contest!” These experiences were so great to him because it built lifelong relationships with his players and coaches, with whom he is still in contact today. Also, while he was at Ysleta, he had the unique pleasure of experiencing students taking advantage of their right to free speech. On March 30, 2006, over 200 students at Ysleta school, joined about 500 others across the city, who walked out of school and marched to the Zaragoza U.S.-Mexican Border bridge, in protest of the House bill passed against illegal immigrants and anybody who helped them, and the beginning talk of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border, known today as 'The Wall". He said that this was one of the memories that sticks with him the most, and one that he won’t ever forget.
After leaving Ysleta High School in 2007, he began working at Socorro High School, for a chance to coach in the highest district which is 5A. He taught English and coached softball and basketball. In softball, he and his assistant coach Jorge Palacios took the team to the playoffs for the first time in school history. During the boys’ basketball season, as the JV Coach, we went to play our rival, Montwood High School. The different parts of town in El Paso are somewhat divided. “People always told me that things were different, and we would be treated differently, above the freeway,” he says. Well, on this night, Montwood's basketball coach, Mr. Tony Harper, was trying for his 800th victory, and they were heavily favored to beat Ray’s team, Soccorro. However, Ray’s boys came to play. Nearing halftime, they held a surprising double-digit lead. But, after a Montwood timeout, and an official's conversation with Coach Harper, things started to change, dramatically. They had 5 straight violations called against them, which they knew were dubious calls at best. The tide turned and Montwood took the lead going into halftime on a 12-0 run. After Coach Williams, who was the head coach, discussed matters with one of the referees, he came back to tell Coach Duran, "Just play, Coach, I'm sorry. A win for you guys is just not going to happen tonight. Not on this night." They were infuriated. He said it was his first taste of bias and prejudice since living in El Paso, and it was despicable. They took the same team to Houston for a basketball tournament, and they were greeted with forms of racism that we all never thought still existed. They had an all-Mexican basketball team with a black Head Coach, playing in a majority white and black area of Houston. A lady on the rental car shuttle told his players "Good luck! Which one of you is the goalie?", to which he responded, "We are a basketball team, Ma'am.", to which she replied back, "Oh, you can play that too?". Once they arrived at the arena, kids were asking our kids for their autographs, because they had never met a "real Mexican" before. And, the black lady at the concession stand held up the boys, with nachos, because as she said, "Wait boys, we have something just for you...we bought some jalapenos for you.", which she said in all sincerity. He was baffled by this experience. “Never thought that I would experience anything like this in my lifetime.” But, he said one heart-warming moment was taking those boys down to Galveston and watching them run into the ocean waves in their clothes because they had never been to the beach before. He said “That was the highlight of their trip, and for me too!”
Coach Duran tells his story in the aftermath of one of the most horrific experiences he said has ever happened in his life: a gunman took away 22 lives on August 3, 2019 at the El Paso Cielo Vista Wal-Mart. When the shooting occurred, Coach was in the middle of officiating a high school basketball game. When he received word of the shooting, they were locked down, and then released to go home. “I remember thinking about my son and wife and just wanting them to be safe, and at home, and then praying for all of those involved. We were glued to our television and the news updates to what was going on, in total disbelief.” He and his family went to Mass to pray for all of those involved. Later, in the week, he and his wife went to give blood for those involved who needed it, and any others, and then went to the memorial site. He said the memorial that they have right outside the Walmart was so beautiful, and it was amazing to see how many people went to leave gifts and flowers, and just to visit in general. The city came together as one and they were not going to let this act of evil bring down the city. The people of El Paso were infuriated when they found out the shooter was an outsider who came from Dallas, because each citizen knew that nobody from El Paso would commit such a hateful act. There were memorials all over the city, shirts and stickers being made to fund the families, paintings all over walls of the city to honor El Paso, and the victims and their families. Everyone came together and raised enough money to fund each of the victim’s funerals, thanks to the help of the funeral homes. He says, “This was just a small testimony to the way this city has come together to help one another, be there for each other, and remain EL PASO STRONG!”
“It has been 17 years since I left San Pedro, California, and I hope to return there someday. But, El Paso has become my second home, and given me plenty of life-lasting memories. I have seen my son grow up, go through Catholic elementary and middle school, Eastwood High School.” He has also gone through many trials and tribulations, “the passing of my wife's parents, my Dad, other family members, and some very close friends.” He says all of it has taken its toll, but has made the family stronger, and “has brought us closer together, deepened and strengthened our faith and trust in God, and has shown us the true meaning of family, and how much we love one another. That, I would not trade for anything!”
Joshua Duran was born in Long Beach, California, and raised in El Paso, Texas. He graduated in 2018 from El Paso Eastwood High School and currently attends St. Mary's University.
Posted October 15, 2019