Golden State Warriors rookie forward Juan Toscano-Anderson has been at the forefront of protests nationwide following the killing of George Floyd.
His teammates Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson attended the events organized by the 27-year old, who was born and raised in Oakland and has represented Mexico in FIBA competitions in the past.
He recently spoke to HoopsHype about #BlackLivesMatter and other recent civic movements in the United States. (The transcript included was edited for clarity).
What are some of the sights and sounds you will remember about 2020?
JTA: 2020 has been a crazy year. It started off as a dope year. I made it to the NBA. So that was just cool. Then I ended up having an injury, and then the next day, coronavirus happened. When that happened, honestly, I laughed. I thought it was a joke. I didn’t think this was anything like what it is now. I didn’t think we were going to be in lockdown for more than a week or two. I thought that was just kind precautionary reasons. Everybody go home, let’s figure out what’s going on. Then you can come back. Now we’re going into July, and we’re still in this COVID, health regulation restriction thing. And who’s to say how long it will go? Then now, the whole George Floyd incident [happened] and the political climate [is] like this.
I’ve done a lot of things, luckily, and I’ve been blessed to travel a lot and accomplish some good things in my life. But I think this is going to be one of the more eventful years that I look back on. Only a month, two months, were about basketball. And so that’s what I’ll think back on, man. It’s just a time where I feel if you have a voice and you care, you need to speak and you should speak up. Because not only are you speaking up for yourself and the people close to, you’re speaking up for the greater community. You’re speaking up for the young kids who don’t have a voice yet, who don’t even know how to articulate themselves and put these thoughts and feelings into words. You’re speaking for the bigger community, man. Putting that unity walk together was so dope. I just wanted to I wanted to create a place where people came together, where people were happy, where people saw beyond skin color and classism. It also gave people freedom of expression.
I know it’s hard to express yourself at home sometimes. I have friends who have different beliefs than their parents. I know it’s hard to express yourself at work. You may have different beliefs in your employer or you the people you work with. It’s just hard to express yourself in different circumstances. I wanted to give people a safe haven where they could express themselves, whether it be through their attire, through verbally chanting, or making a sign or anything. Sometimes we as athletes, or public figures, or anybody who has a following, we need to break the ice. Because I decided to speak up and I had three or four thousand people allowing me to lead them. I was going to say “following” but I don’t like that word. During the whole protest, there was a point in time where I stopped and I just looked around. I thought to myself: This is insane. People coming out to hear me express myself and allow me to lead them, that was big.
So this will be a very, very monumental year in my life. It’s been very intimidating but I’m proud of everybody involved. I’m proud of everything that is coming together. I’m proud to be Black and Mexican. I think this is going to be a year to where we can start changing some themes within our own communities. When I say within our own communities, it doesn’t matter what race. But my community is dominated by Latinos and Blacks. My life is dominated by Latinos and Blacks. Those are my friends and family, the majority of them. I think that 2020 is going to be your we all look back. We’re having dinner someday or somebody’s getting married. And we just say: “Man, remember that year where we did this, and then we changed this and then this happened. That was crazy!” So that’s what I think about, man. Life is much bigger than basketball and these are the conversations I want to be having a dinner twenty years from now with my friends, rather than talking about: remember that game you scored your career-high versus the Pelicans?
Putting that unity walk together was so dope. I just wanted to I wanted to create a place where people came together, where people were happy, where people saw beyond skin color and classism. It also gave people freedom of expression.
I’d love to hear some of your organizing efforts and some of the things that you’ve done to get this whole community right now behind you, and you’ve done this on multiple days now, it’s been one of those things where each day feels something new from you.
JTA: Organizing hasn’t been the toughest part, honestly. I do it with a group of friends. I’ve been telling everybody: I definitely didn’t do this by myself. There’s a group of 10 of us. We’ve got some things that we want to do for the community and stuff. So the organizing part hasn’t been the hard part. I think it’s just really just stepping out there and taking action and actually doing the protest is the hardest part. Because it’s very intimidating, especially when you are leading it. I stepped into something that I didn’t realize the magnitude behind it. But nonetheless, I’m built for it. I’m ready for it. I want to do it. Then as for my teammates, that’s the cool part. I didn’t ask any of them to come out. The first one was just the spur of the moment. We planned it at 10:30 pm the night before, it started at noon. So that just goes to show you we only had, what, 13 hours between planning time and greenlight time? So I didn’t get a chance to even spread that message with them. So to see them out there was really dope, especially someone with the caliber of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. I’m very aware of everything they have going on: families, they have appearances, their own personal life. So that was really cool. Just them being there, their platform definitely shed a much larger spotlight on the event, on the cause, on the message we’re trying to relay. So it was dope, man.
We’re just trying to spread a unity message. I do believe right now, in this moment, in 2020, it has been about Black people for a long time. But I’m also half Mexican. So I deal with combating ICE and all that stuff on the other side. I’m only speaking about Blacks and Mexicans because I can only speak from my experience as a Black and a Mexican. But when I’m with my Black family or friends, and sometimes it’s not even a thought about what’s going on in the Mexican community. Sometimes I feel they point their finger at Mexicans and say: That’s your problem. Then similarly on the other side, I feel sometimes when I’m with my Mexican friends or when I was living in Mexico, they point their finger at Black people and say hey, that’s your problem and not our problem. Ultimately, it’s all of our problems. Because I have Mexican family and friends who are always harassed by the police. It is just not brought up in the media like that.
So it is a problem with all of us and I think it’s just a problem for fighting evil. I think if we did it together, we’d be much stronger. Even with that being said, I’m talking about Blacks and Mexicans, the whole unity thing is just everybody coming together and fighting against police brutality, ICE, giving resources to underprivileged communities. Helping the minority community elevate, for lack of a better word, all aspects and intellectually and financially and build our communities back up physically and also just tangibly in the underprivileged communities, I’ll say we because I grew up in an underprivileged community, we suffer from lack of intelligence, behavioral intelligence, mental intelligence, communicating, etiquette, and those are all things that when you step into white America, those are all things you’re being judged on. That is not fair to the underprivileged community that I’m being judged on all these things, but I’m never even taught all these things. Now, okay, on one hand, you can blame our parents and our families, but on the other hand, we don’t even have these resources. We need to break that cycle. My whole point is all of us being together, whether you’re white, Asian Black, Mexican, we can fight police brutality, defunding the police. I still need to educate myself further, but there are a lot of problems that each group faces and so I think if we combat it together, if we stand together, if we vote together, then we can have much more effect.
Sometimes I feel they point their finger at Mexicans and say: That’s your problem. Then similarly on the other side, I feel sometimes when I’m with my Mexican friends or when I was living in Mexico, they point their finger at Black people and say hey, that’s your problem and not our problem
One thing I’d love to chat with you a little bit about is that sentence that you gave that you hope that they remember you in the Bay Area, if not for being as a basketball player, but for being a stand-up man.
JTA: I don’t want to put in a negative connotation, but once you take off the jersey, people forget about you. That’s normal. That’s not any shade to fans or anybody who supports me now. But eventually, there’ll be another Mexican to play in the NBA. Eventually, there’ll be another kid from Oakland to play for the Warriors. Eventually, there’ll be another Mexican and Black young man to play in the NBA. Eventually, there’ll be another guy with a crazy story. That’s just the way the world works. That’s just the way life goes. People don’t care about how much money you made. People don’t care about your signature shoe, unless you’re a Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan and those are very few and far between.
But my point is people remember how you made them, feel how you treated them. It’s so crazy being around Steph now because I get to watch him work out every day and it’s honestly a workout video. It’s a video game watching this guy work out. It’s such a pleasure to watch him work out. But what’s crazy? Whenever you talk to people about Steph, the first thing people say is how nice he is, how unreal it is that he’s such a good person and he’s this caliber type superstar. And I want people to say those things about me regardless of what I accomplish in my basketball career. But now I want people to remember that I was nice to them. I want people to remember that I tried to be a leader. I want people to remember that I was a positive influence for the youth and so forth. It’s cool to play for the Warriors and be from Oakland.
But I really grew up in the streets of Oakland. I really navigated my way through this community and I want to always be able to come back to my city and get love in every hood. So that’s just what it’s about for me. I don’t care what people think about me. But what people in Oakland think about me does matter to me because I really love the city. My family lives there. My mom has worked for the city of Oakland for 30-plus years. It just is something special about Oakland. Everybody is going to feel that way about the city that they’re from, but I just know, life is much bigger than basketball. The world is much bigger than basketball. There are some people close to me that really don’t give a damn about basketball and they still love me and they support everything I do. I’m doing all these great things in basketball and you don’t even care…but in a good way. You don’t even care about that. You care about how I’m doing, what my health is, how I’m treating people, how I’m thinking, how I’m reacting. You just care about me as a person and, and that’s more important to me than if you texted me after a game saying congratulations for your career high. So that’s just my thing. I know life is much bigger than than the game. And with all that being said, I still love the game to death. But there’s just so much more out there than basketball and what people think about you beyond basketball is more important.
It’s so crazy being around Steph now because I get to watch him work out every day and it’s honestly a workout video. It’s a video game watching this guy work out
Tell me a little about your history with activism, and tell me about some of the ways that your studies helped bring you to this place.
JTA: Yeah, a lot of it is a personal experience, but the majority of it is my mother. My mother is a full Mexican woman but you would never honestly think that. I’m not going to sit up and say she acts Black. But just the way she stands up for Black men, Black culture, all of her kids are half Black. I really admire that about her because she is much more courageous than I am. That’s where I receive that fire to fight for what’s right. She is always going to speak up for what she believes is right. She is always willing to lend a helping hand to people. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people she’s helped. I’ve seen their life just go to a whole new level. I’m not saying this because of my mom but she’s just lent that helping hand when somebody needed a helping hand.
She has worked for the city of Oakland for 30-plus years. She used to run a juvenile delinquent program. So when I was a kid every Saturday, I’m at the juvenile delinquent program at 7 am. I’m eight years old, seven years old, six years old. But I’m hanging out with the 16-year-old 17-year-olds who are criminals. But they’re cool people, man. They’re dope people. I think that’s what from a young age I was able to see beyond somebody being labeled as a criminal. People just make bad decisions sometimes. Do we need to crucify them for everything? Nah. We don’t know people’s circumstances.
Also with my mom, she’s worked at the senior center. She does a lot for the community. When I was a kid, she had me helping [NBA champion] Dorell Wright and [his wife] Mia Wright. Shout out to them. We used to help with their giveaways. We were very involved with that. I’ve always just wanted to help people. I’ve always had people help me. That was just what it’s about, man. It takes a village and I’m a firm believer in that because a village has definitely helped me get here. I don’t get to this point in my life without the helping hand of a lot of different people in my life a lot.
Then lastly, personal experience. I have people in my family who have been incarcerated and done some long term sentences in the prison system. There are a lot of things in our country that just needs to be fixed or reformed. That is the word for it. Because the prison system doesn’t work. I know these people personally. I know who they are, I know what they’re about, and they go to jail for nine years. Nine years is a long time. Knowing somebody me being the age of 18, and then seeing them at the age of 27. I’m very capable of analyzing this person’s intellect, this person’s growth, just who they are. So when I don’t see any growth in this person, and this is a very intellectual person that I’m referring to. I know they read. I know this, that and the third [about them]. You get out of jail and you there’s no growth. You’re not ready for the real world. There’s no plan. You can’t even get a job. It’s hard to get a job. The places that will allow you to get a job you have to go through A, B, C, D, E and F before you can even apply for the job. One, this person doesn’t have the funds. Two, this person doesn’t have the resources and the transportation to get to and from these places. I do think that the system is not built for minorities to elevate and succeed. That’s just what it’s about, man, it’s about us helping our community. I don’t want to keep making it a minority thing or a color thing because we open our arms to all good people, all people who want to fight the bad fight. But I’m always going to speak for myself and my demographic and my own experiences. So I do think the system is set up against minorities. There’s no way. iI’s hard. There’s a lot of different reasons but those reasons are the majority.
For the folks who haven’t been able to be out in the Bay Area with you, what some of the messaging that you want to get across?
JTA: Yeah, well, I think the first thing people should do is educate themselves. Educating yourself isn’t always reading a book or watching a documentary or something like that. I don’t want to disrespect anybody’s writing or anything to say it’s cookie cutter or anything. But I think the best education you can do is sit down and hear and listen to a Black person in America or a minority in America. Because everybody’s experience is different. You can hear the excitement in the tone and the sadness and the hurt in people’s voices. I think you can better understand how this person is feeling. You can get a better grasp of what they face on a day to day basis. I think that’s the first step is educating.
Read. Educate yourself on laws and the communities. The message we’re trying to get across is obviously unity, bringing everybody together, fighting the bad fight together. But also starting at the root. People want the fruit before they take care of the root. I think the root of the problem is teaching young kids a lot of different things, obviously. We want to give back into the underprivileged communities and the minority communities and reverse the mind state. When I was a kid, I personally thought that the only two ways to get out of the hood was either sports or music. So I want to reverse the mind state and teach these kids it’s not either sports or music and then if neither one of those work for you, then you’re going to be a criminal or be a gang member.
If sports and music don’t work, then be a lawyer, be an astronaut, be a Congresswoman or anything. Show kids that yeah, the NBA is cool, and I’m so happy to be in the NBA, but in the grand scheme of things, [expletive] the NBA. Be the owner. Be the GM be the commissioner. Don’t just settle for being a player. Go for more. I love the NBA. I don’t mean [expletive] the NBA. Go for more than just being the player. Go for being the president. Go for being your own businessman. Go for being the CEO of the next Apple or the next Tesla. Why can’t young minority kids be the face of a Tesla, like Elon Musk, or why can’t a young minority kid go be the next Jeff Bezos. I just want to educate these kids, teach them financially. Maybe not me, per se. But get a professional to do so. Teach these kids financial literacy, teach them communication skills, teach them how to do credit, teach them that the world is so much bigger than the world that they know. Prepare them for the real world. Prepare them for greatness, surround them by greatness. So they want to be great people.
When I was a kid, I personally thought that the only two ways to get out of the hood was either sports or music. So I want to reverse the mind state and teach these kids it’s not either sports or music and then if neither one of those work for you, then you’re going to be a criminal or be a gang member
People only know what they know. So if you only know you go to school and kids are ganged up and clipped up. Then you’re walking home and all you see is drugs. Then maybe you go home and one of your parents is on drugs or one of your parents is abusive. Do you know how traumatizing that can be for somebody, how, nerve-racking that can be, how depressing that is? That just gives people anxiety. I’m not saying people in affluent communities don’t go through things because they definitely do. They also struggle with mental health. But they definitely don’t experience the same type of struggles that people in underprivileged communities suffer from. Then if you’re Black, okay, I’m walking home from school and now I have to be anxious about the police and police brutality. There’s a different way to live than that.
I’ve had the opportunity to be in so many different circumstances around different people. I went to Marquette, which is a predominantly white school and it’s all white kids. I lived in Mexico for four years, I grew up in the hood. I’ve been able to interact with so many different types of people. I think that’s just what we need to teach these kids is how to thrive in all of the different environments. I got friends that sag their pants. I don’t care. But then I also know that’s not the etiquette that you that were supposed to have when you walk into a building and you’re walking into a room full of people who don’t know you. Unfortunately, some people do stick to their first impressions. If their first impression is of you with your pants sagging and using a particular word that they may not like, that’s just going to make them judge. So I just want to teach all these kids how to navigate. I don’t have all the answers. I’m very aware of that. But I just feel I can share some knowledge. And that’s why there’s a team. That’s why there’s ten of us that are putting these protests together, that are trying to put all this together. When we do get it, get all the get it all glued together, we’re going to bring professionals. I’m a professional basketball player. I’m not a professional stock market guru. I’m not a professional financial advisor. I’m not a professional therapist. I’m just speaking about what I know that we need in them. Hopefully, I can bring these people in to give us what we need.
I was going to ask a little bit about some of the goals that you have moving forward. I’d love to hear about the team that you do have.
JTA: Yeah, so the guys that I’m directly working with, it’s a group of ten of us. There’s one full Mexican guy and then two half Mexican guys. So all of us are young Black men, pretty much. Educated. All of us are doing something positive. All of us don’t have college degrees, but school isn’t for everyone. So there’s no knock to anybody in our crew for that. But all young entrepreneurs, professionals in their own right. So we just came together and we all had these different thoughts and things. We’re all trying to do different things to be bring the community together. Ultimately, our ultimate goal is just to provide a place for resources. The biggest thing is the resources aren’t accessible. So in a nutshell, we’re just trying to bring these resources to the underprivileged communities, give people this wisdom.
I believe in the saying teach people how to fish don’t feed them a fish and so once we share this knowledge with people, they can begin to sprinkle this knowledge within their own circle whether that be at home, whether that be amongst their friends, anything. As for myself, my friends get annoyed with me because every time I come around them, I’m always talking about: “Hey, man, this is what I learned from so and so, do this with your money, do that blah, blah” and they’re just okay, bro, shut up about that. But I’m just so excited to share that knowledge. I’m so excited to see us grow from renting to owning. Why are we renting homes when we could very well be owning homes? Having somebody pay our mortgage, but we don’t know this stuff. Nobody’s teaching us this. Nobody told me to own a home rather than rent a home. Nobody told me to get credit cards early so I can start building my credit. No one told me how to manage my money. No one told me, how to have a budget, nobody taught me these things.
There are 10 brains at the table. So we all have different ideas, different wisdom to bring. So we’re just trying to be effective and efficient in the community. The protests are cool, the gatherings are cool, they’re lovely. But in the bigger picture, we really aren’t getting nothing done. So our next step is to actually get things done. We’re trying to get everybody registered to vote. I know that sounds okay, just register to vote. But that’s actually a big deal because a lot of people aren’t registered to vote. If they are registered to vote, they don’t choose to vote. So we’re just trying to get people in the door first get registered to vote. We’re not asking you to change your political thoughts. We’re not asking you to be on the same side of the fence is us. Now, we are looking at you funny if you voted for Trump, but maybe you voted for Trump for other reasons, financial reasons. I don’t know, whatever, we are just going to give you the benefit of the doubt. But we’re just trying to get people out registered to vote.
Then the next step is educating them on what they’re voting for, how voting for this affects them, directly and indirectly, affects their communities. I’ll say it: again, it’s just a lack of knowledge. We just don’t know. People only know what they know. They don’t know anything about any of this stuff. So they don’t even know what the hell they’re reading and voting for, to be honest. I’ve been there before. I’ve voted when Obama was running for the presidency. Some of the stuff I didn’t even know what I was reading, but I knew I wanted to vote for Obama. When people are getting to these polls, they know they know who they are going to vote for when it comes to the presidency. But they don’t know what they’re voting when it comes to prop this or prop that. We need to educate these people and get them to understand exactly what they’re doing when it comes time to do it.