First Generation American Project: Drinks & Dialogue with Jay Pinedo
By: Ania Jablonowski
When Jay Pinedo recently started asking his father about their family history, he had a sneaking suspicion that these questions must be serving a greater purpose. Jay’s father was correct – this research was a result of me requesting to interview Jay on his experience of growing up half first generation American.
Jay had a general understanding of how and why his father moved to the US from Mexico, but this became an opportunity for him to dig a little deeper and gain a better sense of his father’s story, and ultimately his own story. He says, “The information I have of his life over there in Mexico is ten folded just by recently having a long conversation about what was it like growing up.”
A few months ago, Jay Pinedo, Co-Founder and Instructor at Iron Rooks Chess Collective, approached me to talk about marketing for his business. Naturally, I was curious about how he got into chess and what prompted him to be part of a school for young students to improve cognitive development and make chess captivating for kids. He started playing chess at the age of 3 and was inspired by his father, Javier Pinedo.
Javier was born in Mexico City and officially moved to the US in the early 1980’s. Before settling in the States, he traveled back and forth between Mexico City and Mexicali, and visited various parts of the US. Jay says, “He had a lot of the oppression that you might read about, you don’t see it if you’re in America the whole time growing up here, but it was a real thing. Just over the border of Mexico there was a lack of civil rights.”
He learned about a situation that his father encountered one day while traveling. “He got in the car with his friends to take a trip somewhere and the cops stopped them. He had an acoustic guitar with him. The cops told them to get out of the car and luckily he was holding his guitar at the time. They roughed him up. They hit him a few times, and the guitar took some hits. Afterwards they said, ‘Oh, we thought you were somebody else. Carry on.’ My dad and his friends got back in the car and they were lucky that they didn’t get something else pinned on them.”
From what I learned about Javier through Jay, it certainly was alarming to hear that such an unfortunate encounter happened to him. Javier is a well-educated and peaceful man, with a passion for mathematics and chess.
Javier’s bio reads: “As a child, Javier was captivated by the game of chess and demonstrated a talent for the game's complexities very early on. Later in life, as a mathematics teacher, Javier would let his students play chess in class if they finished their work for the day. After reading an article in ‘Chess Life’ by Dr. Johansson from Belgium about the benefits of chess in the class room, and seeing positive results with his own students, Javier was inspired to take on chess education. After several years of success Javier's efforts were recognized by other chess educators. In time, these educators, aware that their priorities in chess education where all aligned, took a lead from Javier and with him founded the Iron Rooks Chess Collective.”
His love for the game was passed down to his son. Jay shares, “My earliest memory is actually chess. My dad started teaching us, myself and my sister, I was three years old. This is my earliest memory, because chess gets your brain to interact in deeper thought than if I were just playing with a hammer block toy.”
Jay recalls his childhood as very Americanized. “My mom and her side of the family have been in Pittsburgh for many generations. My mother’s great grandparents and my great, great grandparents, so grandfather’s side, were from Germany and my grandmother’s side was from Poland, so strictly half and half.”
Jay’s family relocated often as a result of his mother’s career. He says, “My mom had a good job. For my father, it was hard to find a job because he had a Master’s degree in Mexico, but it would not transfer over here. There were issues and it took a while to even get it recognized. I think it was recognized as a Bachelor’s in time. He was home a lot and he would end up taking care of me and my sister and doing the cooking.”
Jay had a good balance of Eastern European and Mexican cuisine in his childhood. “My favorite was quesadillas. I wasn’t much of meat eater as a child, so sometimes tacos, mole, guacamole. I have had my share of sauerkraut and tacos but never together,” he laughs.
While the Pinedo house was relatively Americanized, Jay’s father did teach the children some Spanish. “He did attempt to teach us a little bit. I guess it wasn’t a main focus, didn’t expect too much, but I remember some key words like rojo (red) and counting of course, that’s a basic way to start. Dad would teach us our prayers in Spanish,” he says.
The family moved to California during Jay’s childhood, which gave Jay the opportunity to visit Mexico. “We ended up in central California at some point and that’s very close to the border. We took family trips down there to see dad’s side of the family. As I noticed as soon as you cross the border, it’s a whole other atmosphere. It has a reminiscent feel of a market in India. If you ever see that on TV or in a documentary, there are a lot of street vendors there and I remember it being very dusty. It’s hot and dusty. Everything seems a little more sepia.”
During our in-studio interview at AR TV Chicago, Jay brought his chess board and shared a bit about his journey since his father introduced him to the game at age three. “We played the tournaments until I was about 12 and then between school, moving, or whatever reasons, I didn’t play for a while. Then at around 16, I started playing again. I thought, ‘Oh I’m actually pretty good at this’ even though I forgot all about it for a couple of years. When you’re a little older of course you have more appreciation for it. I’m seeing deeper into the mechanics of the game and how much replay value there is in because very infrequently we play the same chess game twice.”
As an adult, Jay became a Co-Founder and Instructor at Iron Rooks Chess Collective, an original program that teaches chess. He says, “There are many articles and research studies talking about how chess can improve many different fields, such as critical thinking and cognitive development. It gets the gears working on why I am doing something, consequences and actions a lot earlier.”
Iron Rooks Chess Collective teaches students the ins and outs of the game in a very interactive and fun way. I have to admit, it’s been over a decade and a half since I last played, and Jay’s quick lesson during our interview was educational and effective. Of course, I insisted that he pretended I was a four year old who never even held a chess piece, so I’d say after our brief session, I can definitely enter some preschool tournaments!
To connect with Jay Pinedo or learn more about Iron Rook Chess Collective, visit www.ironrooks.com