KEUKA PARK, N.Y. - Anthony Ordonez (Port Chester, N.Y.) hasn’t set foot in his native Ecuador since he was a wide-eyed third grader, yet the Keuka College freshman is constantly reminded of his Ecuadorian heritage.
Like many Keuka students, Ordonez, who is also a talented member of Keuka’s men’s basketball team, enjoys the wondrous scenery and the crystal clear blue water of Keuka Lake that borders Keuka College.
It is this majestic view that first convinced Ordonez to leave behind the hustle and bustle of city life for the peaceful serenity of Keuka Park. When he visited campus during the latter portion of his high school days, Ordonez knew he wanted to find a school with a top-flight education program that would prepare him for a fulfilling career as a history teacher.
“The biggest reason I came here, besides my program, was I fell in love with the lake,” said Ordonez, a guard on the men's basketball team who is majoring in Education at Keuka.
“When I was a kid I fell in love with different views, (and it all started) because of where my mom lived in Ecuador. Her home in Esmeraldas had the perfect view of the ocean, and it was beautiful. I promised my sister and my mother that one day we’d all enjoy a beautiful view like the one we had in Esmeraldas…and then when I saw the lakeside view here at Keuka, I just fell in love with it. It reminded me of the promise I made to my mother and sister.”
Ever since he can remember, Ordonez has been speaking Spanish, the native language of his parents, Maria and Domiedes Ordonez. Anthony Ordonez was raised as a bilingual child, as both his parents communicated solely in Spanish with their only son.
Only Anthony’s older sister, Katiuska (Kati), knew how to speak English. While Anthony was surrounded by his Spanish roots, it was Kati who first stressed to Anthony the importance of growing up as a bilingual child who could fluently converse in both English and Spanish.
Kati was born in Ecuador before relocating to America with her father in 1985 at the age of 7. According to stories Anthony heard growing up, when Kati first heard she was leaving Ecuador and moving to the United States, she rushed out to the nearest library “to teach herself as much English as she could learn, so she could fit in in her new home,” said Anthony.
Kati and her father remained in America while Maria lived with her family back home in Esmeraldas. While away from his wife, Domiedes worked in the maintenance department at SUNY Purchase, located 35 miles northeast of New York City in Westchester County.
After Domiedes saved up enough money, a pregnant Maria relocated to Port Chester, and shortly thereafter, in March of 1992, Anthony Ordonez was born as a first-generation American.
Ordonez said he feels a strong sense of obligation to his sister. Without her dedication to his education, specifically her insistence on Anthony learning how to speak English, Ordonez isn’t sure what his future would look like.
“My sister was really a role model for me, and anything she said or did, I followed in her footsteps,” Ordonez said of Kati, who is currently employed as a teacher.
“She always told me that I had something special, that not a lot of people [who come to this country from a foreign country] are bilingual and can fluently speak English, and that [being bilingual] would make me a better candidate for jobs. It also helped me remain in touch with my heritage. I was taught to never stop bettering yourself, so that’s why it became important to maintain being bilingual.”
While he has only visited Ecuador three times in his young life, Ordonez is planning for a prolonged visit this summer to catch up with his family members who still reside in the South American country with a population of 15 million.
His next visit to his homeland will come with a heavy heart. Ordonez lost his mother four years ago, when he was a 15-year-old high school freshman, and he said that while losing his mother was difficult, he cherishes the memories they shared together and looks forward to reuniting with her family when he next visits Ecuador.
“I want to stay connected to where I’m from,” Ordonez said. “I’ve heard so many stories about Ecuador, but I’ve only been to my home country three times. I can still remember every trip we took there, everything that happened. I remember spending time with my family, being on the beach hanging out together; it was a great time.”
Thanks to his unbreakable bond with his roots, Ordonez felt confident in his choice of a college. Now that he’s been on campus for nearly four months, Ordonez has settled into college life and is adjusting to the difficulties associated with gaining a college degree.
He said his classes are “challenging,” but he’s enjoying the academic pursuits so far.
On the basketball court, Ordonez has been a welcome addition to second-year head coach Thad Phillips’ squad. Ordonez, a 6-foot-2 guard, came to Keuka after being a three-time all-conference selection for Port Chester High School.
During his senior season, Ordonez garnered all-conference, all-section and all-county honors while being nominated for the McDonald’s All-American team after averaging 22.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
At Keuka, Ordonez has played in four games and made one start for the Storm (0-5). In just 78 minutes, Ordonez has scored 28 points, collected 14 rebounds and added four steals. He is Keuka’s third-leading scorer (7.0 points per game), and while the sample size is small, Phillips envisions Ordonez playing a big role on the Storm for years to come.
“Anthony is a different type of student-athlete, and he’s going to be an integral player for us for the next four years,” Phillips said. “Anthony definitely has a bit of a city game to him, he compliments our offense really well and he’s able to get to the rim whenever he wants, for the most part. He has some growing pains learning a new system, but from an athletic standpoint, he’s unique. He has some creativity in getting the ball to the rim, and every day he gets a little more comfortable.”
As his first semester away from home as a student-athlete at Keuka is winding down, Ordonez is busy wrapping up a chaotic fall semester and preparing for his final exams.
With only three returning players and 11 freshmen on the roster, the basketball team has taken some lumps but has shown tremendous resolve through five games. Ordonez said this collection of talent is “one of the best teams I’ve ever been a part of, including my AAU teams. We have a lot of talent and as soon as we get everything right [on the court], I feel we can make some noise in the [North Eastern Athletic] Conference and be a very good team.”
Always mindful and proud of his diverse heritage, Ordonez is confident he’ll be able to handle any challenge thrown his way, so long as he stays true to his roots and remembers the valuable life lessons bestowed upon him by his family.
“Before I could even walk I remember my mother and father telling me to not forget where I came from, because that’s what made me who I am,” Ordonez said. “Don’t forget your past, because it played an important role in your development, and whatever you do forget about [from your past] could hurt you in the future.”
*Release courtesy of John Boccacino, Keuka College sports information director