The deafening scream of Xolos fans at Estadio Caliente isn’t enough to distract Rayael Maya from his job. While spectators are entrenched in the game, Maya clicks away on his Canon XL3 camera with the ardor of a man living his dream.
Maya graduated from Bonita Vista High School in 1999 and then attended Southwestern College to see what career interested him. After a semester and a half he dropped out and starting working at various places around the county, not knowing photography was within his reach.
Maya’s stumble into photography was an accidental one. He would often go to Baja to take part in some off-road racing with friends.
“Every other race that we would lose, there was at least a thousand photographers taking pictures,” he said.
He recalls the day they won a race with no photographers there to capture their glorious triumph. Maya decided then and there he would take on the role of photographer.
“I kind of set aside the off-road racing and I just started taking pictures with my little cheap camera,” Maya said. “I started uploading them to a website and then from there I saw people were interested in the pictures.”
Maya found his new hobby — capturing moments with the push of a button that would otherwise be lost and forgotten.
He never expected it to be more than a hobby until 2010, when his dad invited him to a Xolos game.
At the time, the Xolos were a Primera A level team, a second-tier division much like the D-League of the NBA or the minors of baseball.
Maya’s scarce knowledge of the Xolos went only as far as knowing they played right across the national fence line. He would not only discover the “beautiful game” but a job opportunity as well.
“I go watch a game and I see that there’s two photographers and I thought ‘that’s pretty cool. I bet you I can be down there.’ And I started contacting them and they kept on shutting me off,” Maya said.
He didn’t quit there.
“I guess it was the determination that I kept on insisting and insisting that they finally called me up for an interview and that’s when they told me they needed a photographer,” he said.
Maya found himself working as an official photographer with the perks of having a press badge and the clearance to go anywhere in the stadium.
“Except the locker room. I can’t take pictures in the locker room,” Maya said.
Nonetheless, he saw himself working for a Mexican soccer team that would eventually become national champions. He was there when the Xolos were promoted to Division I. He was also there at the Xolos’ first home game as Division I participants and he continues to be in attendance to witness history. Maya’s job is to catch the moments and reactions of fans and spectators, a side of sports rarely touched on.
During the job, he’s at every level of Estadio Caliente, going from level to level, one side of the field to the other trying to spot unique fans.
“I’ve seen Colombians and Argentinians at games,” said Maya. “It’s really exciting when you see somebody of a different ethnic race sporting the same shirt. I also saw some Chinese people. That was actually more exciting. I went up to the Chinese guys and I said, ‘hey what are you guys doing here?’ They said they were from San Diego and were Xolos fans.”
Xolos have had an effect not only on San Diego, but on other locales as well. Maya cites that he’s seen Xolo fans come from Los Angeles and even from the state of Arizona.
His personal fan base is evident through his Facebook page, Mi Xolo Foto, where he’s generated an audience of 4,238 people. Every week he uploads 150-200 of the thousands of pictures he takes at games for them to enjoy.
“Sometimes people even send me a [Facebook] message like ‘I’ll be sitting in row this and seat 14. Look for me please.’ I’m down at the field level, I don’t know where the rows are at,” he said. “I know the sections of the stadium but I don’t know where row G-13’s at.”
Maya said he enjoys the job but when it comes to away games, he goes as a fan.
“When I go as a fan I get to actually see the game and have a beer and be yelling, cheering and screaming,” he said.
“But when I’m working, I don’t really get to see the game because I’m chasing that family that stands out. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have fun, because I really do have fun. I like what I do. I like the fact that when I’m down at the field level I’m looking up at the people and they’re yelling my name. Maya Maya Maya. It gets me motivated and gets me pumped up to take out my camera and start shooting.”