News / USA

Winning Team Breaks Losing Streak

High school players fight poverty, language barrier and immigration issues

The Woodburn High School boys soccer team practices for an upcoming playoff game.
The Woodburn High School boys soccer team practices for an upcoming playoff game.
Chris Lehman

The Woodburn, Oregon, High School boys soccer team continued a remarkable streak this month: for the 25th season in a row, the Bulldogs reached the state soccer playoffs. But they had never won the championship... until this year.

Their victory on Saturday is also a symbolic win for their heavily-Hispanic hometown. Writer Steve Wilson spent a year chronicling the ups and downs of this determined team. His new book, "The Boys From Little Mexico," is a portrait of a community struggling with immigration and acculturation issues.

Boys from Little Mexico

Front Street in Woodburn, Oregon, is lined with taquerias, stores displaying Mexican-style cowboy boots and hats, signs in Spanish and a bus station that offers tickets to the heart of Mexico. Migrant farm-workers started coming to Woodburn about 50 years ago to work the harvest. So many ended up staying, the town became known as Little Mexico. But just a few blocks down from Front Street, at Woodburn High School, the scene is no different than any other American suburb.

Front Street in Woodburn is lined with businesses which cater to Hispanics.
Front Street in Woodburn is lined with businesses which cater to Hispanics.

More than a dozen teenage boys practice soccer, preparing for what they hope will be a deep run into the playoffs. Senior Jaime Velas is trying not to be over-confident.

"We're taking it step by step, game by game," says Velas. "We don't want to think too far because we don't want to get our hopes up, you know."

Velas had reason to temper his excitement. Despite making the state playoffs for an uninterrupted quarter of a century, Woodburn had never achieved its dream of winning the soccer championship... until this year.

Writer Steve Wilson thinks their perseverance is an apt metaphor.

"They had in one way an unparalleled level of success. They were getting to the playoffs every year. No other team was doing that. But they'd never won the state championship," he says. "And I was feeling like there was a parallel among the team's experience and the experience of Mexican-Americans in the United States."

Long odds

Like many Mexican-Americans, the boys on the Woodburn team faced long odds including poverty, a language barrier and immigration issues. Wilson wondered if those challenges were keeping the Bulldogs from making it over the final hurdle of winning a state championship.

Steve Wilson visits with Martin Maldonado-Cortez and Miguel 'Angel' Arellano, two of the players he profiled in the book, 'The Boys From Little Mexico.'
Steve Wilson visits with Martin Maldonado-Cortez and Miguel 'Angel' Arellano, two of the players he profiled in the book, 'The Boys From Little Mexico.'

After deciding to shadow the team for an entire season, WIlson got to know the players, coaches and supporters. His book, subtitled "A Season Chasing the American Dream," was the result.  

One of the players profiled in the book, Martin Maldonado-Cortez, says he and the other boys on the team were well aware that Woodburn had a rough reputation. The town of just 22,000 people still faces many big-city problems, such as gang violence and drugs.

"We'd go to games and people started acting different, and we kind of noticed that as we were growing up. 'Hide your wallet, Woodburn's coming,'" says Maldonado-Cortez.

Woodburn High School in Woodburn, Oregon
Woodburn High School in Woodburn, Oregon

Don't mess up, his coaches told him. And not just on the field. Don't confirm anyone's preconceived notions about what being an Hispanic kid means.

"At first I didn't know what to think. And then you really think about it, and you still don't know what to think," says Maldonado-Cortez. "You know, you can only do what you can do and hopefully people get to know you and see you in a different way."

'Pocho'

Maldonado-Cortez was born in Los Angeles. His family moved to Woodburn when he was three. He found that the American suburbs weren't the only place he was treated like an outsider. He learned that lesson during a summer playing club soccer in Mexico.

"They gave me a nickname. It was...called me Pocho. And I didn't know what it meant until I actually asked them," he says.

He found out that Pocho is slang term used in Mexico for Mexican-Americans and refers to someone who has lost touch with his roots. Maldonado-Cortez found he wasn't  fully accepted in the white towns or in the Mexican towns.

"Yeah, it was pretty difficult. They really saw you differently. They saw you like if you were some rich kid that can just cross over the border like nothing."

That Maldonado-Cortez sometimes blended in better with his American classmates than with Mexican kids comes as no surprise to Wilson.

"Most of the stuff that's important to them and that they're going through - problems with their parents, trying to find girls, doing your homework, having their aspirations on the field, thinking about college - all of that stuff is the same regardless," says Wilson.

Still chasing the dream

Martin Maldonado-Cortez was one of several seniors on the team during the season chronicled in The Boys from Little Mexico. The Woodburn Bulldogs once again fell short of the state championship that year, but Martin graduated and headed off to college.

Then, in another setback, he had to quit when his parents lost their jobs. He now works at a local retirement home, but he's still chasing the American dream. He follows his old team closely, and coaches a youth soccer team.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs