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

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora