By Steve Wilson
Back in Mexico, Octavio's father had recognized his skill at school from an early age, and had pushed him to do well. When they debated whether he should join F.C. Atlas, his father told him that if he didn't play soccer, he should stay in Irapuato and go to high school, maybe even college.
Ocatvio said to him, “Okay, I’ll do it. I want to do it. But how are you going to pay for it?”
“I can sell this tractor,” his father said. “I can sell acres of land.”
The offer broke Octavio’s heart. His father couldn’t sell the tractor, couldn’t sell their land. There were six other kids, there were his cousins and grandparents. All of those people would suffer, would have to get along with less just so that he could have more schooling? He told his father no, he couldn’t do it that way.
Now, in America, with the chance for Octavio to get an education, his father was torn between his son’s future and the family’s loss. Uncle Ricardo worked on Octavio’s father, making the same arguments that he had made to Octavio himself, knowing the father’s desire for his son to be a success. Reluctantly, his father agreed that Ricardo’s argument made sense.
One day in August, Octavio’s uncle and aunt came into the house and made an announcement: they had signed Octavio up at Woodburn High School. Unless he made efforts otherwise, he was going to school in America.
Then, almost as an afterthought, Ricardo said, “I also signed you up for the soccer team.”
“They have a soccer team?” Octavio asked, intrigued.
“Yes, they’re very good.”
That was enough. He decided to stay. Octavio followed his cousin Everardo to the fields behind the school, where he saw a beautiful emerald pitch towered over by enormous lights. The field reminded him of the ones he had played on with Club Atlas, the perfect fields at college stadiums or the impeccable short stiff grass in the professional stadium in Irapuato, grass as fine and polished as a silk shirt. The field at Woodburn wasn’t as nice as that in Estadio Jalisco stadium, but as soon as he saw it, he knew that a field that nice could only exist at a school that truly cared for soccer.
On the field about 70 other boys were milling around, talking and joking, their eyes on the coaches. With Everardo translating, Octavio went through the tryouts: distance running, sprints, lots of scrimmaging. At first it was awkward. He hadn’t brought cleats from Mexico and he kept falling down. He had to borrow cleats to come back the next day. “I didn’t know anything about varsity or JV,” he said later. “So when the tryouts finished they said, ‘You’re playing varsity’ and I said, ‘Varsity? JV? JV2? What does that mean?’”
After his cousin had explained to him the breakdown of levels -- varsity first, junior varsity second, JV2 third, and freshman for freshmen -- Octavio still wasn’t sure what it signified that he, a freshman, was to play on the varsity squad.
“So I asked, ‘What does that mean?’ and they said, ‘You play good!’”
Back home on the farm, Octavio saw his future roll out in front of him like a red carpet. He would stay in the U.S., play soccer, get a scholarship to a college, and get a degree. He would be an architect or a teacher. Skill on the soccer field would bring him all those things his family had never had. He would change his life, set it on a new road, and bring his family along with him.
Excerpted from "The Boys From Little Mexico: A Season Chasing The American Dream," by Steve Wilson. Published by Beacon Press. Copyright (c) 2010. For more information on the book, visit www.boysfromlittlemexico.com.
(Steve Wilson, the author of "The Boys From Little Mexico: A Season Chasing The American Dream," lives with his family in Portland, Ore., and teaches at Portland State University.)