The first time I saw the Richmond boys soccer team play, it was against De La Salle in 2005. It was raining hard that day, but the Oilers managed to pull out a hard fought 1-0 victory.
I wasn’t rooting for Richmond, but being Latino, I couldn’t help but feel proud. I somehow was connected to the Oilers. I could relate with the players because I myself looked like them. The names on their roster were similar to mine. They communicated on the field in Spanish and I understood every word. I saw my older cousins in them. I saw my family.
My grandmother immigrated to this country in the 1970’s and one at a time, brought her nine children from Honduras, Central America. One of them was my father, he was 17. My family worked hard to buy a house in Los Angeles before finally moving and settling in Lynwood, Ca, a city not unlike Richmond.
It was there were my older cousins played on the Lynwood High soccer team in the late 1980’s. Lynwood’s claim to fame is that it’s the city next to Compton. Gangs were visible, drugs easy to find. The city is made up of low income, blue collar families. Because my cousins couldn’t speak English or dressed a certain way, they were ridiculed on campus. They wouldn’t want to wear their soccer warm ups because it meant they were on the soccer team and seen as “wet backs.” They persevered.
When I was in high school I played volleyball. It’s not a sport viewed as one dominated by the Hispanic culture. We faced the same stereotypes and endured the sideway looks when we traveled to cities like Cerritos and Downey, mostly white, affluent areas back then.
The point is, when I saw how competitive the Richmond team was, I couldn’t help to think how the team had over come all those obstacles and negative views. How by winning on the field and exhibiting sportsmanship, the Oilers had silenced their critics and gain new supporters.
What people sometimes forget is that Latino immigrants come to this country with the same hopes and dreams that any immigrant from any country does: To work, to become successful, to provide for their family. That’s what I see in the Richmond Boys soccer team, young men trying to make it in spite of what may or may not stand against them. My family made it. My older cousins have gone on to live successful lives. Many of the Oilers will as well.