‘We’re better with them’: Far from home, these 2 soccer players have bolstered Wilson High

Brayan Mora and Cesar Vazquez are turning their American dreams into realities as foreign language student-athletes at Wilson High.

“They just showed up on our front doorstep,” Wilson boys’ soccer coach C.J. Brewer said. “We’re better with them, and we’re trying to make their lives better as well.”

Vazquez is a naturally deft defender who is here to learn English before returning to his native Mexico after graduation. Mora is a supremely talented striker who fled Venezuela as a political refugee last year with an unpredictable future.

The duo have helped the Bruins take over first place in the Moore League. Wilson (8-3-2, 3-0-1) continues its league schedule on Wednesday, at Cabrillo.

“I think we can handle these situations well because of the nature of our staff, the needs we have at our school and how we just really care deeply about all of these kids,” said Wilson Principal Gonzalo Moraga, who also attended Wilson as a foreign language student. “Sometimes the scope of the work goes beyond what we do at Wilson.”

Mora, 18, never played organized soccer while growing up in Táchira, Valenzuela. The senior learned his exceptional footwork during the never-ending street ball games with the older kids from the neighborhood.

“I was the middle child and no one else in my family played soccer,” Mora said through translator and soccer team manager Giovanna Barajas. “The younger kids played inside with toys, but I wanted to go outside. Playing soccer is my escape.”

Mora isn’t very big but he plays a big attacking style with light feet and impressive balance. Going against older competition taught him to be tough, so he’s not the type of player that easily goes to ground on a foul. He is the type of player who turns heads.

“I’ve always wanted to come play in America,” Mora said. “It’s just the American dream I’ve heard of in stories. That’s the only reason I thought it was possible.”

International news outlets have reported on the Venezuela government’s intimidation tactics used on its’ own people in order to stay in power. According to Mora, he and his family were targets of threats after he attended political rallies. In essence, each political party is trying to recruit the youth for their cause, and a physically fit young man like Mora is highly prized. However, Mora’s parents had procured him a travel visa in 2012 for family vacations, and that’s how he flew to Orlando, Florida with his aunt in 2017 to start a new life.

“The situation affects me a lot because I love my country and my people who are still there,” Mora said. “My parents miss me a lot, and I talk to my mom on the phone every night when I get home.”

After spending a month in Florida, Mora moved to Utah for his junior year at Timpview High where he had some friends from Venezuela but still no opportunity to play organized soccer. That changed when he found his uncle Henry Mora living in Long Beach.

“I’ve always been looking forward to having structure and organization,” Mora said. “I just want to play for a team.”

Wilson’s English learning coordinator, Melissa Galbreath, was the first person to put Mora on track to play soccer for the Bruins by sending him to Brewer; Principal Moraga stepped up to be Mora’s translator at immigration office meetings. Moraga said the school helps 20-30 international students with a wide range of needs every year.

“We have a lot of kids who are refugees who come to us from Guatemala and Mexico and we want to be information sources for them with all of the logistical parts,” Moraga said. “(Mora’s) story, and stories like his, are very personal to me because I did come in as an immigrant in 1991 when I was 13 years old. I remember being at Wilson at 15, so I relate to finding a new life in the United States. And I relate to people who helped me when I was a student at Wilson.”

Mora is working on his status as a political refugee, but that’s increasingly difficult with the current administration and government shutdown. He has less than a year to get it figured out, and he fears he won’t be able to visit if the paperwork doesn’t go though.

“It’s been hard but these people at Wilson are good people,” Mora said. “I can’t thank them enough. I will always have them in my heart, and I’m happy to be in this school and to play soccer here.”

Vazquez, 17, played soccer because that’s what kids do in Chihuahua, Mexico where he was born into a big athletic family. However, he was more concerned with his schooling and gave up the game seven years ago. Vazquez quickly excelled in the classroom, especially in math and science, and moved in with a Long Beach family over the summer so he could improve his English speaking skills. The senior plans on returning home this summer.

“I always had the dream to come here and travel to more countries in Europe and elsewhere, but the principle reason was to improve my English,” Vazquez said. “In Mexico, if you speak two or more languages you open a lot of doors and jobs and universities. I’m looking forward to going back and seeing my friends and family.”

Vazquez lives in Long Beach with his cousin, Jorge Gonzalez, who also went to Wilson where he played soccer with Brewer. The two former teammates talked about Vazquez joining the team, and the lanky defender impressed all of the Wilson coaches very quickly with his natural feel for the game.

“It was the way he approached things,” Wilson assistant coach Doug Fatone said. “He always had his head up and was always processing and thinking. We can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a really bright kid. It was difficult to communicate with him at first, but now you can sit and have a conversation with him in English.”

Vasquez said he thought the adjustment would be difficult because of the language barrier and cultural differences, but said he’s received help and support from friends on the team who, “if I make a mistake with my English, are really good with me. They watch out for me.”

Vazquez said his favorite classes right now are psychology and AP calculus. He and a friend from Mexico plan to travel to Japan to learn Japanese after graduation but first, he wants to finish his short soccer career on a high note

“This team is really good,” Vasquez said. “We can do a lot of good things this season.”

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.