FRESNO -- Mexican Independence Day brings special childhood memories for Chivas USA midfielder Jorge Flores.
Flores, a native of Penjamo, Guanajuato, México made national and international headlines when he won the 2007 Sueño MLS. Since winning the soccer talent search, the former assistant gardener has worked his way to the starting lineup of Chivas USA in Major League Soccer and even suited up for the United States at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Colombia.
In a pitch for the supermarket chain Fresh 'n Easy, Flores made an appearance at Kirk Elementary School in Fresno on Aug. 30, where he spoke about healthy eating and exercise to several hundred kids, even joined in a short match at recess time.
Flores, who will turn 22 on Sept. 16, recalled his younger years Penjamo.
"We used to make a big party on Mexican Independence Day, La Independencia. That day was always good because we made a lot of Mexican food. We used to go to the plaza in Penjamo, Guanajuato, and they did parades and fireworks. It's different because (in México) they have something in their hearts about it; it's very emotional," said Flores, who plans on visiting Guanajuato this year.
At play with the kids at Kirk Elementary also brought back some memories for Flores.
"t was hard at first when I went to school because you don't want to say anything. I didn't speak any English. But, then most of the kids, they speak Spanish, and the teachers helped me too," said Flores. "In México, you don't get the things you can get here. I used to play with my shoes all ripped up, dirty ball on dirty streets."
He father, Gustavo Bonilla, a landscaper, brought Flores in 2005 to southern California to join his mother Juanita Villafana, who had already been in the U.S. for 12 years, and at the time was working as a seamstress in a factory. Flores stayed with his aunts and uncles in Guanajuato, while his parents worked in the U.S.. Villafana made frequent trips to visit him.
After his arrival to California, at age 14, he was enrolled at Anaheim High School as a sophomore. Once the soccer coach noticed his talent on the field, he was quickly recruited to the team.
An uncle had registered Flores to the 2007 Sueño MLS competition, a reality show on soccer presented by Univisión. Flores was on the waiting list, but when a spot opened, he began to impress the scouts. Chivas USA drafted him to the MLS after he won the competition.
"The Sueño MLS was really a dream for me. I never thought that I would be a soccer professional," he said. "There was like 2,000 kids competing and a good talent of kids. There was people from out of the country and all over this country. It was great for me. I was called up to the World Cup, U-20, and now I'm working my way up to the big team."
Flores told the kids they can succeed too, just to keep trying hard, listen to teachers, but to also be sure to eat well and exercise.
"You can never forget when you were a kid. You can get what you want, if you try hard enough," said Flores.