Colombian immigrant is living an American dream on a football field – NBC 7 San Diego
Three years ago, Juan Camilo Salazar was just a kid in Colombia with dreams. One of those dreams was to play professional football.
“I want to be a professional soccer player, it’s my dream,” Camilo Salazar told his mother three years ago as he sat at his dining room table in Colombia.
To fulfill his dream, Camilo Salazar felt he had to leave Colombia and come to America where there were more opportunities.
“I wanted to look for something new. My sister was living in the US, I told my mom why don’t we just go to the US to see what’s going on. She said yes out of nowhere.
Within three months, Juan and his mother Martha Gallo packed up everything they had and flew to San Diego.
“When I arrived here, I had nothing, just my mother and a suitcase next to me. That’s it. No English, nothing. It was just an adventure, when you feel inside that it’s the right way to go.
After arriving in San Diego in 2016, Juan, then 16, and his mother stayed with their family, but finding their way to America was not easy.
“I was really nervous, the first 6 months were really tough,” Juan said.
Martha worked multiple times, often 50 hours a week, and struggled to earn enough money to live. During this time, Juan struggled to learn English.
When asked how much English he knew, Juan replied: “Nothing, none, the first week I translated everything on Google.”
While language and culture were barriers, Juan found no boundaries with the soccer ball.
“The beautiful game you know, and that’s just playing with the ball, have fun!” he said.
Juan’s soccer skills have earned him spots on San Diego’s elite club teams.
Off the pitch, things started to look up. Her mother found a full-time job as a caregiver. Juan and his mother have moved into their own place. Juan enrolled at Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, took additional language classes, and within a year had passed an English proficiency test.
“So when I passed it, I got a paper that said I’m an official English speaker.”
Life in America was good and it was about to get better, because then someone told Juan that his soccer skills could get him into college for free.
“When I first found out that this guy could go to college for free, I said that was crazy! I felt really happy when I started getting recruiting calls.”
After answering calls from college recruiters, Juan accepted a scholarship to Cal State University San Marcos. Shortly after, he graduated from high school. Pretty amazing for a kid who didn’t even speak English two years ago.
“The day I graduated and the day I signed up [to CSUSM] are the happiest times of my life,” he said.
Six games into Juan’s first college season, and things are perfect on the field.
Cal State San Marcos is undefeated, Juan is one of the best players on the team, and Juan’s mom is often in the stands cheering on her son.
And how’s that for a moment of welcome to America? Just a few games into his first season, Juan scored his first career college goal. After scoring the first goal, Juan ran and hugged a friend waving the Colombian flag, then came over and hugged his mother.
“You dream of moments like this. I first thought of the Colombian flag because Colombia is a country that I love, but I left there to find something new, but it is in my heart. Then I went to see my mother to dedicate it to her because without her I wouldn’t be here. She makes me be who I am. Every day I see my mother, I have to do my best, because I see her waking up at 6 am to work, I don’t even have to worry about anything, she worries about everything. I just have to worry about being the best at football and at school and that’s it. So it’s amazing.
This first goal, a magical moment for Juan and mom too.
“Excited and so, so proud,” Martha Gallo said when asked about her emotions after seeing Juan’s first collegiate goal.
A mother who seized the opportunity to make her son’s dreams come true and Juan, a dreamer, who is living the American dream he dreamed of in Colombia.
“This country is the best for dreamers like me. This country is the best for dreamers like me to make their dreams come true. I am living proof that the American dream is still alive for people who are willing to work hard, this country gives you everything you need if you work hard and do what it takes.
Sure, Juan isn’t a professional footballer yet, but is anyone going to bet against him?
“I can’t wait to see what this trip brings me, I’m really happy, I’m living my best life right now.”