Oakland junior Jose Ferninas and Stewarts Creek junior Nerio Flores are happy, well-adjusted high school soccer players.
But it wasn’t long ago they were suffering through poor living conditions in their homeland of Venezuela.
That’s why they left.
They left behind famine, a lack of clean water, looting and massive power outages that have ravaged the socialist country.
Ferninas and Flores have made new homes in the United States and are playing soccer for their respective area schools.
And while they’re elated to be living a better life in the U.S., both still have friends and family left behind in Venezuela.
“My mother had to sell two cars and a house to pay for the trip,” said Ferninas, through a translator, teammate Mario Perea. Ferninas came to Murfreesboro with his brother three months ago. Their father immigrated a few months earlier. “My mother is still there.”
Added Flores, who came to America a year ago with his parents and sister, “We’re trying to help bring other family here. It was a good time for us to get out of there. We were running out of resources. I could see us at a point of chaos. That’s when we decided. It was a good point.
“There is no law. For example, police do what they want to do. I escaped from Venezuela because my house was (shot up). My dad (Nerio Sr.) was a lawyer and against the government. People are afraid to go against the government. They don’t want to risk life.”
Under the leadership of President Nicolas Maduro, the country’s quality of life has deteriorated, prompting those like the Ferninas family and the Flores family to seek a better life.
Those left behind
Some haven’t been as lucky, however.
Ferninas was not able to make contact with his mother, a doctor in Venezuela, during a recent power outage in the country.
“It’s really horrible to see the situation there,” Ferninas said. “I’ve seen videos, and one of the things that has happened lately is power going off. I haven’t heard from my mom in a bit.”
During that same blackout, things were worse for members of the Flores family.
“There were five days straight with no light,” Flores said. “Everybody got crazy and started stealing food from shops. Then, when the electric system recovered, the police started doing work to find out who stole food.
“They got into the house of my grandfather. They put him in a room and then killed him there to steal all the food in the house, then left. That was last Friday.”
New beginnings, new bonds
Oakland traveled to Stewarts Creek for a District 7-AAA soccer match Friday. Before the match, Ferninas spotted Flores with a Venezuelan flag.
“I was carrying the flag,” Flores said. “He said, ‘You’re Venezuelan?’ We started talking. The number of Venezuelans have increased (in area schools). Every time they get here, there’s a whole group sitting at a table, sharing situations about their families. They have friends, mothers and fathers there.”
Flores has a couple of other teammates who are from Venezuela, but they have been in the United States for a few years now.
Ferninas came to the United States three months ago, joining his father and sister who had already immigrated months earlier. Settling in Murfreesboro, he has instantly become a major factor on the Patriot soccer team.
“(Ferninas) is a good player,” Oakland coach Jeff Porter said. “He’ll get significant minutes. He’ll be one of our best options at forward. He’ll offer us a lot.”
Added Perea, “We were excited. We always hear of Venezuelan players being good. We knew it was a good addition.”
The same can be said for Flores, who is a team captain this year after being with the program less than a year.
Both played national soccer in Venezuela.
“Since I got here, all that’s been on my mind is I want to play soccer,” Flores said. “I’m very thankful (for) my coach (Brooke Mayo), especially, and my teammates. They have been involved in my situation and country, and they understand me whenever I’m down.
“They push me up and say everything is going to be OK. I’m very thankful for that. Without them I couldn’t feel comfortable here.”
Ferninas and Flores said their families plan on staying in the United States, specifically Rutherford County. The decision to move here was prompted by friends of each family.
Ferninas’ father, Fernando, worked at a hydroelectric company in Venezuela before realizing that a move was imminent. He sent Jose’s two sisters about a year ago, came himself 10 months ago, and Jose and his brother came just three months ago. He is working construction here to help support the family.
“Dad didn’t have long to make a decision,” Jose Ferninas said. “He noticed how quickly things were changing there. We plan on staying here.”
Flores’ father went from his law practice there to gardening work here while awaiting political asylum.
“It’s a better future for my sister and me,” Flores said. “My father had to leave it all — a house, a business — to come here for a new life. It’s impossible to live there.”
Meanwhile, both are expected to be big contributors to their respective soccer teams going forward. And they’re loving the new life they’ve made.
“(Ferninas) fits right in,” Porter said. “He loves it. He and the other players are constantly speaking Spanglish to each other. They all enjoy a camaraderie that comes with being on the same team together.”
Added Flores, “I consider myself a lucky person. I was able to get out of the entire country with my family. There are people that have to (try to) get out alone.”
Reach Cecil Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-278-5168 and on Twitter @Cecil_Joyce.