For Flores, it’s a choice that could loom on the horizon. This fall he was invited to join the U.S. soccer development academy in Bradenton, Fla., and earlier this month, he was considered by many to be the under-17 national team’s top player during the Nike International Friendlies. He has also been courted by the Salvadoran national federation, which invited him to training when the senior team was in Washington for a CONCACAF Gold Cup match in June.
“It would be difficult [to choose] because my family is Salvadoran and they probably want me to play for the El Salvador national team,” Flores said. “But I’m used to the U.S. I’ve already played with the youth national team.”
Flores knows his parents’ homeland only from how he was raised inside a small red brick house tucked in a neighborhood just off Route 28 in Manassas. He was brought up on traditional Salvadoran food — his favorite is elote loco, a grilled corn dish — and in a Spanish-speaking environment. He was taught to love El Salvador.
Yet in other ways he is a quintessentially American teenager. He went to Manassas Park High School, where as a freshman he led the varsity team to its first state championship. His Facebook profile page is filled with the interactions common on nearly every teenager’s page and tags interests in the MTV show “Jersey Shore” and the rock band The Fray. He smiles in his profile picture, white hat turned backward, giving a thumbs-up sign.
When asked where he is from, Flores said he says El Salvador, if only because if he answers that he is American he is often asked again, “Yeah, but where are you from?”
Otherwise, Flores said he doesn’t feel a need to make a distinction. He is both Salvadoran and American.
“You can be ethnically [one country] and nationally American and be proud of that,” said Tomas Jimenez, assistant professor of sociology at Stanford University, whose research and writing focuses on immigration, assimilation and ethnic and racial identity. “But when you have to make decisions where your kind of ethnic ties cross with your parents’ national ties or are forced to make decisions about things that really do have national identity overtones, like playing for a national soccer team, that . . . forces them to think of ethnic identity in national terms. That’s where things get tricky.
“My guess is a lot of them haven’t thought of ethnic identity in these ways. . . . It’s about the food you eat and the customs you practice, and now you’re being forced to make decisions that really have overtones that are much more to do with national identity than ethnic identity.”