It’s easy enough to jump on dual-national players for choosing one side or the other, especially when that choice is the contentious one faced by Mexican-Americans.
Of two worlds, many Mexican-Americans are also of two minds when it comes to choosing a national team. Some have even played for both. Edgar Castillo suited up for Mexico in friendlies and at the U-23 level before switching his allegiance to his native U.S. Jose Torres is famously rumored to have waited for a ring from El Tri before accepting an American call.
Even young U-20s Uvaldo Luna and JP Ocegueda had recently been caught in between, with Luna trading his American jersey for that of El Tri and Ocegueda choosing to stay put despite an invitation from Mexico’s U-20s.
Then there’s Joe Corona. If ever there was a player of two minds when it comes to citizenship, it’s the 22-year-old Southern California-slash-Tijuana native.
“I feel that I always had both of those parts in me, Mexican and American, always in between the two worlds,” Corona told Goal.com. “I was born in L.A., but I was raised my first years in Tijuana. When I was 11, my parents decided it was time I started speaking English, so we moved to San Diego. Ever since then I’ve been living in San Diego.”
When it came time to choose a national team, things weren’t made easy. Bob Bradley called him in for a friendly last August - against none other than El Tri - but that chance, which Corona had accepted, never came to pass.
“The fact is that it came this way,” he said, “with the U.S., Bob Bradley called me in, but they fired him and I didn’t have the chance to play with the U.S.”
The up-and-coming winger received a call almost immediately from Mexico’s U-23s, and traveled to Chile for a pair of friendlies. But the Tijuana midfielder felt he wasn’t given the chance to shine in a Mexican Olympic process.
“Being there, I didn’t feel so comfortable,” Corona said, measuring his words. “The process was very advanced. Maybe I was a little impatient, but being part of the process is important. As a player, what you want is to play, and maybe some people would be upset [with the decision to leave El Tri], but I always want to play.”
When the American U-23s came calling a few months later, Corona decided on the U.S. once again. The back-and-forth pattern replicated his life between the U.S. and Mexico, two countries that for him seem as one.
In fact, Corona’s professional situation exhibits much of the same serendipity, and equanimity between his two native lands. At first, MLS was in his sights, until family circumstances and a chance trial at Tijuana changed things.
“That was my first plan, to go to San Diego State and get drafted to the MLS,” he said. “That was my first plan because I had a scholarship there, but the door was opened for me in Tijuana. One of my best friends from San Diego, he used to commute a lot to Tijuana and he heard about these tryouts for Tijuana.
“He told me, ‘I think you should try out,’ and at first I was like, ‘I’m fine, I’m gonna stay. I have a scholarship and I’m going to the draft, there’s a possibility, and get into MLS,’ so I was comfortable. But he convinced me and that’s where I went to tryout.”
Follow BRENT LATHAM on TwitterThe rest is history. A dynamic Corona helped Tijuana win a place in the top level in Mexico, then make the Liguilla with a solid season in the Clausura 2012. Corona has become a top-flight regular for the Xolos, and as he slowly proves his quality in Mexico, both player and fans seem to have come to terms with his truly dual-national identity.
“I grew up in San Diego, and having the part of Tijuana in me, the community has both worlds,” he said. “I always felt American and Mexican at the same time. I never felt one or the other. As a soccer player, any soccer player wants to excel, and this was the chance that I got.”
- El Tri