Born and raised by farmworking Mexican parents in the small community of Lompoc, California, Julian Araujo was given the groundwork to cultivate his passion for soccer. His mother and father, who both worked in the demanding agricultural fields after immigrating from Mexico, found a way to put aside time and energy that helped their son become a professional player.
"I wouldn't be here without them, for all the sacrifices that they did," Araujo told ESPN. "They did that because my dream was to become a professional soccer player."
After making an impact at a young age with MLS side LA Galaxy, the 21-year-old Mexican-American fullback made headlines after transferring to Barcelona, a move that initally looked to be jeopardy after the paperwork was registered 18 seconds past the Jan. 31 deadline.
Along with a call-up for upcoming matches for Mexico's men's national team, the promising defender appears set to soon elevate his career to another level.
- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
- Futbol Americas on ESPN+: Liga MX, MLS, USMNT, El Tri
But for Araujo, none of this would have happened without the support of his family.
His mother, from the Mexican state of Zacatecas, typically did most of the driving to his youth soccer games, often making the 100+ mile trip most weekends for matches in Los Angeles. His father, from Guanajuato, didn't have as flexible of a schedule and felt emotionally hurt when he wasn't able to watch his son's performances. During a period in which Araujo's father was employed as a truck driver, he wouldn't even get a chance to see his son at all.
Occasionally, one of them would also need to leave work early to take Araujo where he needed to go, and as he noted about their modest wages: "Leaving work early means hours that you won't get paid."
Years later, those hours with their son have proven to be time well spent. Following a 2017 move to Arizona's Barca Residency Academy -- which claims to be "FC Barcelona's first and only youth residency soccer [academy] in the U.S." -- Araujo excelled in the program and signed a professional contract with the Galaxy in 2019. A two-time MLS All-Star, he made the move to LaLiga in February.
"As a kid, I've always dreamed of playing for the top teams in the world. To be able to be here as a Mexican-American and with the biggest club in world football, it's amazing," said Araujo about his February move. "Especially coming from where I come from, not just being Mexican-American, but coming from Lompoc, California. It's difficult, it's a city that gets overlooked and not many kids get opportunities."
Now in Barcelona, he's recently moved into an apartment and is adapting to a new culture and home. He's eager to explore and has already been given recommendations for restaurants -- including a few Mexican ones -- that he's meaning to visit. Comfortable with his Spanish, the adaptation abroad hasn't been tough, although it has led to occasional confusing moments when others dive into the regional dialect.
"It's not difficult, but there'll be times when they talk really fast, sometimes they'll switch their words to Catalan and I look at them weird," Araujo mentioned with a laugh. "But for the most part, it's been good."
On the pitch and at trainings, he's intent on absorbing all that he can in the Barcelona environment that houses some of the top names in the sport. The player recognizes that it's a privilege to simply be a part of the setup that many see as an impossible goal to reach, but before he can make his debut, he has to wait on a decision that could potentially put a delay on his plans.
Amid uncertainty, leaning on Alba and Marquez
There's nothing in the soccer world that is as frenzied as deadline day. In a chaotic dash to make deals during the last hours of a transfer window, teams sometimes finalize negotiations and file paperwork literally at the last minute. Unfortunately, this happened to Araujo in the latest winter transfer window when his registration with Barcelona was 18 seconds too late.
Barcelona, citing a computer error, have since appealed the decision made by FIFA to not allow the registration. Although Araujo is training with Barcelona after signing a contract through 2026 with their reserve team (Barca Atletic) last month, both the player and his new club are awaiting a decision on their appeal from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
"I was frustrated, there was nothing I could do about it. My part was done, my part was handled," Araujo said. "That's one of the things that I've learned throughout my career is just to handle what you can control."
According to a source close to the player, if the court rules in favor of the appeal, Araujo will be eligible for official matches for both the reserve and senior sides this season. If they rule against the appeal, he won't be able to take part in any official matches until after the end of the campaign.
In either case, the silver lining is that he gets to train alongside the reservists while also given opportunities to practice with the club's first team.
"It's amazing, man. It's a whole other world," said an enthusiastic Araujo about training with the senior squad's players. "You always have to be on your toes, always have to be ready, expecting what's going to happen next, if you're defending the pace is very, very high."
As an active participant in those sessions, he's not only soaking up constructive criticism from players, but also seeking advice -- especially from Spain international Jordi Alba.
"He's in a left-back position and he's had an amazing career, he's somebody that I looked up to as a young boy, so I ask questions," Araujo said. "I'm trying to learn, trying out what I see on the pitch whenever we're training."
This perspective extends to Barca Atletic, where he's currently assigned to and managed by another player he idolized when he was growing up: Rafael Marquez, the former Mexico national team captain who played in five World Cups.
"In trainings, I just look back and think 'wow,'" Araujo said. "This is why even as a coach, this is why I know he was a top footballer, because of the way he goes about his days, the way he talks to us.
"Sometimes he'll even train with us and he still has quality.
"He's been great with me, he's had some words with me about what I need to work on, what it is that I'm doing well, what I can do better and how I can do them better."
Eyeing glory with Mexico after USMNT switch
Whether he makes debut in the near future or in the 2023-24 season, Araujo will benefit greatly from his experience with Barcelona. It'll also be welcome news for a Mexican national team that is in desperate need of a generational change.
Once a former U.S. youth national team player that made a single appearance for the senior United States team, Araujo announced in late 2021 that he had switched to Mexico. With three caps under his belt, the right-back recently made his intentions clear about the upcoming international break where El Tri will close out their CONCACAF Nations League group stage against Suriname (away on March 23) and Jamaica (home on March 26).
Araujo figures to be a key prospect during a time in which El Tri undoubtedly in a rebuilding period. After a disappointing exit in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup, Gerardo "Tata" Martino left his job as manager, which led to the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) hiring of Diego Cocca as the new coach.
After being omitted from Martino's squad in Qatar, Araujo was among the 34 players called up by Cocca for the upcoming matches. Ahead of the roster announcement, Araujo had a 20-minute Zoom call with Cocca but said the discussion was more introductory than anything else.
"Getting to know me, getting to know him, letting me know that he wants to be involved with the players and handle the players, manage the players well. That's kind of what the call was about, nothing really focused on the pitch yet, but I'm sure as soon as I get there, we'll have some conversations," Araujo said.
Araujo knows it won't be easy to secure a starting spot with Mexico, let alone minutes in an official match this month -- he faces stiff competition from Ajax's Jorge Sanchez and Pachuca's Kevin Alvarez at the right-back position.
"I want to work hard, I want to learn from everybody. I want to be able to obviously play games, I want to be a starter and I want to be a contributor to this team," Araujo said. "I'm going to do whatever I can to help contribute and give my best version to myself each and every day and give whatever I can, give my all to the crest."
The idea of being highly aware and open was reinforced by his former Galaxy teammate who just so happens to be the all-time leading goalscorer for the Mexican national team. Before Araujo joined Barcelona, he sought out advice from Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.
"He said to just continue to be open-minded, work hard, be open to learning from everybody, never stop working and always keep my feet on the ground," Araujo said. "That's what I take in every day and I'm doing that. He's had a career that he's had for a reason, so when someone like him is telling you to do those things, it's for a reason.
"He told me to just enjoy the process, enjoy every second of it, not a lot of people get to be in a position that I'm in. People dream of being in this position."
With Mexico and Barcelona, he's also self-aware of the improvements that he can make as a right-back.
"Taking my first touch forward, knowing my spacing, knowing what's behind me in the transition, being in a good transition attack position. There's a lot of things that I want to learn."
Aiding farmworkers and the community back home
Araujo remains confident about becoming a contributor and the improvements he can make in a new chapter of his life that has taken him abroad. He hasn't forgotten where he's come from though, and with the elevated platform he's being given, he hopes to continue to back others on a non-sporting matter that hits close to home.
Coming from a long line of farmworkers that includes his parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, Araujo recognized early on that he could one day support those in the community that were underpaid and unnoticed for their efforts. Growing up, he saw firsthand how late they got home, how tired they were with just enough time to eat, sleep and do it all over again early the next morning.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, Araujo became proactive in aiding the farmworking community. In June of that year, he sent meals to farmworkers in Lompoc with a note attached that read: "When the sun rises you go to work. When the sun goes down you continue working. Thank you for working with your hands, your mind and your heart."
For the love of Lompoc 💙@julian__araujo, the Araujo family and the LA Galaxy surprised Lompoc farm workers today with free lunch & gifts for the holidays ✨ pic.twitter.com/RrcmzG0vl8— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) December 7, 2022
After tweeting that summer he wanted "to bring attention to the grueling conditions and low pay that our field workers are experiencing every day," he made a $1,700 donation in September to the United Farm Workers union and called for others to contribute as well.
Since then, he's continued to help Lompoc by giving away (with the support of the Galaxy, according to the L.A. Times) $26,000 worth of food, gift cards and supplies in 2021; promoting a campaign for farmworkers to receive vaccinations in the same year; and in the winter of 2022, he served food and presents to those in need during the holiday season.
Now that he has increased attention and a brighter spotlight, Araujo feels compelled to maintain his support and advocacy for the farmworkers back home.
"I want to continue to be myself and fight for what I believe in. I believe that they deserve a lot more than what they get and that the work doesn't go unnoticed," Araujo said. "We're here today, we eat our vegetables and our fruits because of them. Everything's grown correctly, cut correctly for the right amount of time. Because of them, we have all this on our table."
Perhaps just as important as getting a chance with Mexico, and maybe even just as significant as signing with Barcelona, is the fact that Araujo hasn't lost sight of aiding and upholding the very community that let him grow from one field to another.