This French soccer star's harrowing tale as an immigrant is beyond remarkable.

Photo by Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images.

On July 15, France won the 2018 World Cup, but the real winners of the tournament are immigrants.

The French team won the prestigious tournament for the first time since 1998 with the majority of their team comprising players of African or Arab ancestry.

One of those star players is Kylian Mbappe. At 19, he became the youngest player since Pelé to score a goal at the World Cup final. He won FIFA's "Best Young Player" award after his win against Croatia and has also already been dubbed the next Cristiano Ronaldo.


But what makes Mbappe stand out isn't his impressive footwork and achievements. It's the obstacles he had to overcome.

Mbappe, like a lot of his teammates, comes from an immigrant family: His father originated from Cameroon and his mother, Algeria. But more notably, Mbappe grew up in a banlieue (considered a derogatory term for "suburb") on the outskirts of Paris.

The soccer star's backstory is significant considering that, in recent years, French society has not been too kind to African and Arab immigrants and their children.  

Since the 1980s, the French government has zoned off certain banlieues to immigrants coming from African and Arab countries. In these neighborhoods, about 36% of the residents live below the poverty line — tripling the national average. The unemployment rate is at 28%, twice that of France's national average.

It gets even worse for French Muslims, as their society continues to alienate them with head-covering bans and draconian anti-terrorism laws. In fact, while Muslims are only 10% of the French population, they make up 60-70% of France's prison population.

Mbappe serves as a beacon of hope for young children in France's poorest neighborhoods.

Despite being born in the country, the children of African and Arab immigrants still struggle to escape the second-class citizen treatment. Even professional soccer player Karim Benzema, a French-born son of French-born parents, finds that he is not considered to be a true French citizen due to his Algerian background. "If I score, I'm French. If I don't, I'm Arab," Benzema reportedly said a few years ago.

Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images.

But for young kids in banlieues, Mbappe is proof that triumph and acceptance can be in their own fates. In an interview with Al Jazeera, several children from Mbappe's home banlieue of Bondy expressed what France's World Cup win means to them.

"It makes me proud because he comes from the suburbs like me," Yanis Jean, a 14-year-old, told the news organization. "I want to be like him one day."

Loutfi Bechareff, 17, said that Mbappe has now made Bondy a recognizable neighborhood in Paris. "It makes me so happy because Mbappe comes from here so when people ask me where I play, I say AS Bondy and they immediately know where I come from."

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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