At home and away | With march, migrants seek space on foreign field

[O]ur education and health care systems are pushed beyond their resources; millions of undocumented aliens are driving automobiles without licenses (or insurance) and driving wages down; and a burgeoning black market for forged documents allows foreigners to, among other things, obtain the skills necessary to fly commercial airliners into crowded buildings.

It is hard not to feel that such views, calling for a clampdown on borders and enforcement of existing immigration statutes, lag the reality on the ground. In today’s Seattle Times we read of coach Juan Carlos Torres‘s persistence in building a soccer team for 18 students at the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center. They call themselves “the Internationals” with players from Thailand, Mexico, Ethiopia, Senegal, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, all trying to gain mastery of English over one to three semesters and to move into mainstream Seattle schools. Even physical-education classes incorporate vocabulary-building drills.

Soccer helps provide familiarity and fraternity to soften the culture shock. “You put that ball out there and you don’t need language,” says another Seattle-area coach, Ireland native Mike Ryan. “It’s like taking a teddy bear to bed.”

We take special notice of Nike’s donation of white home jerseys to the SBOC side. Not that the contribution causes the athletic-apparel giant, based in the Pacific Northwest, any pain. But its aggressive “Don’t Tread on Me” marketing campaign on behalf of U.S. soccer speaks with a different voice, a saber-rattling turn that seems calculated to alienate any native who thinks that soccer is anything less than the bee’s knees and to provide ready-made comic material for announcers abroad looking for examples of American naïveté.

Less than 20 short years ago, even microscopic island nations drooled rivers at the opportunity to dribble around us; to make us wish we never gained independence from England. They laughed at us. … Other nations do not merely scout us anymore; they toss and turn and develop digestive problems over us. … So Says This American Game.

The copy writer’s penchant for alliterative “d”s fortunately did not extend to dysentery.

Some of the findings of Stodolska, left, and Santos will be published in the Journal of Leisure Research. (L. Brian Stauffer | University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

The chest pounding obscures a soccer culture of subtle grace and quiet dignity, discussed well in research into the leisure habits of migrants conducted by Monika Stodolska and Carla Almeida Santos of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The researchers in interviews with Mexican workers in the Chicago and Champaign-Urbana areas determined that pickup soccer and basketball games were the recreation outlets of choice, given the crushing workloads of between 70 and 80 hours per week and the need to save money for extended families. The games’ unstructured and spontaneous qualities made them appealing. Undocumented workers also did not want to risk trips beyond parks near their homes lest a wrong move lead to identification and arrest. Says Stodolska:

It is unlikely that most Americans who come into contact with transnational migrants, who employ them, and who take sides in the “immigration debate” realize or consider the sacrifices these people make to support their loved ones in their home country, the tough lives they live in the U.S. and the contributions they make to the economy.

For many, buying a beer or cigarettes is considered too wasteful. “Beer is like a tile on my floor,” said one construction worker. Within such a circumscribed life, space on the soccer pitch must seem luxurious.


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