Cross of distinction | Cruz Azul’s visit to Atlanta offers another cultural intersection

Quinones traveled “on a hunch” to the High Plains, guided by Garden City coach Joaquí­n Padilla. The flat landscape filled with cattle and corn, the daring of homesteading pioneers and certainly the presence of Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz—who author L. Frank Baum positioned in nearby Liberal, Kansas, “to emphasize his heroine’s innocence”—occupy strands in the American myth-making enterprise. The area more recently has become a site for Mexican migration due to the presence of the world’s largest beef slaughterhouse, run by IBP, Iowa Beef Packers—since acquired by Tyson Foods.

The 2003 Garden City team that Quinones profiles—consisting of 11 children of Mexican immigrants, five from El Salvador, one Vietnamese and one Anglo—considers itself an outsider in school life. Parents, family members and players themselves work or sense that one day they will work at the IBP plant, which offers security but also an easy surrender to the struggle against language and other cultural barriers. Although the team formed in 1996, players believe that “some students on campus didn’t even know the school had a soccer team.” Soccer, Quinones tells us,

was relegated, was ignored, never mentioned even when the team had a brief period where it did okay. No one ever mentioned it. A lot of kids on the team kind of viewed this as the way Mexicans were viewed in the community still. Mexicans had been an integral and essential part of the economy as beef workers for 20 years by that point, but they were never really mentioned except in the crime pages. The way soccer was viewed was very much a symbol for how Mexicans had not integrated … into the southwest Kansas area.

Successes during the 2003 season help bring the players and the Hispanic community at large into public view, resulting in the school’s first pep rally on the soccer team’s behalf. Individually, players and families shake off some of the fear that limits possibilities for life and that even affects the style of fútbol, such that the high school in times of struggle plays with deference to the taller white children from opposing schools in the region.

A trickle-down effect helps the Hispanic community more broadly recognize its legitimacy in the cultural surround. The school the following year hires the first Hispanic high school principal in Kansas history. Quinones cites the example of Vanessa Ramírez, empowered through supporting the Garden City team to continue her education past high school and to play soccer herself.

“Hispanic students isolate themselves,” Ramí­rez tells Quinones. “They say, ‘I’m going to look stupid if I participate.’ They feel like they don’t want to be involved in school. They just want to be involved in their own little world. They’re scared.”

Updates

  • David Keyes of Culture of Soccer offers a photo essay on the Garden City team as part of his American soccer road trip (Sept 23).
  • The United Soccer Leagues in which the Atlanta Silverbacks compete is not a “second division” in the true sense. There is no promotion or relegation between USL and MLS. Further, top U.S.-based players sometimes prefer the USL to gain better salaries, to settle in a more affordable city and to assure themselves playing time (Mark Zeigler, “Upstart USL Teams Make Mark against MLS,” San Diego Union-Tribune, Aug 1). Although facing under-strength MLS sides, USL teams won five of eight matches in the U.S. Open Cup third round in July. The Silverbacks themselves, although mid-table in the USL first division, came close to upsetting FC Dallas on Jul 9. Dallas advanced on penalties. Further, first-division USL teams Vancouver, Montreal and Puerto Rico are ineligible for the U.S.-only knockout competition.
  • The audio of Quinones’s Jul 25 appearance on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer is available for download (“Author Puts Faces on the Immigration Debate”).

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5 comments on this post.
  1. David Keyes:

    Great post. I really enjoy reading your work about soccer in American communities that are hidden from the mainstream press.

  2. Culture of Soccer » Blog Archive » What I’m Reading: July 29, 2007:

    [...] Global Game blog has a great post on Hispanics in Atlanta. This population is soccer-obsessed and this interest has been capitalized on by Spanish-language [...]

  3. Brian:

    I am fairly certain that the USL First Division is the FIFA-recognized second tier of professional soccer in the US.

    Even according to the US Soccer website’s timeline: http://www.ussoccer.com/history/timeline.jsp.html.

    1996: The A-League and USISL merged to form a larger and stronger Division II outdoor league.

    This is what was eventually renamed the USL First Division.

  4. The Global Game | Mexico | Despite opposition, loyalists continue to spread América brand:

    [...] appearance in Atlanta was no accident. Will Ramírez, publisher of Spanish-language weekly Estadio, estimates that more than 40,000 Hispanics play soccer weekly in leagues around [...]

  5. Martin Carter:

    I really enjoy reading your work about soccer in American communities that are hidden from the mainstream press. Great post!

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