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

The playing surface at South Concho Park in San Angelo, Texas, consists of pebbles, dirt, goathead stickers and mesquite thorns, not necessarily in that order. (Arthur Spragg | San Angelo Standard-Times)

Decatur, Alabama | Until hundreds of thousands marched yesterday, it had become hard to piece together isolated movements from such places as Janesville, Wisconsin; Liberal, Kansas; Bowling Green, Kentucky; San Angelo, Texas; and Dalton, Georgia. These small to mid-sized locales have featured in recent media reports for burgeoning Hispanic populations and for the development of local, ethnically based soccer leagues.

The marchers for immigrant rights on Monday invited comparisons to the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s, with impressive organizational capacities and political and cultural alliances with labor advocates, liberal politicians and the Roman Catholic Church. Some 40,000 marchers, primarily Latino, took a day off Monday to gather outside Atlanta, a city not reputed for mass public protest. “I didn’t realize there were so many,” said Nancy Gabriel, a resident of an apartment complex in Clarkston, Georgia, a magnet for immigrant and refugee communities in the metro area.

“We usually don’t have this many fans,” said Christie McDonald of Duke after Sunday’s friendly. Duke defeated Mexico 1–0 on McDonald’s goal. (John Godbey | Decatur Daily News)

In another hamlet—Decatur, Alabama, in the Tennessee Valley—on Sunday, another expression of native Latino culture occurred as the 2,500-capacity stands and bleachers at Jack Allen Southwest Recreation Complex filled beyond capacity for an international women’s friendly between Mexico and the women’s soccer team of Duke University. “It appeared that at least five out of every six spectators at the … match were Hispanic,” writes Bradley Handwerger for the Decatur Daily.

That so many Hispanic supporters could gather in a Southern town, far from urban centers, for an exhibition of women’s soccer speaks to the sport’s place in lending cohesion to a sometimes disparate group. They sang the national anthem of Mexico loudly, notes Handwerger, with less zeal for the “Star-Spangled Banner.” In interviews, Mexican fans supported immigration reform and proposals to grant residency status to those lacking the necessary papers. Said Maria Chavez, a U.S. resident of some 20 years’ standing:

We are good workers. We’re responsible. We like to do right. … We support the United States economy. I cannot imagine this country without the people who work specifically in the field.

Locals seemed proud, judging from the article, that the Alabama Youth Soccer Association would select its new soccer complex, constructed by the local parks and recreation authority, for an international event. Yet the good feeling seemed blunted by a “back to reality” editorial in the Decatur Daily on Monday:

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