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Soccer as a Means to Immigrant Integration

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So many books and so little time to read. But I've just put Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town on my mental list of books to read, after skimming a review of it in The Washington Post over the weekend.

Authored by New York Times reporter Warren St. John, the book tells about the lives of a dozen boys from war-torn countries living in Clarkston, Ga., who are formed into a soccer team by Luma Mufleh, an immigrant from Jordan. Mufleh, the coach, who was cut off from her father in Jordan, has nowhere to go back to, nor do the kids, according to the review. Soccer becomes the way for the youths to break their isolation from the dominant culture around them in their new homeland and forge a stronger connection.

And yes, it will also be a movie.

2 Comments

Many of my students come in with great gifts as soccer players. It's tough because American children can't even compete. It seems to be less about immigrant students "assimilating" than having immigrant students be the best on the team. Maybe in the long run the US will do better in football and be able to compete better on the world stage. I've had students used for their soccer skills too.
One private school kept a kid they couldn't afford because they wanted his skills in sports. He got the idea and passively refused to play soccer on their team. The track coach was very nice and reached out to him so he did play track. The first time he tried kids were harassing him for being "African" and he refused to compete. The coach put a stop to it and he was dedicated to the coach. Still the boy was dedicated to his studies and preferred education above all else. The counselor told him he was only good enough for the local community college but he got into St. Lawrence University. He was hit with a large bill at the end of his senior year which my mother and I ended up paying off so he could go on to college.

His brother got into a charter school where they hated him his first year. He was one of the only black children there and the only African. The first day of school he overheard a child say, "Wow, they let black people come here?" The boy has become their primary sports star and now he is probably the most popular kid in the school, all for his sports prowess. School isn't that much about education for him though he is intelligent. There is a possibility he could be a Olympics star in something some day. He is gifted in sports. Still using sports for "assimilation" is dubious. If the kid wants to do it fine, but I'm betting they are going to be better than Americans or they won't matter much.

Soccer in high school is more difficult for orchard working migrant students as the state season overlaps the harvest season and the students cannot devote time to the sport when their families expect them to help work instead. Also the coaches don't always respect the students' skills as they are and want them to change many things. The culture of high school sports is very different for these students than just the love for futbol. These students are used to gathering and playing at any time they are not expected to work. Their families are most important, work being a very big part of their life, and high school sports expectations do not usually fit. Our students have had a hard time staying on the team and being satisfied. Most of the time they get discouraged and quit. They often also get in trouble for speaking their native language while on the field and leaving other teammates out by the use of their native language.

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