Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Paul Cuadros' A Home on the Field

I read Paul Cuadros' A Home on the Field (2006). It is written by a reporter of Peruvian descent who received a grant to study Latino migration to the South. He went to Siler City, NC, where the poultry plants were attracting a growing migrant population, and started a soccer team at the local high school. Despite resistance, he not only got the program going, but became state champion within three years with a group of young, impassioned Latino kids, many of whom were undocumented.

As I began reading, I have to admit my first impression was that Cuadros was too self-congratulatory. But reading more, and thinking about what it means to relocate to small town America and really transform it culturally, I couldn't help but think some people deserve some self-congratulation. Not long after he arrived, so did David Duke, and Campos does a nice job of showing how Duke criticized the presence of Latinos and then went to eat chicken, the processing of which had been done by Latinos in the area.

The book is very positive, with a message of promise about how sports can bring a community together. He even uses the stages of grief as an example--you start with denial and end with acceptance. Small southern towns focus on high school sports, and despite language differences Siler City became proud of its champions. He emphasizes that it also provided structure for the kids: "There is a happiness that seldom appears when you get beyond a certain age, but it is in us all, sleeping, waiting for a true and honest moment to emerge. That's what sport does. It awakens that buried feeling of real joy" (p. 257). That is the connection he makes with a skeptical community.

But he pulls no punches about the negative cultural expectations: "This is where Latino parents can fail their kids...For many immigrant parents, when a kid reaches sixteen he is on his own, he is a man, able to make his own decisions about life. That worked in Mexico but it can have disastrous results here" (p. 126). Cuadros agonizes over the poor decisions he sees kids make, yet also notes how kids with promise cannot ever attend college. As high school students they are safe, but once they graduate they become "an animal to be rounded up and deported" (p. 241).

If you're interested in Latino immigration, especially to the South, then this book is worth your time.


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