In today’s New York Times, Warren St. John offers the inspiring (and lengthy) tale of a boy’s soccer team in a small town in Georgia that is composed entirely of refugees from some of the most troubled nations on Earth. It is a story that is well worth reading:
CLARKSTON, Ga., Jan. 20 â€” Early last summer the mayor of this small town east of Atlanta issued a decree: no more soccer in the town park.
â€œThere will be nothing but baseball and football down there as long as I am mayor,â€? Lee Swaney, a retired owner of a heating and air-conditioning business, told the local paper. â€œThose fields werenâ€™t made for soccer.â€?
In Clarkston, soccer means something different than in most places. As many as half the residents are refugees from war-torn countries around the world. Placed by resettlement agencies in a once mostly white town, they receive 90 days of assistance from the government and then are left to fend for themselves. Soccer is their game.
But to many longtime residents, soccer is a sign of unwanted change, as unfamiliar and threatening as the hijabs worn by the Muslim women in town. Itâ€™s not football. Itâ€™s not baseball. The fields werenâ€™t made for it. Mayor Swaney even has a name for the sort of folks who play the game: the soccer people.
Caught in the middle is a boys soccer program called the Fugees â€” short for refugees, though most opponents guess the name refers to the hip-hop band.
The Fugees are indeed all refugees, from the most troubled corners â€” Afghanistan, Bosnia, Burundi, Congo, Gambia, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Somalia and Sudan. Some have endured unimaginable hardship to get here: squalor in refugee camps, separation from siblings and parents. One saw his father killed in their home.
The Fugees, 9 to 17 years old, play on three teams divided by age. Their story is about children with miserable pasts trying to make good with strangers in a very different and sometimes hostile place. But as a season with the youngest of the three teams revealed, it is also a story about the challenges facing resettled refugees in this country. More than 900,000 have been admitted to the United States since 1993, and their presence seems to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. [full text]