FBF: One of the issues with immigrant players in my neck of the woods is parent support. The parents often distrust schools or come from cultures that don't encourage parent involvement in the schools. This sometimes results in situations where players must rely on friends and neighbors for transportation, equipment, etc. Are the parents of Los Perros supportive of the team? Are they engaged with the school?
Wilson: That is/was also a big issue in Woodburn. Many of the kids had little or no support from their parents, who either were working two jobs, or thought that high school sports were frivolous. Also, many of the kids were staying with relatives or had single parents. Probably half of the team never had a parent in that stands at games. There were a few dads who usually showed up, but only one family (Omar and Pat) made it to every game.
Because the high school season is short and because the town is small, transportation to practices and home games wasn't a big difficulty to overcome. The kids who played on club teams had the biggest problems. Most needed financial scholarships from clubs to play, and most relied on non family members to get them to games. Omar's house often had a dozen kids in it waiting for rides home or to games.
Academically, the lack of parental involvement was a thorn in the school's side. When I was there, they had begun to try and address the issue by making parent-teacher conferences mandatory. Many teachers and administrators reported to me that the lack of parental involvement was a difficult hurdle. They are used to Anglo parents demanding to know details and asking how problems will be solved. Without that feedback from their Latino parents, teachers felt that the parents were not engaged. My understanding is that most of this is a cultural issue. In Mexico, parents are not encouraged to participate at schools, and many low social status Mexican immigrants, possibly with limited English, are hesitant to make suggestions or draw attention to themselves during PTA meetings.
The education of immigrants is a terribly important matter in the U.S. right now. Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S., and Hispanic kids are already in high numbers in our public schools. Even in white Oregon, one in five public schoolchildren is Latino. However, Latinos also have a lower rate of high school graduation, college attendance, and college graduation than white, black, or Asian groups. As a country, we need to find a way to teach Latino kids or risk not having enough future educated leaders.
FBF: In order to participate in high school athletics players must remain academically eligible by maintaining reasonable grades. Does this requirement encourage academic success for the players, or does it just foster frustration with the system?
Wilson: Many of the Bulldogs were highly motivated to do well in school. Several had parents who were teachers or worked for the school system. These guys didn't have any grade problems. Several other guys kept their grades up just so that they could play. They had no interest in education. On the whole, at least at Woodburn, I think that grade requirements are a positive rule.
At least three high quality players did not play because of grade rules while I was there. This was frustrating most of all to the coaches, who were also teachers, and who felt that the rules did not take into account the language difficulty many kids in Woodburn struggle with. For the kids, it was just one more lesson that led them to think that they would not and could not succeed.
FBF: Is there anything else you'd like to share with the readers of FBF about the process of writing the book, your experiences with getting to know the players and their families, or soccer in general?
Wilson: I had forgotten how much fun it is to be 16. These guys were always riding each other, making fun of each other's girlfriends, telling dirty jokes, and generally acting like boys. They played video games and thought about girls and went to parties on the weekend--pretty much exactly what I was doing with my white friends in the liberal college town I grew up in 20 years before them.
We stereotype Hispanic teenagers if we don't know any, we fear them or worry about them, and lump them into a monolithic group. But just like people in any other group, they are all individuals, some funny, some serious, some polite, some crude. The Bulldogs, almost all either born in Mexico or born to Mexican parents, all had in common that they were teenage boys trying to find their place in the world. I hope that readers who don't have a lot of connection with teenage Latinos will take away from the book a little insight into the world these kids inhabit, and maybe see them more as individuals and kids rather than as negative stereotypes.
Also, I see a very healthy future in America for soccer, although I think the sport will continue to grow slowly. One of the big differences that I saw between the Woodburn sports fans and typical white American sports fans is that in Woodburn, soccer is a man's sport. That means that the Bulldogs and their fathers and brothers had a narrative of soccer as a proving ground for masculine ideals, such as strength, determination, aggression, and dominance. That narrative about soccer is missing from the mind of the average American sports fan (AASF). The AASF applies those characteristics to American sports. We talk about Kobe Bryant, not just as a great athlete, but as relentless and heartbreaking. We think about Brett Favre as a gunslinging cowboy who never ages. I think that the key to the final uniting of sports fans around soccer in America depends on introducing these storylines. Until then, the AASF will continue to see soccer as a game for women and children.
Thanks for your time!
And thanks to you as well, Steve.