Saturday, June 12, 2010

National Team of Immigrants

One way to look at U.S. soccer is not as a "foreign" sport but as a register of American immigration policy. Today's World Cup game against England was the most ever watched match in American history. I hope all the proud American spectators appreciated the tapestry of immigrants representing the U.S. The great majority of the 23-member squad is hyphenated-American, sons of immigrants from Latin American, Africa and Europe (Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad, Haiti, Brazil, Nigeria, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Scotland).

Goalkeeper Tim Howard's mother is Hungarian and his father is African-American (Howard should also be a poster boy for Turette syndrome). Clint Dempsey, who scored the U.S. goal, learned soccer by kicking the ball with Mexican immigrants in his native Texas. Benny Feilhaber's grandfather was an Austrian Jew who fled to Brazil in 1938. Feilhaber was born in Brazil, and parents moved to the U.S. when he was 6. Jonathan Spector's grandparents were German, which made it easy for him to work in Germany. Oguchi Onyewu's parents are Nigerian and moved to the U.S. to attend Howard University. Hercules Gomez was born in Los Angeles to Mexican-American parents. Stuart Holden's parents are Scottish (moved to Texas to work for Chevron). Carlos Bocanegra has his roots in the Mexican border. Jonathan Borstein's father is Jewish and his mother is Mexican. Ricardo Clark's has Trinidadian ancestry. Edson Buddle has Jamaican ancestry. Francisco Torres is mixed Mexican and American. Jozy Altidore's parents are Haitian. Brad Guzan is of Polish-American ancestry. Jonathan Spector's grandparents were German, which made it easy for his to start his soccer career in Germany. Many of the U.S. national team members play in European or Latin American leagues, where they have actually experienced racism. Two African-American players have been targets of European racism. DeMarcus Beasley had his car blown up in Scotland and Oguchi Onyewu was subjected to racist comments by Belgian players resulting into a law-suit.

I must now say a couple of things about South Carolina. It's not the first state that comes to mind when one thinks of internationalism, but actually this is far from the truth. As we all know, the new South is where America's next multicultural heart is currently beating. Having taught at Clemson from 2003 to 2007, I can also testify to the role that southern universities play in supporting international talent in less celebrated sports (soccer, track and field, etc). Consider the astounding fact that two members of the U.S. national team playing today are Clemson grads. Oguchi Onyewu attended Clemson a year or two before I arrived. He is Clemson's best celebrated players, signed by A.C. Milan last year (although he injured himself thereafter). Stuart Holden attended Clemson University when I was teaching there and I saw him play. Brad Guzan attended the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

Soccer is strong in my new academic home, a small college with a minuscule sports budget (compared to Clemson) but no shortage of international dreams. I am very proud of Franklin & Marshall's Soccer Africa Project. Under the guidance of coach Dan Wagner and Susan Dicklitch (dir. Ware Center for Civic Engagement), F&M has been combating HIV/Aids and poverty in South Africa through the international power of soccer. In 2010, this initiative opened a field house in Khayelitsha, South Africa, which is no small achievement.


MDJ said...

Nice post Kostis. The US National Team is certainly characterized by a multiculturalism that might described as, if I may, cannoli-esque.

Nauplion said...

Roger Cohen of the New York Times has a nice sequel to a fine post:

Anonymous said...

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States