Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Outcasts United, New Mainers

Bite-Sized Review: Multiculturalism And Soccer

Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, An American Town
By Warren St. John
(Spiegal & Grau, 2009)
320 pages

New Mainers: Portraits of Our Immigrant Neighbors
By Pat Nyhan, Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest
(Tilbury House, Publishers, 2009)
153 pages

(Editor's Note: This post contains numerous links to archived newspaper articles from the Maine Newstand, a database in the Maine Marvel! system. If you are not immediately brought to a linked article, you can register a free account with Maine Marvel! here.)

Maine is still among the whitest (and oldest) states in the union, but it is nevertheless gradually becoming more colorful and culturally eclectic each year, thanks in large part to immigrants and refugees coming from outside the borders of the United States.

There is, of course, the well-known influx of Somali refugees in Lewiston since the early 2000s. In Portland, the number of students who are enrolled in the school district's English-learning programs jumped 9% this year, from 1,474 students to 1,600. (This number is also included in the 4% increase in the number of students within the district who are considered multilingual, an increase from 1,474 pupils to 1,864.) Here in Westbrook, we too are experiencing a spurt of immigrants from around the ever-shrinking globe.

Last February, for example, Westbrook's city officials announced the formation of the Human Relations Committee, a group created to open the lines of communication and cooperation between the city's burgeoning immigrant population and its public servants. Moreover, racial and cultural diversity within the city's schools has increased over the last decade.

Indeed, according to statistics provided by the Westbrook School Department, there at least twenty-one different languages spoken in the schools' classrooms.* And the number of students participating in the school district's English for Speakers of Other Languges (ESOL) program has steadily increased over the last decade: A little more than twenty students were enrolled in the program in 2000; today, there are almost 120 enrollees, a ten-year increase of about 500%. The capability to view the school district's Web site in seven different languages, after all, was not developed in a vacuum.

Unfortunately, a look back into the annals of Maine history--or the records of most any society's history, for that matter--indicate such a growth in foreignness tends to initially bring with it division and cultural tension. Some of it is benign and relatively harmless, such as the Maine humorist Tim Sample's comedic bit on Mainers' long-standing habit of distinguishing between the state's native-born residents and its residents "from away." But other indications of division and tension are more serious. In the 1850s, members of the nativist Know-Nothing Party tarred and feathered a Jesuit priest in Ellsworth and burned a church used by Bath-area Roman Catholics. And in the 1920s, a staggering proportion of Mainers were part of the Klu Klux Klan due to that group's animosity toward immigrants in general, and Franco-Canadian Catholics in particular. The past, as the old saying goes, can often be prologue.

In 2002, the conflict between Lewiston's city hall and the city's Somali immigrants was considered by Portland Press Herald readers to be the second-most important story of that year. More recently in Portland, numerous headlines have been devoted to the occassional flareups between that city's police department and its Sudanese residents. And Milbridge, the small Down East town of about 1,200 residents which was determined by the 2000 Census to be the third-most diverse community n the state, has experienced multicultural headaches of its own, as the nearly year-long feud about the construction of an apartment complex proposed by an advocacy group for Hispanic agricultural workers only now appears to be heading for resolution.

With this increasing diversity as a backdrop, we are fortunate New York Times writer Warren St. John expanded his January 2007 feature article on the Fugees, a Georgian soccer club consisting entirely of refugee players (hence the club's name), into Outcasts United. This book--coupled with Pat Nyhan's New Mainers--not only gives us clearer insights about the immigrant experience in modern America , but it also demonstrates the important role those of us involved in soccer can play in the healthy assimilition and integration of our new neighbors.

Though diversity in Maine is on the uptick (our foreign-born population grew by 14.3% between 2000 and 2006), Nyhan's helpful appendix places such growth in context by citing statistics provided by the Migration Policy Institute that show such growth is relatively sluggish to other places around the country. Take Clarkston, Georgia, the locale of St. John's book, as an example. This town of about 7,000 was once mostly populated by white residents, but as of the publication of St. John's book, at least half of the residents were refugees from war-torn countries. Unsurprisingly, such a change in demographics provoked both division and opportunity in the small southern town.

The town mayor's increasingly stupid opposition to the Fugees' request to use a practice field that wasn't dust-choked or littered with tough glass and broken gangsters, for instance, is balanced out by the town grocer's willingness to stock his shelves with ethnic foodstuffs. And the former police chief's unwillingness to deal with his officers' blistered-fisted behavior toward refugees is corrected by the new police chief's proactive adoption of law enforcement tactics that incorporated "CPR--'courtesy, professionalism, respect'" into his officers' everyday interactions with refugee residents. Indeed, for each of the ugly incidents that are described in such chapters entitled "'They're in America Now--Not Africa,'" "Get Lost," and "The 'Soccer People,'" there are hopeful and important lessons contained in the book's best chapter, "Getting Over It."

Besides the simple--yet elusive--morality of treating others like we ourselves would like to be treated, St. John argues in this chapter that adapting to shifting demographics is often in our best self-interest. The grocer who stocked his shelves with food that appealed to global taste buds saw his bottom line swell. And the church that added foreign-language services to their repertoire was able to stem the steady loss of members they'd been experiencing. And on and on.

Likewise, it is beneficial to recognize the similarities between locals and newcomers are often much greater than their differences. Instead of focusing on the fact that you're Somalian and I am American, we should focus on the fact that we both love soccer, yearn for strong families and social connections, and do not want the scourges of drug use and gangsterism to gnaw at the threads that hold together the community.

And instead of falling prey to the pernicious rumors that the immigrants have emigrated to America only to suck on the teat that is public assistance, we should recognize the fact that a great number of them were driven involuntarily from their homelands, have endured incomprehensible horrors en route to these shores, and yet still face daunting challenges to carve out meaningful lives for themselves and their families in America. (The profiles of the individuals and families contained throughout much of Outcasts United and all of New Mainers is must-read material to gain context of the many facets of the immigrant experience. Reading these books will give you an appreciation for the difficulties immigrants must overcome to fulfill their goals of assimilating into American mainstream life, while also preserving their native cultures. And the work ethic many of the subjects of these two books exhibit in gaining and maintaining employment is sobering, while the sacrifices they undertake to ensure their children earn the education and opportunities they'll need to live a better life than themselves is inspiring.)

Ultimately, given our affection for what has long been considered a foreigner's sport here in America, we "soccer people" (as Clarkston's mayor would snarl) are uniquely positioned to be advocates of cosmopolitan provincialism. We should love our country, our state, and our city, while at the same time avoiding the urge to close ourselves off to the beneficial ideas and cultures of people not born in this country. And a good place to start would be to read these two books.

- John C.L. Morgan

* According to the Westbrook School Department, the twenty-one languages spoken in its schools are: Albanian, Amharic (Ethiopia), Arabic, Cambodian, Chinese, Ethiopian, Farsi (Iran), Indonesian, Khmer (Cambodia), Kinyamulenge (Rwanda), Kurdish, Man Chinese, Nuer (Sudan), Pashto (Afghanistan), Russian, Somali, Spanish, Sudanese, Tagalog (Philippines), Telugu (India), and Vietnamese.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Region I Population Density

An In-Depth Look at Region I: Population

According to the the authors of Soccernomics, a region's population, wealth, and soccer-playing experience are the three most important criteria to consider when judging the state of soccer in that region.

Today, I've posted the population figures for each state that makes up Region I, which is the U.S. Youth Soccer Association (USYSA) region Maine's soccer teams belong to.

According to the statistical analysis of the authors of Soccernomics, journalist Simon Kuper and economist Stefan Szymanski, a country whose population is twice that of its opponent has a 1/10 goal advantage over its opponent. Or, to put it another way, a country whose population is twice that of its opponent would have a one goal headstart in one every ten games against that opponent. Presumably, that advantage would increase if the states' population ratio is greater than 2:1.

Now, I'm not entirely sure if such an advantage should be discounted or magnified on the state level here in the United States (the authors' research focused on the results of international matches played between 1980 and 2001), but it is nevertheless interesting to say how Maine matches up against the states in its immediate competitive sphere.

(Editor's Note: Click on the chart below to enlarge it.)

The median population of the thirteen Region I states is 3.5 million. To put that number into some remarkable context, there are two countries who qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup whose population is either equal to or less than Region I's median: Uruguay (3.5 million), Slovenia (2 million). Think about that for a minute: Two countries with populations no greater than three times the size of Maine has produced enough international-caliber players to field a World Cup team. That's sobering.

Anyway, next month I'll post the wealth of the respective Region I states, as defined by each state's gross state product (GSP) and its GSP Per Capita.

- John C.L. Morgan

Related: Bite-Sized Review: The Freaky Side of Soccer (February 26, 2010)

* Population figures for each state's overall population and the numbers of 10-19 year-olds who are living in each state are based on the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006-2008 data. And the USYSA registration numbers are taken from their statistics for the 2008-2009 season. Of course, each state's percentage of membership in the USYSA was calculated by dividing the number of players that state has registered with the USYSA and dividing that number by the number of 10-19 year-olds who live in that state.