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Saturday, October 22, 2016

The story of Los Jets is quintessentially American.

A smalltown high-school team, cobbled together of outcast and underdog students, struggles to overcome obstacles put in its way by unsympathetic officials and community naysayers. The once ragtag team perseveres with grit, heart, spirit and hope, and wins a state championship. The townspeople finally embrace the one-time outsiders as local heroes.

The sport is soccer. The town is Siler City, North Carolina, where the high-school football team — the Jordan-Matthews High Jets — was not initially inclined to permit fútbol to be played on its hallowed field. Los Jets, the soccer players, are mostly Latino. They are immigrants or sons of immigrants. A few are biographically similar to the youth who have filled the news lately — children who left Central America’s strife and crossed the border alone.

Los Jets’ coach is journalist Paul Cuadros, who moved to Siler City 15 years ago with a grant to study and write about the growth of Latino immigration to the South. After spending time among the migrant workers in local poultry plants, Cuadros decided to help their kids get a soccer team at Jordan-Matthews. He wrote about the experience in A Home on the Field: How One Championship Soccer Team Inspires Hope for the Revival of Small Town America, published in 2006.

Now comes Los Jets, a six-part documentary series premiering July 16 on NuvoTV, with Jennifer Lopez as executive producer. The series, filmed last fall, follows the team to the state soccer playoffs, but what it’s really about is something else: how immigrants become a part of their communities.

The immigrant’s saga is a peculiarly American genre, and in ways it is the defining story of our nation. For centuries, group after group of foreigners has arrived and has been cussed at and blamed for all sorts of social ills. Time after time, natives have fulminated that they will never learn English, will never assimilate, will never be loyal.

And yet the immigrants do. While all the legal and political fracas swirls around them, immigrants, particularly their children, integrate. Especially through public schools and sports.

“You are just seeing American kids when you see these boys on a team,” Cuadros said of his players.

They fret over girlfriends and who to take to prom. They have control issues with their parents, learn to drive, balance part-time jobs and soccer practice, and make plans for college or military service. They are obsessively attached to their cellphones. Some players were born in the U.S.; some are documented, legal residents and others are not.

Much has changed since Cuadros first convinced city fathers to allow a soccer team at the high school. The Latino population in Siler City has continued to boom, even after the poultry plants closed. Despite the predictions of some locals, the Latino families didn’t leave. It’s more of a bedroom community now, with families commuting elsewhere for jobs.

Only one member of the state championship team a decade ago went on to college. Now, the majority of Cuadros’ players do. Many receive academic scholarships, not athletic.

Cuadros has noticed a change in immigration patterns as well. After the housing bust and recession of 2008, the new arrivals from Mexico trickled to a halt and tended to come instead from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, most often fleeing spiraling violence and poverty in their home countries.

The series offers much needed counterbalance to current headlines. The week after a red-carpet screening the Los Jets series was held, protesters in Southern California blocked the roadway so busloads of the migrants who have been streaming across the border could not pass. The plan had been to get the migrants to a processing center. The angry protesters chanted “USA!” “Impeach Obama!” and “Deport! Deport!”

The humanitarian crisis at the border is not alleviating. People continue to show up daily, including children traveling alone, overwhelming border patrol agents and further stressing a system that was inadequate in the first place.

House Republicans continue to claim they can’t trust Obama, as an excuse for sitting on their backsides instead of legislating reforms.

Obama threatens to take executive action to fix things, but the only “fix” he has done is separate more families by deporting more immigrants than any previous administration. It’s a political stalemate with no resolution in sight.

Meanwhile, last week, Los Jets’ players were glued to their mobile devices, social media fiends that they are, sharing their disappointment over the USA’s much-too-early exit from the World Cup.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via email at [email protected])

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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  • James Bowen

    Here is immigration reform that would benefit American citizens: 1) reduce legal immigration by >90%, 2) eliminate most guest worker programs and slash the number of student visas, 3) restrict birthright citizenship to the children of citizens and legal permanent residents, and 4) completely crack down on illegal immigration via strict workplace enforcement (mandatory E-Verify, complete SSN-No Matching, devastating sanctions for violating employers, etc.). We have limits to how many people we can support, and immigration is almost the sole cause of unsustainable population growth in the U.S.

    • Sand_Cat

      You forgot setting up the machine-gun posts at the borders.
      You’re right about our population growth being unsustainable, but that’s the least of our problems. The US Culture of greed and massive waste plus rapidly-growing consumerism is unsustainable without a single new immigrant. It would probably still be unsustainable if all the recent immigrants left, and took a good portion of our US-born population with them.

      • James Bowen

        You are correct that our consumption is also unsustainable. Consumption can be reduced though. Population is much harder to reduce while remaining within the boundaries of what most cultures consider ethical. That is why I consider the population part of the formula a more pressing concern that the consumption part, though the consumption part is also an enormous problem.

        P.S. In all seriousness, border security is not the most important factor in controlling illegal immigration. Many illegal immigrants actually enter legally and then overstay their visa. Denying them employment is a far, far more effective way to halt and reverse illegal immigration than border fortifications.

    • Independent1

      And you continue on and on with your hogwash!! The truth is, that it’s only immigrants that are keeping the current American population from declining due a sharp decline in the American birthrate. And it’s idiots such as yourself that can’t seem to see the problems that a declining population would create for the country. When are you going to get your head out of the sand??? A declining population poses a far greater danger for the country than the increases in population that America realizes via it’s normal immigration policies.

      Here’s some excerpts from an article which discusses a book written by Jonathan Last who doesn’t have his head in the sand. Let’s start with an excerpt from the last paragraph in the article which sort of sums things up:

      For those who worry that more people will hurt the environment, Last says: “Population growth leads to human innovation, and innovation leads to conservation … There are no cases of peace and prosperity in the face of declining populations.

      And here are more excerpts which shoot big holes in your nonsense rhetoric about immigration going to destroy America:

      The nation’s fertility rate has slipped below replacement levels partly because of the recession and a decline in immigration. That’s raising concern about the nation’s future.

      The drop in U.S. births to their lowest level since 1920 is sounding alarms about the nation’s ability to support its fast-growing elderly population. As public concern mounts, a growing number of books, reports and columns are laying out challenges the United
      States will face because of this demographic upheaval: Fewer babies are being born while the wave of 78 million older Baby Boomers have only begun to retire (the oldest turn 67 this year).

      What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, a book by Jonathan Last, went on sale this month. A University of Southern California study out last month reported an unprecedented decline in California’s child
      population that “will pose significant challenges for the state’s future prosperity.” The recent decline, fueled largely by a deep recession and slower immigration, has pushed the U.S.
      fertility rate below the 2.1 “replacement level” — the number of children women are expected to have in their lifetime if current rates continue and the number needed to keep the population stable.

      The slowdown is worrisome to many because of the growing gap between working-age populations that fund social programs and the elderly who rely on them. The imbalance between children and retirees is growing. The economic burden on a child born in 2015 will be nearly twice that of a child born in 1985, according to the USC study. If fertility rates continue at their current pace, Myers predicts “a dropoff in taxpayers, more people selling homes, fewer people buying homes.” In 1970, there were 22.2 Americans age 65 and over for every 100 working-age adults ages 25 to 64, Myers says. By 2010, that had gone up to 24.6 and based on Census projections, the ratio will rise above 40 by 2030. The imbalance between children and retirees is growing. The economic burden on a child born in 2015 will be nearly twice that of a child born in 1985, according to the USC study.

      Whether births will bounce back along with the economy this time is not clear, says Sam Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence, a Charlottesville, Va., company that produces quarterly birth forecasts for consumer products and pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer and Procter & Gamble.
      “We haven’t been able to find a substantial difference in people’s attitudes toward childbearing,” he says. “The two-child family is still kind of the ideal culturally … However, you can only delay so long and it will have an impact on the number of children we have.”

      • James Bowen

        What do you think is a more serious problem, taking care of retirees, or providing food and other essentials to everyone? Growth will eventually come to an end one way or the other because eventually our population will grow to a point where we can no longer do the latter. The former has a simple solution: significantly raise the retirement age. A declining population would be very healthy for the U.S., and reducing immigration is necessary to achieve that. A rising population, on the other hand, puts severe strain on our ecological and resource base. Even as it stands, our country can only feed about 150 million people using completely sustainable organic methods of agriculture. Our current yields are achieved with technology that depends on resources which will eventually be exhausted. And your comment about more people leading to more innovation is nothing but speculation, much like the speculation that led to the mortgage meltdown only with consequences far more severe. The resources to support the human population are finite, and more people will just lead to more hungry mouths to feed in an ecosystem whose capacity to do so is increasingly strained. And Japan, which has a declining population, is doing just fine. They outproduce us in steel, ships, electronics, and in some years autos.

        • Independent1

          And the hogwash continues. Only able to feed 150 million people!! What absolute BS!! Our farmers with current methods not only feed America but millions of people around t he world. Yeah! And you really believe that by the time there would be a need to actually go to organic farming, if that ever were to really happen, that breakthroughs in farming methods wouldn’t have been devised to greatly extend crop harvests??? That’s what Jonathan Last meant by “Population growth leads to human innovation”!! If you doubt that would come about, you have you’re head exactly where I’ve suspected all along, up in a dark place where you can’t see the light!!!

          • James Bowen

            Those methods that allow us to feed so many people depend upon technology that is in turn dependent upon exhaustible natural resources, such as fossil fuels. Perhaps other methods will be found that don’t depend upon those resources, but we don’t know if they will or not. And even if they do, there are hard limits to our numbers. The Earth’s photosynthetic capacity is one of those. No amount of innovation will allow us to get around them. Ultimately, the growth in our numbers will be halted one way or the other. Physical laws dictate that.