Support, Solidarity and Soccer: Soccer Teams Provide A Sense of Community for Migrants in US

By Snow, Anita | The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, September/October 2019 | Go to article overview

Support, Solidarity and Soccer: Soccer Teams Provide A Sense of Community for Migrants in US


Snow, Anita, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education


Editor's Note: Pastor Antonio Velasquez ñed Guatemala's civil war in 1990 when he was a teenager. Now, through the soccer organization he founded, he is helping young migrants.

PHOENIX (AP) - Antonio Velasquez smiled proudly at the wiry teenagers shouting in Spanish and the Mayan language Mam as they kicked a soccer ball under an evening desert sky turning to orange.

The Pentecostal pastor was a teenager in 1990, fleeing Guatemala's civil war when smugglers randomly dropped him and other teens near Phoenix, where he initially worked in agriculture and lived in a trailer with others from the western highlands.

Nearly three decades later, Velasquez is an influential leader in Phoenix's migrant community through the self-supporting soccer organization he founded, Maya Chapin. Bringing together 108 teams with 10,000 players mostly from Guatemala, the group aims to keep young migrants away from drugs and gangs while providing the guidance Velasquez lacked as a new arrival.

Guatemalans now surpass Mexicans as the top nationality for migrants apprehended at the southwest U.S. border. According to U.S. Border Patrol statistics, 90,477 Guatemalans traveling in families were apprehended at the border in the six-month period ending March 31, compared with 72,728 people traveling in families from Honduras, 17,396 from El Salvador and 1,573 from Mexico.

"Like us, a lot of people are leaving now because of a lack of opportunities, the extreme poverty, the insecurity," Velasquez said, inflating a soccer ball with a portable pump. "These young people are just looking for a better life."

In Arizona, most of the Guatemalan families now being released continue on to relatives in California, New York and elsewhere. But Velasquez said many with family around Phoenix have shown up at the soccer fields, with 150 new arrivals ages 15 to 18 joining Maya Chapin's ranks in the first quarter of 2019.

Velasquez said Maya Chapin also helped place 18 migrant families without U.S. relatives into the homes of Phoenix-area Guatemalans from the same towns while they await court hearings on their cases. Many players at a recent practice were from Ixchiguan, where violence has erupted over opium crops linked to Mexican drug cartels. They all told of extreme poverty and brutality in a small nation known for coffee, volcanoes and an internal conflict that lasted 36 years.

Soccer Groups Helping Migrants

Maya Chapin is similar to soccer groups Mexican migrants have formed in California and other states for decades. In Orange County, boys 17 and younger play for Monarcas Santa Ana, named for a professional team in Michoacan state.

In Oakland, migrant youth seek solace in Futbolistas 4 Life, a soccer program recently highlighted in a documentary following two migrant teens in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

As Guatemalans and other Central Americans flood to the U.S.-Mexico border, those who study migrants here say groups like Maya Chapin and Futbolistas 4 Life provide support and solidarity for young people arriving in the United States alone or with families.

"Such associations have long been an organizing principle for a lot of these migrant communities," said Kathleen Newland, a co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington who has long studied diaspora communities in the U. …

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