February 26, 2008

Futbol and the New Immigrant Mystery

There is a hidden community in this city, visible only when on ladders or rooftops, or milling around gas stations and Loews parking lots. It continues to grow, the conditions of its expansion both dangerous and unclear--how did they get here and from where? Texas? El Salvador? Bolivia? How did they hear about the work? How many have been murdered for their cash on Friday evenings? Will this influx last?

The Latin American community doesn't get much press, and talk of "Mexicans" is matter-of-factly snide or ambivalent. No one lauds their work as cogs in the wobbly machine of recovery, nor laments the dangers they endure to add this very weird wing to the American Dream. Of course, you also don't hear that much anti-immigrant talk in the media, and the last politician to attempt a scape-goating is now in jail. Like a lot of things in this ramble, we uneasily take a new population for granted until it fades into the landscape, unexplained and unaccounted for.

Maybe due to some time spent in South and Central America, I think about this a lot. Most recently, I saw two young Latino boys waiting for the bus on Lasalle Street in the middle of Central City. Wow, I thought, what kind of hassle and harrassment must those two go through everyday at school? One looked like the older brother, and I sorta hurt for them both, probably trying to look out for each other and make sense of this place. Then I saw a similar duo warily eyeing up a Mardi Gras parade and, again, I wondered what they thought.

On Sunday, Ron Hitley and I and a friend of his took in a soccer game at Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park. Our man, Gil, is the trainer for New Orleans' erstwhile, oil-sponsored semi-pro team, the Shell Shockers, and was one of the people who worked to put together a tournament this weekend. He hooked us up with tickets, which would've been $35 a man...and $10 a woman. That is marketing, amigos.
Tad Gormley Stadium feels like Latin America. Dilapidated, completely concrete, and coliseum-shaped, it's one open end looks into City Park, with the battered trees and fog lurking like non-paying spectators. A track surrounds the field, which has seen better days, and all the seating is bleachers.

And 95% of the people looked to be Latinos. Mostly men, they teased each other constantly and erupted when the Honduran under-20 team scored 2 goals against the Shell Shockers (who struggled to keep up and couldn't put the ball in the net). Refs got an earful, and the beer and whiskey flowed freely. There might have been 500 people there.

I know that around 10,000 Hondurans lived in the city before the storm, but I wonder what the numbers are now, from every country in Latin America. And how did they hear about this game? How many are business owners? How many are day laborers? In this small town of a city we live in, it felt odd to be surrounded by such an opaque crowd, in which the normal divisions and markings of New Orleans life were absent.

But mostly the night was relaxed, languid even. I drank a big ol' beer and when the goals were scored, a guy ran up and down the stands waving a Honduran flag. The flood lights were strong but there was a basic, bare-bones quality to the event, with no PA announcer or scoreboard. Tad Gormley might've been in Caracas or Oruro.

I left the stadium still unsure of what exactly is going on with New Orleans's new immigrants, or if I'd even seen any; maybe everyone was a lifelong resident. But mostly the game was a nice pocket of mystery and sport, an easy win for the away team, whoever their fans might be.