By Jhonny Vasquez and Kenyan Cooper
Jhonny and Kenyan are both familiar with the experience of being an immigrant in New Orleans. As a native of Honduras, Jhonny came to the US when he was six years old. Kenyan, a native of D.C., lived in Trinidad six years before moving to New Orleans at age fourteen. Both have expressed that the challenges faced by being a foreigner in a new place are unique ones that they see relate to other groups in New Orleans.
Kenyan and Johnny both have a passion for sports. When discussing the Saints football record, Johnny mentioned that soccer did not seem like a big part of New Orleans culture, and Kenyan agreed. They two have played soccer the majority of their lives. Johnny has observed soccer players in the park, and has joined in with the younger kids several times, who are all Hispanic and are native Spanish speakers. These adults are very dedicated to the sport, more so it seems than even the younger kids playing. It seems, especially according to Kenyan, to be a pretty exclusive group.
The soccer players in the park do not have official jerseys, referees, or shin guards. The uniform is simple; shirts or skins. There is no age limit or restriction. Losses are taken very seriously, and girls generally do not play. “Dirty” plays are only defined, according to the players, as a play in which a person is seriously injured. Slide-tackling and off-sides are allowed, and the rules are generally more street rules than official game rules. In place of a goal, shirts or shoes are placed on the ground, and the rules change. Instead of kicking the ball high, it has to roll in only. The teams divide themselves based on skill levels, and generally the most advanced players stick together. Most of the team members travel to the park after work or school, and many do not have cars.
There were two guys at City Park that the interview was intended for. The older gentle man was in his mid forties and had a tattoo on his arm that was the logo for the European Soccer club Real Madrid. When playing soccer, he is identified only by his nickname, Madrid, because of the tattoo on his arm. Some questions he didn’t want to answer for personal reasons. The majority of the questions were relating to the team asking how the team was formed, why he plays soccer and other similar questions like that. One personal question he answered was his reasoning for leaving his home country of Honduras. He says, “In 2012 I left Honduras because there were no jobs and terrible economic issues.”
The second person was a 14 year old whose name was Andy. He is described on the soccer field as a “nuevo” because his soccer skills are not at a high level. We asked him some questions about his origin of birth Honduras. He stated that he missed his home country in Honduras because of soccer, family, and friends. He has been in New Orleans for four years, and, like many of the players, he stated that his family left for economic reasons. He also said that many of the group also plays soccer in the league to keep out of trouble. “It keeps us busy, keeps us from doing stuff we shouldn’t be doing.”
Johnny, being an avid soccer fan, even joined in on the game after his interview. For a non-Spanish speaker, however, this could get challenging. Shouts in Spanish are heard throughout the game, which is fast paced and often rough. Younger kids, such as Andy, know its best to say little and play with his age group until he gets more experience. Luckily, he can always return tomorrow and start a new shirts-versus-skins match, in the same spot in City Park. He’s got plenty of time to graduate from nuevo.
Jhonny Vasquez and Kenyan Cooper are freshmen at the New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School.