Approximately a year after moving to the southeastern United States to gather evidence for a book on the Latino diaspora, investigative journalist Paul Cuadros chose to start a soccer team at Jordan-Matthews High School in Siler City, North Carolina instead.
Upon reading his book A Home on the Field: How One Championship Soccer Team Inspires Hope for the Revival of Small Town America about his three seasons serving as the head coach of the Jordan-Matthews High School soccer team, I couldn’t be more glad about Cuadros’ decision to shift course.
I’m convinced that Cuadros’ book—an accidental product of his unplanned coaching experience—captures the experience of the Latino community in the southeastern U.S. just as well as, if not better than, a work based on traditional journalistic research. As Cuadros met Latino families in Siler City while conducting research for his initial book idea, he noticed they had no formal outlet to play the sport they love: soccer. North Carolina’s Triangle area is home to giant club leagues, but few Latino boys and girls have the chance to participate because of the prohibitively high costs.
Cuadros took matters into his own hands and formed a soccer team at Jordan-Matthews High School, fighting staunch opposition in the process. “Soccer was seen by the longtime residents as yet another imposition on the traditional Southern way of life,” he writes. “Latinos had already ‘taken over’ parts of the local park with their game. For some, a line had been drawn around the football field at JM. There would be no soccer there” (Cuadros 27). Refusing to give up, Cuadros brought soccer there. He encouraged boys who live in challenging home environments, work demanding part-time jobs, and have little academic motivation to remain academically eligible to play soccer for the school and to pour their hearts out on the field. They did, and in just three seasons after its inception, the Jordan-Matthews High School soccer team won the state championship.
Cuadros takes readers through not only the team’s journey on the field, but also their experiences outside of soccer that shed light on the trials and tribulations faced by the immigrant Latino community. Many players on the team are undocumented, which makes receiving health care and attending college difficult and unlikely prospects. He addresses contempt from white residents; taunting from white players; the difficulty of staying in school, and the limited economic mobility of Latino immigrants. He talks about challenging situations such a player’s father getting shot before a big game and a player who cannot stand to attend school anymore because of troubles at home, even if it means having to give up soccer. The stories he tells about his players are part of a grander narrative—the narrative that Cuadros sought to tell in the first place when he moved to North Carolina.
The central role of soccer in this narrative infuses his book with life and excitement. Cuadros writes, “I wanted them to be victors, to be champions, to have the knowledge that they were the best at something in their lives. I hoped that would consolidate their identities, harden their skins, and so to speak, fuse their bones” (Cuadros 210). With every page I turned, I found myself pining more and more for the success of the players. A Home on the Field reminded me of my favorite movie, Coach Carter, which similarly reflects on cultural challenges through the story of a high school sports team that won a hard-fought battle to the top.
For undocumented Latino immigrants, one of the most daunting challenges is finding a home in a country where they are consistently excluded and marginalized. I’m thankful for the tireless efforts Cuadro has put in not only to help his players find a home on the field, but also to tell the world all about it. His story might have been accidental, but that does not make it any less consequential. I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to read about the Latino immigrant experience, fearless devotion to a passion, or both.