Friday, February 04, 2011

Review: Outcasts United by Warren St. John

Outcasts united : a refugee soccer team, an American town by Warren St. John
ISBN 0385522037, 288 pages

Warren St. John is a New York Times reporter, and I first heard about his work through an article the NYT published January 21, 2007 describing problems the city of Clarkston, GA was having accommodating The Fugees, teams of refugee soccer players coached by Luma Mufleh, a Jordanian immigrant.

In 2008, Clarkston, GA was even used as a case study for a congressional report (pdf) highlighting the challenges of refugee resettlement.

Fast forward to 2011. The Georgia legislature is considering a slew of anti-immigrant measures, including a copycat of the infamous Arizona SB1070 which mandated that police officers detain those they suspect lack legal residency, verify their residency status and turn over those without legal residency to federal immigration authorities.

A group of activists calling for ending the counter-terrorism training of Georgia public safety officials in Israel discover that the Clarkston Police Chief Charles R Nelson had in fact participated in this program.

So I picked up the book hoping to get information promoting sane immigration and policing policies. I got that, but I really benefitted from this book in many ways I did not not expect.

The book is not a hagiography of Luma Mufleh, and that makes it all the more relevant for us who have no hope of being saints. She's a soccer coach. She helps the children and their families to the extent that she can, but she keeps in mind that they are meeting some of her needs as well. It is only with such a mindset can an activist avoid burnout.

There's a wonderful chapter about how some of Clarkston's institutions, including a grocery store and a church, adapted to the changing demographics. St. John also presented some ideas researchers have developed which seem to go beyond the melting pot - salad bowl dichotomy I've always heard regarding diversity in society.

St. John also does a good job not villifying Clarkston. Atlanta sprawl affected many small towns, and those problems were impacting Clarkston regardless of the number of refugees. The refugee resettlement agencies don't provide Clarkston with the resources to accommodate the refugees' needs.

The portraits of the refugees are alternatively painful and triumphant.

And there's soccer! The beautiful game.

To support The Fugees, visit the organization's web site.

Pick this book up. When you're uninspired, burnt-out or depressed from watching repressive governments aided by your tax dollars beat down their populations, read it.

P.S. I maintain a blog for some relief workers in Amman, Jordan who assist Iraqi refugees there. The refugees there also find some relief in soccer.

P.P.S. Article in Atlanta Journal Constitution, October 13, 2012, "The New American."

P.P.P.S. PBS's Need to Know visits Clarkston, GA
Updated September 12, 2015:
Updated September 26, 2015. Let's hope upstate South Carolina learns from Clarkston, Georgia.