World Cup brings memories of home for Mexican workers

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(Host) Millions of soccer fans around the globe are following the World Cup action in Germany.

In Vermont, one group is playing especially close attention. Mexican workers on the state’s dairy farms say the game brings back bittersweet memories of home.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Sounds of a soccer game on television)

(Dillon) Outside, it’s a beautiful early summer day in the flat farmland of Addison County. But inside a small house trailer, we’re transported to a little patch of Mexico.

The TV is tuned to a Spanish language sports channel. It’s the first few minutes of Mexico’s first round match against Portugal.

(Workers) “Aye! Aye! Ohhh…”

(Dillon) Like any true sports fan, 20-year-old Emanuel is both coach and critic.

One of Mexico’s key players is out with an injury and Portugal scores just six minutes into the game.

(Emanuel speaks Spanish)
(Translator) ” he was saying the Mexican team isn’t pressuring enough. They’re playing a little lazy.”

(Dillon) Interpreting for Emanuel is Chris Urban, who teaches English to the farm workers.

Urban is a soccer player and soccer fan. On this game day, he’s wearing a bright green team Mexico jersey. His slaps high fives with Emanuel when Mexico scores about 30 minutes into the first half.

(Urban) “Goal! Goal! Goal! Whoooooo!”

(Dillon) Many of the 2,000 or so Mexican farm workers in Vermont are in the country without legal documentation. A trip to the grocery store – or to a friend’s house to watch a soccer game – carries the risk of deportation.

So they stay isolated on the farm. They help support the state’s dairy economy, but they work out of sight of most Vermonters.

For the Mexicans, the World Cup brings back memories of home, of pick up games on Sundays, and of celebrating their team’s victories with friends and family.

In Vermont, Emanuel says that kind of camaraderie is hard to find.

(Emanuel speaks Spanish)
(Urban translates) “He said that daily, all they do is just go and work. They’re like a shadow, they always have to move like a shadow. So it’s really hard to celebrate a win in a sense.”

(Dillon) The tension builds inside the mobile home. Emanuel and his co-worker Diojenes follow every movement on the field.

(Diojenes speaks Spanish)
(Urban translates) “He would like to see Mexico play with more urgency and pressure. He’s feeling the pressure right now. He’s sitting on the edge of his seat!”

(Dillon) Like Emanuel, Diojenes says the World Cup reminds him of good times at home.

(Diojenes speaks Spanish)
(Urban translates) “Every Sunday, he’d get together with his friends and play. So during the World Cup it just rekindles that memory and that nostalgia, and playing on Sundays “

(Dillon) Mexico is down 2-1; but in the second half the team seems more energized, more aggressive. They get a chance to even the score when a Portuguese player puts his hand on the ball near the net.

(Emanuel cheers on team and slaps his hands.)”

(Dillon) But Mexico’s Omar Bravo blasts his penalty shot over the net and into the bleachers.

(Aye!) (Cries of disappointment)

(Dillon) Minutes later, a Mexican player is ejected and the team is reduced to 10 men on the field. Mexico never recovers. The final score is 2-1 Portugal.

(Sounds of a ball being kicked.)

(Dillon) There’s a few minutes left before the Emanuel has to go back to work. He and Chris Urban practice by using a bumpy pasture as a makeshift soccer pitch.

The Mexicans are skilled players, and Urban hopes to put together a team of immigrant farm workers.

(Urban) “The beauty of soccer is that anyone can play whether you have a ball, it’s kind of the universal language.”

(Sound of a ball being kicked)

(Sounds of the ball being passed, with crows cawing in distance.)

(Dillon) It may be that this simple but elegant sport, played on pastures and on the world stage, can bring some of the farm workers out of the shadows.

For Vermont Public radio, I’m John Dillon in Addison County.

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