“Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference” by Warren St. John. This book is not just a story of how one woman created and coached three soccer teams of refugee boys. It is also a book about the importance and capability we all have to not just embrace other cultures, but to become one giant mixed culture that actually thrives.
The author begins with an introduction to Luma Mufleh, herself a recent immigrant from Jordan to the USA. She was not a refugee nor did she flee her native country out of fear. After attending college in the states, she decided that there were more opportunities for herself than there were back home. Luma is a woman who works hard and plays hard. Among many of her talents, she is a champion volleyball player, a business owner, and now a soccer coach. The story follows her and the boys soccer teams she coaches. All of the boys are refugees who were granted a new life in the USA because of war and threat of violence. They are from many different countries such as Sudan, Liberia and Afghanistan. As we all know, it can be hard to get along with someone from a different culture. Yet Luma and these boys chose to work together as a team and overcome these differences. Luma created a program that involves supporting the families of each boy on her teams and academic tutoring. Players must be good students and since the program started in 2004, many of the older boys are now in college.
Creating a team, finding funding and having a simple place to practice are all hurdles that were magnified by both Luma’s lack of knowledge of the soccer system, families from different cultures, survivors of violence, and the slow willingness of a small town to change and assimilate. Very slowly and sometimes terribly aggravating, views and lifes changed and the soccer teams were successful.
There are some wonderful side stories of assimilation success. My favorite was about the owner of a local independently owned grocery store. As older residents moved away and new residents with different food habits moved in , the store was going bankrupt. A clerk at the store suggested that the owner sell a more varied selection of different cultural foods. Following her advice, things turned around. Like the acceptance of the soccer team, change did not happen overnight, but this grocer is now a thriving store serving a menagerie of ethnic groups.
There is a great discussion area in the book that I recommend using as a lesson plan about both immigration and community improvement.
“What is a great book or curriculum about assimilation or immigration?”