Fútbol in the Park: JMU sociologist dispels immigrant stereotypes in new book
They’re not sinners, they’re not saints, they’re not just here to work. The Latino men who gather in parks to play soccer in Harrisonburg and other cities across the country are ordinary, multifaceted people, said James Madison University sociologist David Trouille.
In his first book, “Fútbol in the Park: Immigrants, Soccer, and the Creation of Social Ties” Trouille dispels some common myths about immigrants.
Published in January by the University of Chicago Press, the book presents Trouille’s research on the men, which he conducted by befriending and playing in the games for about five years while completing his doctorate at UCLA.
A former Division I soccer player at Dartmouth College, Trouille said his soccer prowess helped him gain entry into the group. “That’s what allowed me, especially as a white guy, to kind of enter that space. It was definitely the soccer-playing that helped,” he said.
Trouille’s interest in the research started with a flier a professor brought to class, a flier by neighbors of the park, not far from campus, who were angry about all the soccer activity.
“I’ve always been interested in community dynamics and I was very intrigued so I went to learn more about the community conflict about this new soccer field,” he said. “I still studied that, but I quickly became much more interested in the pickup soccer game. The book covers the neighborhood opposition to the soccer field, but most of the book is really about this social world I happened upon because of this flier. Like a lot of research, it kind of takes unexpected turns.”
Different chapters focus on soccer, why the men drink at the park even though it’s prohibited and even why they sometimes fight. “It was fun to make sense of these things that at first seemed puzzling, but over time I learned that they made a lot of sense,” Trouille said.
Intended for a broad audience, Trouille said he hopes that readers will gain a better understanding of Latino immigrants in general. “We often write about them as threats or menaces or bad hombres, or we talk about them as hard workers. They’re just here to work. Or we talk about dreamers, these exceptional kinds of people. But often we don’t really characterize them just as normal, everyday people who like to have friendships, like to play soccer. Not saints, not sinners.”
For his next project, Trouille is researching the lives of migrant farm workers in the Shenandoah Valley. Interest in this project was spurred by one of his students who told him about a church group that visited the men.
“I’m really excited about the project,” he said. While the Trump administration placed a lot of restrictions on immigration over the past four years, it left the H-2A guest worker program untouched. “It’s the only one that’s really growing and important to study people doing this work and that’s what I’m trying to do,” he said.
With the research in the early stages, he does not have a timeline for publishing a book about it.