Simon Lapscher's Reviews > Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town

Outcasts United by Warren St. John
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Oct 06, 09

Recommended to Simon by: Teacher
Read in October, 2009, read count: 1

This book is based in Clarkston, a small town in the outskirt of Atlanta, GA. In a seemingly fictional story, “Outcast United” tells the story of a group of newly arrived refugees, which have been relocated in this small town after having gone through horrible war and persecution nightmares in their home land. It takes us on a journey that shows us the insight of the immigrant’s world; what they feel, how they are treated and what they do to move forward, starting from scratch and with a disadvantage so big most people wouldn’t be able even to survive with. Warren St. John, the author of this book, gives this situation an incredible twist by recording the stories of this people through what represents the refugees’ escape of their every-day life: soccer. The most popular sport in the world plays a big role throughout the book, as we see that the stories of the refugees told are of those kids playing in the soccer team called the “Fugees”; a team created for the children immigrants as a way to help these youngsters. This team was created by one of the main characters, Luma or “Coach”, a Jordanian Muslim who also emigrated to the U.S some years ago and whose dedication helped her overcome many obstacles and made her a strong, independent leader.
In a personal manner, I related to this book in a really strong way. I was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. All my life I went to the city’s only Jewish school, I had the same friends and lived my life comfortably without having to worry too much. In 1999, Hugo Chavez came into power and started changing the country into what it is now, a socialist dictatorship that keeps heading downhill as time goes by. It has become impossible for me to live there; I couldn’t stand the insecurity, the poverty, and the overall decaying political and economic situation. I realized it was time to leave in search for a place where I could build a normal life, one where I can go out on the streets without worrying about being kidnapped or robbed. I filled up my application and ended up here, in the Georgia Institute of Techology studying Industrial Engineering. Although I cannot compare all the horrifying incident of the refugees to those of my own, I can’t help but feel a bit identified as a person who has recently immigrated to the United States; the slight difference being they arrived to old complexes living next to drug dealers and having nothing to eat, I arrived to the number one school of my career and one best and most technological colleges in the world. I feel lucky, yet that doesn’t disappear the fact that I still feel disoriented and still consider myself an outsider to the American culture. The problems that these people faced upon their arrival to their “new home”, and continue to face afterwards, are incomprehensible to almost everyone, including myself, and they therefore deserve nothing but admiration and respect from our part.
The other way in which I personally relate to this story is soccer. Ever since I was 5 years old, I have practiced soccer with my school team. At first, I didn’t know very much what I was doing, but as time went by, I started to like this game better than any other thing I did; all I wanted was to play soccer twenty-four/seven. Soccer helped me overcome a lot of obstacles in my life; it was a way of releasing all my accumulated stress through kicking the ball. Three times a week (two for practice and one for game), I left all my thoughts and all my concerns outside and let my instincts be the only thing controlling my moves. Before every game, my coach would tell us the same speeches Luma gave this kids, we would worm up as a team the same way the Fugees did, and we would enjoy the game the same way these kids did. The soccer ball doesn’t care if the person kicking it is white, black, pink, Jewish, Christian, among others; the soccer ball just let itself be kicked by children or grown ups in a way that they will connect with the game and forget about all the other things they got going on. After every game, win or lose, we would feel relieved; then we would go talk to the other team and congratulate them on a game well played; at the end of the game, win or loose, we would shake the hand of the player in front of us as a symbol of respect, of fair play.
The Fugees need this game more than probably most people. They have so much going on in their lives, so many problems including starvation, post war trauma, becoming acquainted with gangs, that soccer seems like the perfect way for these young men to overcome these burdens, for them to become a better self. Soccer, especially Luma’s coaching, teaches them how to manage their immigrants life, how to manage themselves and their families, how to improve every day looking for a better future, looking for a better understanding of life.
They try to outgrown their horrendous past with a fresh start, one that is specifically difficult being that they don’t know the language or the culture or don’t have the resources to properly adapt. These refugees come to a new world that they only pictured in their dreams, however now figuring out that nothing is perfect and that the obstacles are not gone; that U.S is no paradise and that they will once more have to overcome themselves. This is an inspiring story filled with youthful insight, one that I identified with a lot, making this book a really strong and one; Warren St John makes us appreciate the things we have and the life we lead and makes us conscious of the problems that people 5 miles away from us go through in their daily basis.

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