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  1. #1
    Senior Member Brian503a's Avatar
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    May 2005
    California or ground zero of the invasion

    A league of their own: Basketball brings a culture, communit ... gue02.html

    A league of their own: Basketball brings a culture, community together
    Wednesday, November 2, 2005


    After vacuuming miles of office floors, washing thousands of plates and dicing truckloads of peppers and onions, after working a string of 14-hour shifts and tucking another small pay packet away, there is basketball.

    On Sunday -- every Sunday -- these cooks, cleaners and dishwashers at Seattle's best-known restaurants and office buildings become the hoop kings of the Liga Hispana, stars of a cracked concrete court in a 24-team Latino basketball league.

    "It feels like you are back in Mexico," said Francisco Quiroz, 26, who three years ago founded the league with his older brother, Eduardo. "We wanted to bring together people from my country so that we don't all feel so alone."

    As such, the league is about much more than the game. Drawing at least 200 immigrants from Mexico each week to this industrial strip near downtown, it has become an unofficial cornerstone for Seattle's fast-growing Mexican community, a de facto Elks Club, social services agency and Chamber of Commerce, with members in Air Jordans.

    "We are all in the same situation, so this is where we can help each other," Quiroz explained.

    The population boom isn't limited to Seattle; Latinos have become the largest ethnic group in Washington, comprising 9 percent of the state's population and doubling in size in the last decade.

    "Pay attention one day to the number of Hispanics you see," said D. Jesus Piña, a 52-year-old father of three from Mazatlan. "Hispanics are in any restaurant, on any yard, at any hospital and at any hotel. We have become a vital part of this city."

    Between matches, players report on new arrivals from Mexico and exchange tips on job openings as gardeners, construction laborers and busboys. Wives and girlfriends gather on blankets wearing their best floral chiffon blouses and their hair pulled back neatly into flowing ponytails of ringlet curls. They advise on free back-to-school vaccinations and catch up on the weddings, births and funerals back at home.

    Courtside, Jimmy Toy, a baby-faced 28-year-old who runs a home remodeling business, sits beside Piña, an architect and contractor, as they wait for their games to begin. They exchange business cards and run through their mental phone lists of development industry insiders they know in common.

    "It's so good to see people doing so well," says Toy, a native of Oaxaca City. "People are not only in blue-collar jobs, but look around, and you'll see people now working at Microsoft and Boeing."

    Many players in the league, though, are undocumented immigrants, living a veiled existence without legal status here. They do the kinds of jobs President Bush described last month as the ones "no American is willing to take."

    Employers generally ask them few questions and grant them jobs based on verbal promises to work hard. Paychecks get delivered without background checks or much fuss.

    The scene at the basketball court is copied straight from villages and towns in Mexico where Sunday afternoon gatherings, called tardiadas, serve as the communities' informal social and business centers. Only here, the community anchor is basketball, a sport that rivals soccer in popularity for this group, made up mostly of émigrés from the southern state of Oaxaca.

    On the court, players show hometown pride, wearing slick nylon jerseys that bear city names such as Chalcatongo, Putla and Reyes.

    Children run sweaty around the park, eagerly gobbling up $1 elotes, ears of corn smothered with mayonnaise, and $2 bags of chicharrones, fried pork rinds drenched in limejuice and chili powder. They root for fathers, brothers and uncles, switching seamlessly between Spanish and English.

    Those who gather here are new parents raising a first generation of children in America; single men separated thousands of miles from girlfriends and family; and grandparents in disbelief they've stayed as long as they have in this far-reaching corner of El Norte.

    "It's a beautiful thing," said Roberto Maestas, the executive director of the Latino social services group El Centro de la Raza. "Some great things have happened as a result of the basketball league."

    Link to social services

    Leticia Morales knows this well. She's originally from Chalcatongo, a small town in the mountains of Oaxaca that is estimated to have exported half of its population, or 4,000 people, to Seattle in the last decade. And she played professional basketball in Mexico City for more than 10 years.

    When she arrived with her husband and two elementary-school-aged children in July without jobs or an apartment, a relative immediately advised her and her husband to join the basketball league to help get their lives off the ground.

    They did.

    Three weeks later, dressed in a hot pink tracksuit and matching visor with a whistle pursed between her lips, the 37-year-old became the league's newest referee and the sole female member.

    As a player gets elbowed in the face, Morales blasts on her whistle and runs to grab the ball. "Falta!" or foul, she cries.

    Taking a break from the games, she says the league is like a neighborhood community center.

    "I make one or two new friends each Sunday," Morales says, using her sister-in-law, Olga Velasco, as a translator. "Things are going really well."

    Velasco, for her part, feels she owes it to the many newcomers who arrive at the court each Sunday to pass along knowledge she's acquired over the 10 years she's been here. She shares information on where to find the best grocery deals, how to avoid money traps, what bus routes to use, how to register children for classes.

    She's opened her small Central District home to Morales' family. She's gathered donations of clothes for Morales' children. She's referred them to a dental clinic that charges low fees that can be paid easily in cash.

    Velasco, who emigrated from Chalcatongo with her husband and son, said the help is payback for the support she received when she first arrived here. Velasco's first neighbor, a family friend from Chalcatongo, helped the young mother with everything from babysitting to finding a store that sold tortillas.

    "We are making a chain," Velasco says. "People come because a cousin is here to help them when they arrive. After they get settled they send for other relatives in Chalcatongo to come and help them until they are secure."

    Lifeline from stress, worry

    As the league gives, it also takes away.

    Early in the summer, the Aztecas' team forward and league co-founder, 28-year-old Eduardo Quiroz, dislocated his ankle during a game. A doctor ordered the cook for a chain restaurant in Bellevue to stay out of work for several months and off the court for one year.

    Bills from the accident are mounting. Without legal status, Quiroz doesn't have medical insurance and faces a hospital bill of $5,000. He made the critical error of calling an ambulance, which cost $500 for the short ride. He's unable to wire money to his dependant 68-year-old mother and other relatives back home.

    "It's very stressful and lonely at home," he said.

    For the pain the ankle's betrayal caused him, however, it is difficult for Quiroz to stay away from the court.

    Medium height with a muscular, lean build achieved from years toiling in the peach and orange orchards of Southern California and dishwashing and cooking in numerous Seattle restaurants, Quiroz limps along the sidelines, trying to encourage his team as they turn the ball over to the opposing team, Putla.

    "Vamos Aztecas! Si se puede!" or "Let's go Aztecas! You can do it!" he calls.

    The Sunday games have become a lifeline from days of monotony, stuck in the two-bedroom condo he shares with his three brothers. At the court, he can forget about his problems and root for the Aztecas, which have advanced to the semifinals of the championship game.

    As Quiroz calls for a player change, his world is, for the moment, all about the game. "My players need me because before I used to score points," he says. "But now they need my support."

    A 'hard, lonely' new life

    Creating a basketball league was as natural as going to Mass for Eduardo Quiroz's little brother, Francisco Quiroz. As the last of four brothers to leave Chalcatongo to find work in Seattle, he grew up with a hoop at home and one across the street, used by the whole village.

    He said every village in the municipality of Chalcatongo has three basic pillars: a church, a school and a basketball court. "And everyone is most crazy about basketball," Francisco said.

    When he first arrived four years ago, he couldn't find a job using his bachelor's degree in business from a university in Oaxaca because his training didn't translate here. Eduardo referred him to a job as a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant in downtown Seattle.

    In a steam room of dishwashers the size of delivery trucks, Francisco was one of four men -- all from Mexico -- who cleaned hundreds of huge platter-like entrée plates, which were quickly circulated back onto the restaurant's white tablecloths. For $6.50 an hour, his job was to take scalding hot plates that had been hosed down with a giant spray and crouch down to load and unload them onto huge, heavy racks that, in turn, went into the giant dishwashers.

    Francisco quit after four days.

    "In the beginning it was really hard here because I didn't speak English very well, people look down on Mexicans, and the jobs I found were very, very difficult."

    But slowly, things have become better. He has a girlfriend, a pretty 24-year-old from Jalisco. He's now working as a server for a catering company, making almost double the wages he earned in his first dishwashing job. He's made friends -- Asians, whites, blacks and other Latinos -- at dance clubs around the city. He's studying computer science at Bellevue Community College

    In his current job as a caterer for some of the Puget Sound area's wealthiest families and companies, Francisco regularly sees the vast gap between the area's richest residents and those like him: the city's working poor, who are often as anonymous as the Liga Hispana's players.

    Sitting at a folding table on the sidelines, Francisco wants to change this in the small ways he can. He lays out a printout of a fresh Excel grid of scores and team rankings. Later, he'll post fliers for the league at Mexican grocery stores and restaurants.

    He's looking for an affordable soft-surface indoor court so the league can run year-round. He invited Spanish-language press to last year's November championship match for publicity.

    As the league goes, so go its players. Leticia Morales' husband got a job as a cook in a Seattle restaurant through friends the family made at the court. Eduardo has returned to work, but he still can't play. The league continues to support him in ways his ankle cannot.

    "Life can be hard and lonely here," Eduardo said. "I always knew there were lots of people from Chalcatongo and other parts of Mexico, but there was nothing that brought us all together.

    "Not until the basketball league."


    6.3 million undocumented immigrants are employed in the United States, making up 4.3 percent of the civilian labor force.

    33 percent of undocumented immigrants work in the service industry, with the greatest number in construction, production, installation and repair occupations.

    The educational level of undocumented immigrants has increased in the last two decades. Still, half do not have high school educations. One-quarter have college degrees.

    700,000 undocumented immigrants come to the United States annually, compared with 610,000 legal immigrants.

    One-quarter of all the workers in these professions in the United States are undocumented immigrants: drywall and ceiling tile installers, meat and poultry workers, dishwashers.

    The average annual family incomes in 2003 for undocumented immigrants in the country fewer than 10 years was $25,000, compared with the national average family income of about $47,800.
    Support our FIGHT AGAINST illegal immigration & Amnesty by joining our E-mail Alerts at

  2. #2
    Senior Member Richard's Avatar
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    Apr 2005
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    Don't you just love the way that this "brand of Mexican bread" of a reporter Cecilia Kang overlooks a process that is both negative and toxic. No the immigrants can not help their relatives start farms or businesses for income down there but pay to have them come here and compete against us. Basta!
    I support enforcement and see its lack as bad for the 3rd World as well. Remittances are now mostly spent on consumption not production assets. Join our efforts to Secure America's Borders and End Illegal Immigration by Joining ALIPAC's E-Mail Alerts network (CLICK HERE)

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