Soccer, Baseball and Immigration

Fifteen of the twenty-three players on the French team which just won the World Cup are immigrants. They are a small part of the worldwide army of migrants on the move inside countries or traveling over mountains, oceans, and deserts, across borders, from country to country.

According to the 2015 World Migration Report, “There are an estimated 232 million international migrants and 740 million internal migrants in the world.”  Every one of them is looking for a place to lay their head in peace, looking for a way to take care of their families.

For example:

Joe Maddon is the manager of the Chicago Cubs. In 2016, he led them to their first World Series title in a century. A century ago also marked a high point of European immigration into Hazleton, Pennsylvania, including the Italian grandparents of Joe Maddon.

It’s happening again in Hazleton. In 1990, 4 percent of the city’s population was Latino. In 2010, it was 37 percent. Today it’s half.

“Over a decade ago, in 2006, Hazleton found itself at the center of the national debate about immigration and America’s relationship with Mexico. Faced with a new influx of immigrants, many from Mexico, it became the first city to pass local ordinances that banned hiring or renting to unauthorized immigrants. The city became ground zero for protesters against immigration and national news cameras camped out in the city for weeks to follow the debate…

“Since 2010 Joe Maddon has been on a crusade to bring the older and newer residents of his hometown together. That year he spent Christmas in Hazelton and was shocked to find the city he had grown up in so angry and divided. The next night he joined his cousin, Elaine Curry, a local community leader, for dinner with one of the Spanish-speaking families in town. He remembers thinking that his experience that night was just like what he remembered from family dinners when he was a child, where there always three or four generations present, children running around, and two languages spoken. ‘My god, this is exactly what my house used to look like in the fifties and sixties,’ Maddon has said. And he realized that night that history was repeating itself–that the immigrants who had come to his hometown were there to revitalize it in the same way his grandparents’ generation had done a century ago when they arrived from Europe.”

From Vanishing Frontiers: The Forces Driving Mexico and the United States Together by Andrew Selee.

Joe Maddon was a co-founder of and today serves as honorary chairman of the Hazleton Integration Project (HIP). HIP operates under the principle that “We are a country of different cultures that are continually evolving into a single people.”

HIP has a multiracial board of directors and runs a variety of youth and other community programs that are indeed breaking down barriers between people in this rural Pennsylvania city. For more information, check out:


Lee Ballinger, CounterPunch’s music columnist, is co-editor of Rock and Rap Confidential author of the forthcoming book Love and War: My First Thirty Years of Writing, interviewed Honkala for CounterPunch. RRRC is now available for free by emailing Ballinger at: