Imagine the middle-aged man — quite possibly a dad, certainly a blight on kindness and decency, lower than a crumble of dirt on the bottom of one’s shoe, really — who would say to a 17-year-old stranger playing soccer in a youth-league game, ‘‘We’re going to call Immigration on you.’’
Max Marquez doesn’t have to imagine such a man. He met a pair of them this month outside Indianapolis while playing for a club team of Chicago-area high school juniors and seniors against an all-white opponent from Michigan. Perhaps not surprisingly, an opposing player picked up on the language and taunted Marquez, who is a standout player at Glenbrook North, for the rest of the match.
‘‘I heard the parents say it,’’ Marquez recalled, ‘‘and then the kid kept on trying to egg me on by saying it. I guess he was trying to get in my head.’’
Manny Mazariegos heard this worst-class case of adulting, too. A 17-year-old who wrapped up his prep career in the fall at Buffalo Grove, Mazariegos has heard a lot of ugly things. ‘‘Go back to Mexico,’’ for one. ‘‘We’re going to deport you,’’ for another.
‘‘I think it’s gotten to be pretty normal,’’ he said. ‘‘Like, a lot of kids usually say it, so I don’t really take it to heart.’’
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Sorry, but my heart is breaking — and not only because these are my son’s teammates. Another of his hard-working, hard-playing, big-smiling mates is 17-year-old Lake View star Christian Crespo, who drew a yellow card in the same match in Indy and heard the opposing goalie shout, ‘‘Give him a green card!’’
‘‘I just laughed,’’ said Crespo, a senior who will continue his career at UIC. ‘‘I just shrugged it off and reminded him that we were winning 2-0. But then again, I was like: ‘Why would he say that? What makes him say that?’ ’’
The boys’ coach, Minos Vlamakis, is on the staff at UIC. He nearly flipped his lid when he heard the head referee inform the other team’s coach that parents had used racist language toward players.
Instead, Vlamakis ‘‘killed them with kindness,’’ in his own words. After an opposing player was injured midway through the second half and helped off the field, Vlamakis pulled one of his own players off so each team would continue a man short.
‘‘The [expletive] in me wanted to bury them,’’ he admitted. ‘‘But I try and let the guys know that no matter what they say to you, nothing will feel worse [to them] than outclassing them on the field.’’
Meanwhile, people are the worst. Is that a terrible thing to say? I struggle to think of anyone more objectionable, more at the height of ignorance, than the hardheaded, dim-witted folks — and there are a lot of them — who make incorrect assumptions about the Hispanic young men and women in our community. One, that they’re all of Mexican descent. Two, that they don’t belong here.
Marquez has a Puerto Rican parent. Mazariegos has a Guatemalan parent. Crespo’s parents are from Mexico. Jose Puma’s are from Ecuador. And all these boys were born here — in the land of the free, the home of the brave — in case that matters to anybody.
‘‘They always assume I’m Mexican,’’ said Puma, 18, a teammate of Crespo’s at Lake View.
In a game our team played in Florida over the holidays, a player looked Puma dead in the eye and said, ‘‘Go back to your country.’’
‘‘I feel like it usually occurs when they feel like they’re getting dominated,’’ he said. ‘‘They’re just doing it out of anger. They know we’re being, in a way, superior to them, and it’s not supposed to be like that to them. They feel they’re a superior race compared to us, like to them we should be lower.’’
Have I mentioned ‘‘white’’ recently? Because — sorry — this happens in games against white teams. It just does. Many of them all-white and from the boonies.
Yet it happens here, too, on our high school scene.
‘‘There is a very pervasive attitude of racism that’s condoned, in my opinion, by communities around here — in some cases by coaches — and it’s tolerated,’’ said Waukegan coach Peter Valdez, whose team is primarily Hispanic and who is not connected to my son’s club squad. ‘‘When I played 25 years ago, it happened. It may not have gotten worse, but it definitely hasn’t gotten better.’’
It happens all the time, according to Crespo. And it has gotten worse, he said.
‘‘They always say: ‘I’m going to bring Trump. I’m going to call ICE,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘I think he’s been an influence to, like, racist people and all that. Everywhere we go, every time we face a white team.’’
Can I ask you just to marinate on that for a minute? Consider not blaming the messenger. Consider hearing the message.
‘‘Sometimes people see us as, like, second-class cittizens and stuff like that,’’ Marquez said. ‘‘It’s like we don’t have a right to say something, but they can say whatever they want to us and let it do whatever it does to us. But I’ve kind of gotten to the point where whatever people say to me about my race, I just laugh it off and play harder than them. It doesn’t really affect me anymore, mostly because I’ve heard it a lot.’’
Even once is too much. Once is unacceptable. Once is a scourge on society.
We can do better. We can be better. But to each of you who can’t? There’s a spot on the bottom of a shoe with your name on it.