By Zhaoyang Liu
There are many ways in which immigrants become integrated into their new communities. While schools are often thought of as the primary vehicle for integrating newcomers, informal educational opportunities play a role as well — immigrants oftentimes describe learning about American culture from television or film. Likewise, participating in sports can also make a difference. Sports are particularly helpful for immigrants since they allow people to interact and communicate with others without necessarily speaking the same language.
While the more prominent American sports such as baseball and football are established to have rather diverse followings, ice hockey has historically had a mostly white fanbase. However, it is steadily becoming more and more popular among immigrants, especially Latinos and Asians. Shagana Ehamparam, a reporter for “Feet in 2 Worlds”, which aims to bring stories by immigrant journalists to public radio, set out to look for other immigrants who enjoyed hockey. She grew up in the immigrant-heavy city of Toronto, Canada, where her Sri Lankan family embraced the sport.
She fondly recalls watching broadcasts of hockey games with her brothers. In her household, game nights were regarded with the utmost importance. When she arrived in America, she understood that hockey had a more niche and racially homogeneous fanbase. However, this was not the case in the Ironbound section of Newark, New Jersey, which has a dense immigrant population along with the city’s oldest ice rink. In 2003, an after-school program started at the aforementioned rink, where children from the ages of six to eighteen could learn how to play hockey for free. Many of the children in this program come from immigrant families, some of whom are still unfamiliar with the English language. By 2016, the program grew from hockey in Newark to hockey in New Jersey, with much of the support coming from the parents of the participants, who would come to games and cheer for their children. For many parents and children, these games were their first sporting events in the United States.
For many of program’s alumni, the experience has lingered on with them into adulthood. Kevin Lopez, who joined the program when he was thirteen, went on to play for the Princeton Club Hockey Team. Now 22-years-old, he recalls the influence the hockey community has had on him, stating that it gave minorities a chance to prove themselves and dispel negative stereotypes.
The entirety of Ehamparam’s report can be found below:
1. Why do you think so many immigrants have found sports to be important for their integration in a new community? What advantages does it have for newcomers over other activities? What challenges might newcomers face when they are introduced to a new sport?
2. As hockey became more popular among minority groups, the games started to be broadcasted in more and more languages. What other accommodations, besides bridging the language barrier, might help immigrants become more involved in sports? How can these accommodations be translated to other activities and mediums?
3. How might sports be a way for immigrants and minority groups so shed off the prejudices and stereotypes against them? What factors allow for sports to be such an effective way of garnering respect for immigrant groups?
4. Given its history of having a majority white fanbase, how might hockey, in particular, be a good way to foster a better understanding between immigrants and those who have been in the country for generations? What role does diversity in sports play in the reception and recognition of minorities?