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Review in Oregonian newspaper

Review in Oregonian newspaper

Review by Jeff Baker on Oregonlive:

Steve Wilson said he first read about Woodburn soccer in a Lake Oswego newspaper that described Lakeridge High School’s 2004 boys playoff game at Woodburn as a trip “to an exotic and frightening new country.”

“It was obviously a culture clash — white kids in a white state going to a place where they were in the minority,” he said, “and I wondered what it was like when you flipped it around. Everywhere the Hispanic kids go, they are the minority. The cultural issues interested me.”

Lakeridge won that game in 2004, one of many playoff disappointments for Woodburn. The Bulldogs are a boys soccer power who have made the playoffs every year since 1986 but have never won the state championship. Wilson, a freelance writer who makes his living as a private investigator, started visiting Woodburn in the summer of 2005, hanging around the soccer team known informally as “Los Perros.” He kept coming back, building relationships and following the team while gathering material for his new book “The Boys From Little Mexico: A Season Chasing the American Dream.”

Woodburn is a fascinating place, about 30 miles from Portland and best known for the giant outlet mall off Interstate 5. Off the freeway, the city has a string of taquerias downtown and an economy built around farming and nurseries. Its population is more than 50 percent Hispanic, and it has a large population of Russians who settled there in the 1950s and ’60s. The sport of choice is soccer, and kids play in leagues and in pickup games, where they develop their quickness and ball skills.

Wilson said there was some initial hesitation toward him from people who saw him as another outsider there to study the different culture.

“They’re tired of being looked at like lab rats,” he said. “I tried to find my place in the community and what my role would be. The more time I spent there, the more comfortable everyone became until I really was the proverbial fly on the wall.”

As access and trust increased, Wilson found himself facing tough choices. He wanted to tell the story of the team and its players, but some of what he learned could harm them. Some of them were undocumented and many were minors who were opening up their lives to someone who was writing a book.

“They were telling me things they shouldn’t, and I had to be careful with that,” he said.

Wilson changed the names of some of the students and was careful to protect their privacy. He said the racist perception of Hispanic teenage boys as “uneducated, lazy thieves” is inaccurate, and he wanted to show how “the differences between them and the white kids are far fewer than the similarities.”

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