‘Los Jets’ headed to television

07/19/2014 12:00 AM

07/18/2014 5:40 PM

In Brazil, World Cup teams have packed their bags for home. In North Carolina, another soccer season is just now getting ready to unfold.

With N.C. high schools readying to start practice, Siler City’s Jordan-Matthews will be in the spotlight. A new docu-series this season — “Los Jets” on NUVOtv — will depict the challenges, triumphs and daily lives of the Jordan-Matthews soccer players.

The series also recounts the story of “Los Jets” coach Paul Cuadros. An associate professor at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Cuadros is an award-winning writer and author who has focused on issues of health, race and poverty in America.

Siler City, a central North Carolina community of about 5,000 people, has seen its Latino population increase from under 2 percent to more than 50 percent in the past 15 years, according UNC’s Center for Global Initiatives

More than 10 years ago, Cuadros convinced the Chatham County schools to form a varsity soccer team at Jordan-Matthews High. Despite early resistance from some quarters, Los Jets enjoyed almost immediate success on the field and, in 2004, took home the N.C. High School Athletics Association’s 1A championship.

That is just part of the story told in the six-part series, “Los Jets,” adapted by Jennifer Lopez’s Nuyorican Productions from Cuadros’s book “A Home On The Field.” A preview of the series was screened in June at the Center for Global Initiatives and drew a standing ovation. The series debuted Wednesday and can be seen on Time-Warner cable (channel 900) or at http://www.mynuvotv.com/.

We spoke earlier with Cuadros and “Los Jets” producer Mark Landsman, to learn more about the upcoming series, as well as how immigration legislation shapes the lives of the players and their families.

Paul Cuadros, Los Jets Coach

Q: Why do you believe that the story in “Los Jets” is important?

A: We don’t see Latino youth portrayed in the media like this. We have very stereotyped images of Latino youth, and these are usually of the criminal nature…

This is very, very different…and actually more of the reality of the lives of Latinos in America. You see boys in high school, trying to pass tests, studying for the SATs, playing on a team, there are girlfriends — normal teenage stuff.

What you’re going to see is how normalized these kids are — how they participate in every aspect of school life. You’re really going to see the work that so many teachers and administrators in Chatham County have done in addressing immigration.

[The documentary team] filmed the games and some of the kids at school, and they filmed the lives of some of them outside of school … so you get a real, full picture of what some of the Latino youth are going through — relationships with families, deciding what to do after high school, whether to join the military or not. You’re going to see their hopes and dreams.

Q: How has uncertainty about immigration reform affected players, over the years?

A: It affects them because it really [carries] their hopes and dreams for a future in our society. … I think there are many boys who want to go into the military, want to go to college. Their pathway to this is blocked.

There’s a limit on many of the kids. … Educators have spent a tremendous amount of time and energy to educate these kids, and just when we want to reap the benefits, it’s cut short.

[The film] will deal with these questions as well. Many more of the boys were born in Siler City [than Latino youth in years past]. That’s really part of the story, is many of the kids are already here. A great many of the boys and girls I’ve coached have also achieved the status of childhood arrival [through federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals guidelines.]

What it means for them is they get a driver’s license, they get a work permit, and they are just not deportable — unless they get a felony.

Q: Is there anything you hope viewers will especially take away after watching the series?

A: I think that they’re going to connect with the boys and their struggles. They’re going to see the reality of what the boys’ lives are like here. [As for Latino viewers], they’re going to see their [own] lives reflected in these boys, and it’s going to speak to them. …this is the sport that they love. It’s going to touch them on many levels. They’re all living the same challenges, essentially. They’re going to see their lives validated. …

One of the voices we don’t hear from in this [immigration] debate is the ones who are most affected. … It’s going to be powerful and impactful.

Mark Landsman, Project Director and Producer

Q: How did you learn about the Jordan-Matthews Jets soccer team?

A: I first heard about the story when I was listening to NPR back in 2008…I found the story very compelling, and I thought at the time that it would make a wonderful film. I contacted Paul, and we had a conversation, and that conversation turned into a friendship, and we stayed in touch.

It just seemed like an incredible story to be documenting…with everything that’s going on, on the front pages with immigration – everything aligned.

Q: What drew you to this particular topic?

A: I am a huge fan of stories that hold a mirror to what’s going on in our world. I felt like the story of Paul Cuadros and his team and all they had to struggle against – it felt like the right story at the right time. I think stories are a very potent way to look at issues the media tends to polarize … look at ways of putting a human face on stories that the media tends to dehumanize. …

The story of this country is the story of immigrations. The county is a country of immigrations. But this generation of immigrants is different from any other…theirs brings a lot more backlash.

Q: How would you describe the main storylines of the series?

A: [The varsity team] is all Latinos. So there is not a single boy on the team who is not touched by the [immigration] issue in some way. Either they are worried about being deported, or they have family members who are. The story of the team is really a parable, a lens to look at the issue.

We have young men who are on every different part of the spectrum. We followed the strongest story lines.

Q: Is there anything you hope viewers will especially take away after watching?

A: I hope viewers recognize that these boys are not unlike other high school boys in America.

Q: How much of the film directly addresses immigration legislation, and what the uncertainty means for players?

A: This is not a news piece. This is a story about boys’ lives. While it’s not about legislation, it is really about people.

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