It was a joy to see them respond to a film about them. They laughed. They cheered. They sat transfixed. This wasn’t just a great sports film – and it is. Believe me I cheered when the film showed Los Jets winning points and carrying a game. This was a film about today’s America. It’s a story of struggle, of discrimination, of determination, of success. It is as old as Horatio Alger. American dream meets reality. The dream wins.
I sat in the Fed Ex Global Auditorium Friday night alternately entranced and entertained. You must know I am a softie for sports films. I love the stark battle of winning and loosing that sports offers. Other competitions are less stark, more ambiguous. I loved the Los Jets TV series when the story was focused on the “win”.
To watch the chapter where the opposing school’s fans sat in the stands and harassed the Siler City young men—telling them to go back home to where they belonged and making derogatory remarks about their Latino culture was infuriating and humiliating. It’s hard to think white North Carolinians like me could be so cruel. I was pleased that the filmmakers distorted the faces of those offending fans. I didn’t want to identify with them. The Los Jets team didn’t let those embarrassing gringos keep them off their game…they won that night and I just beamed. It was a sports movie with all the satisfaction.
But there were so many other TV chapters in the series that really resonated and stayed with me. The story of one young man whose parents thought “it was safe” for him to cross the border and reunite with them when he was 7. The crossing was not safe. He cried on camera remembering.
Americans who leave home for America have always sacrificed it all for the opportunity to begin again, to start fresh, to breathe opportunity. This young Los Jets athlete followed his parents and the pain was very real. Dreams are not the same as reality.
As well, the video chapters on the aspirations and hopes of the athletes who wanted to go to college dug deep into my heart. SAT morning was full of the fear and the anticipation. No one likes those college board tests, but some are more prepared than others. English as a second language, the lack of math from the first grade on, doesn’t make succeeding at SATs easy. Watching the soccer athletes come to UNC and feel the power of the campus, the beauty of this historic place that has always offered its North Carolina students opportunity, was so evident. As well, the difficulty of these young athletes’ desire was all too palatable. As I watched, I wanted to make college happen for them. But the students needed to make it real for themselves and it was unclear to me that they had what is demanded to get into UNC and to receive the scholarships and support they needed.
Los Jets is an amazing program. It has all the elements of great TV. Entertainment. Context. Human stories. Drama. Suspense. Pathos. Los Jets was better than I could have imagined – and I read the wonderful book by my colleague Paul Cuadros, A Home on the Field, that inspired the program. I left the movie moved. I left entertained. I left in wonder of Jennifer Lopez. Her company produced the TV series and it’s clear to me she understands communications. She has put her name, her notoriety and her production company behind a program that is so much more than my beloved sports movies.
Los Jets is truly a story about America today. It is a story of the 21st Century immigrant in America. It is also UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication Professor Paul Cuadros’ story.
Paul won’t be the same kind of journalism professor anymore. He is activist; he is educator; he is journalist and he is a national success. Los Jets is not simply his project anymore. It is a video/television experience. And it is powerful.