November 11, 2016

WELL, THAT'S A STICKY WICKET:

LOVE AND CRICKET IN QUEENS COUNTY : For a team of Indian immigrants living without papers in New York City, the quest for belonging and true love is what holds them together--until it tears them apart. (Elizabeth Flock, 5/19/15, Narrative.ly)

On one of the first cool days of fall, I wandered into a sprawling city park in north central Queens to watch a team of recent Indian immigrants - many of them living in the U.S. without papers - play their regular Sunday cricket match in the park.

The United Cricket Club team was undefeated in their league, and their star player, Davinder, was a thing of legend. He was twenty-seven and uncommonly handsome, bearded with a square, athletic build, and that day he did not disappoint. During the match, he caught ball after ball as his team looked on in awe. When it was their turn to bat, he almost immediately hit a six, the cricket equivalent of a home run. "Beauty! Good batting!" shouted Pardeep, the captain, who has kind eyes and a twirly beard, and leapt out of his lawn chair when excited. And then Davinder hit a pull shot, swinging the bat around his body to knock the ball far down the pitch. The shot ended the game.

With Davinder at the front, the team's eleven players ran jubilantly off the dusty pitch in their bright lime green uniforms with their nicknames printed on the back, many of them misspelled. They celebrated their victory with Corona beer in plastic cups and bright orange tandoori chicken piled high on a portable grill. Someone put on Punjabi music. Davinder was practically strutting. "Man of the match!" someone shouted.

But I hadn't come to watch the match. Pardeep had invited me because he said the United Cricket Club was more like the lonely hearts club - that the players all had love stories I needed to hear. Love and cricket went hand-in-hand, he told me. "When you love this game, sometimes it's more than love," he said. "And when you love someone, nothing is more than important than this person."

After the match, I pulled Davinder aside to ask him if there was anyone he missed back home. As I did, his cocky confidence fell away. Davinder had a girlfriend back in India, whose face he hadn't seen in the three years he'd been in the U.S. "I don't have a picture, she doesn't have Facebook, we don't Skype, and she just has a simple phone," he told me. They talked every day for hours with the help of a calling card. "I tried dating other people but I can't. I love her."

Davinder came to the United States three years ago, following the same route many Indian immigrants take to get to here today: across the Mexican border, with the help of a human smuggler. His journey started in Reynosa, Mexico, and for thirty-six hours he walked with just a little tuna fish, bread and water. After that he hid out, terrified, in the smuggler's house just near the border, and then crossed over in a small boat with about fifteen other people.

Many players on the United Cricket Club team came to the U.S. this way, landing in Texas and then eventually moving north to New York. By some combination of contacts and word-of-mouth, they eventually found Pardeep's team, which plays in the Commonwealth League, the oldest recreational cricket league in New York. The league attracts immigrants from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Caribbean and wherever cricket is played around the world. Their team is made up entirely of Sikhs, followers of a monotheistic religion with origins in Punjab in North India.

At home, the players told me they won trophies for their villages - Davinder boasted of winning seventy. Back there, they were stars, and never had to fight baseball players for space. But here, they said, the ground was better, the umps were fair, and cricket was about a lot more than trophies.

Many of the players, including Davinder, arrived in the U.S. totally alone, leaving behind lovers, friends and family. And so the cricket team played surrogate for all three. Sunday cricket matches were about having fun, but it was also a place they could talk about their problems. They discussed jobs, housing and homesickness. And they discussed one thing most of all: girls.

It is something like a form of insanity to think America would be a better place without them and that we gain by not letting them bring loved ones.

Posted by at November 11, 2016 4:50 AM

  

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