Sharing Hope, Building Community, Standing for Justice!
Each Sunday evening throughout the summer a group of 60-100 Latinos gathers at Wittmann Park in the Town of Menasha. Just like anyone else who utilizes public parks, the families, mostly members of Iglesia de Cristo and Fox Valley Christian Fellowship, come to the park to cook out, enjoy the playground, treat themselves to some helado from the walking ice cream vendor, hang out after a tough work week, and play a pick-up game of soccer. The soccer fields are what draw the families to this particular park and it is the soccer fields that have made them feel less than welcome in the park that was established for the public to enjoy.
Over the past six years, the players have been harassed while using the fields and told not to use them and were even subjected to racist comments. The 300-pound goals were often dragged to the middle of the fields and locked on Sundays – preventing play for the Hispanic players on the maintained and marked fields at the park. Someone in a position of power was acting to discourage or prohibit public use of the fields. Though the group made complaints to Town officials, nothing was done, leaving the group feeling frustrated and hopeless. They knew the harassment and perceived discrimination they were experiencing was not right, so the players reached out to ESTHER through Casa Hispana.
During the summer ESTHER got to know the Hispanic soccer players, their families, and the situation. We called for a meeting between the soccer players and the Town of Menasha as well as a separate meeting with leaders of the soccer club in charge of maintaining the public fields. Our goal was to ensure that these players, and the general public, felt welcome and free to utilize our public parks, including soccer fields, when they were not in use by contracted leagues.
Eventually, following a very positive meeting with the Town, we reached the resolution the soccer players had hoped for – the ability to play soccer on a public field free of the fear of harassment or physical impediments on the field. The Town of Menasha took steps to ensure that its soccer club partners would hold the fields open when not in use for club events or closed for necessary maintenance. Representatives of the soccer club involved are working to welcome public play on the fields they maintain and recognize the value of outreach to the Hispanic community to grow their soccer club.
Gustavo Nunez, one of the soccer players who took a lead role in coming forward to seek a resolution to this issue, stated, “We want to thank you and all of the people you worked to figure this situation out with us. After many years of playing with the fear of harassment and removal from the fields, we can finally say that we have been playing in peace this last month and since the beginning of your help.” ESTHER is proud to have worked with these courageous players to ensure that their voice was heard. Together we are encouraged by our collective action to make the community, particularly our public parks, more welcoming to all.