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Jugadores del parque: Immigrants, play, and the creation of social ties


This dissertation examines the social uses and meanings of a public park for a group of primarily working-class Latino immigrant men who regularly gather there to socialize and play soccer. Based on over five years of in-depth participant observation, the findings shed light on the men's everyday experiences in and away from the park and uncover social processes and human concerns that resonate well beyond the particulars of the case.

Specifically, the dissertation shows how a group of primarily immigrant men make and sustain social ties through their regular involvement in park life. The social life of the park works effectively as a site of network formation and resource exchange because it is made fun, compelling, and revealing. The findings show that people require shared commitments, in this case, a fascination with soccer and beer drinking, to create new relations. These emergent qualities not only bring the men together and break down boundaries between them, but help them develop trust in one another over time. With greater knowledge and confidence, the men are more willing to network and exchange resources, a key way they make ends meet. As opposed to seeing networks emanating from pre-existing ties, this study shows how the men manufacture a basis and foundation for networking and making new ties in their everyday lives.

These men--their histories, experiences, and concerns--are developed in the dissertation chapters. Like a cubist painting, the chapters offer different slices and perspectives on park life and beyond, especially employment relations. Together, they paint a portrait of how group life at the park is made meaningful and transcendent in ways that affect the men's personal relationships and life chances. Along the way, the project aims to better specify how migrants form and sustain new ties in new places, paying special attention to the meaning and organization of sports and public parks in generating social connections and resource exchanges over time. The findings encourage migration scholars to look more carefully at the contingent and social nature of network formation and to examine less traditional research sites of interaction and meaning making.

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