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How an annual soccer tournament brings together Vermont's farmworker community

A photo of women playing soccer in a field. The women are all smiling.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Migrant Justice held its ninth annual soccer tournament this summer. This is the second year that women's teams have officially participated.

It’s a sunny summer Saturday at the Tree Farm in Essex Junction. A sign announcing “¡Torneo de Fútbol!” greets drivers arriving at the park. Soccer nets sit at either end of five, bright green fields. A crowd gathers as Mexican pop artist Natalia Lafourcade plays over the loudspeakers.

Puedes leer la versión en español, aquí.

Today’s emcee is Migrant Justice field organizer Thelma Gomez. She grabs the microphone to welcome everyone to the tournament, which is in its ninth year.

“So, colleagues, we are about to start with the welcome ceremony of the 2022 tournament, which has been one of the most important events for the entire community," Gomez says. "We have not seen this space only for sharing, right, but also a nice way to raise funds and continue doing the job we are doing, right, to continue fighting for the rights of all of us."

In English: A photo of a red and white sign reading ¡Torneo de Futbol! placed in a small garden at the beginning of a road. En Español: Una foto de un cartel rojo y blanco que dice ¡Torneo de Fútbol! en un pequeño jardín a principios de una carretera.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Hundreds of people, both spectators and players, turn out for the tournament each year.

Fourteen teams — 10 men’s and four women’s — are signed up to play, including two from New York and Maine.

And volunteers like Anthony are there to help keep score.

"To support on the charts, taking note of scores, the t-shirt numbers, who scored, and all of that," he says. "The truth is that I like this sport a lot."

Anthony adds that this Saturday couldn’t be more different than a normal Saturday.

"We are always working on the farm, with the cows, so well, we are always focused on that, we are not distracting the mind, and this is the perfect moment to do so," he says.

But today, today is about soccer!

In English: Photo of a soccer player in a red uniform throwing a soccer ball to teammates on a green field. En Español: Una foto de un jugador de fútbol en un uniforme rojo lanzándole un balón de fútbol a sus compañeros en la cancha de césped.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Most Saturdays throughout the year, many of Vermont's farmworkers are usually in a barn, working with cows. But the day of the Migrant Justice soccer tournament is something completely different.

Just before lunchtime, the referees blow their whistles, and the men’s games begin. Among those to win an early match is Roman Juarez. He’s competing with the team Misty Knoll, named for the chicken farm he and his teammates work for in New Haven.

Juarez says his team practices when they can.

"We have matches with teams around here, and well, right now sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, what's important is that it's a relaxing and distracting activity from work," he says. "And yes, exercising helps a lot."

More from Vermont Public: Why Migrant Justice will campaign outside Hannaford stores on May 1

He says this special, once-a-year event brings him joy.

"You are so happy now that you wake up in the morning to get ready and come to live this day," Juarez says. "This doesn't happen every day, only each year."

In English: A photo of a smiling woman standing with a purple and pink banner reading Doña Alejandra Tacos. En Español: Una foto de una mujer sonriente parada junto a un pancarta rosada y morada que dice Doña Alejandra Tacos.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Alejandra stands for a portrait with the banner for her Bridport business, Doña Alejandra Tacos. She's been serving food at the Migrant Justice soccer tournament for the past four years.

A big part of what brings joy to this day, of course, is the food. The smell of sizzling meat wafts through the air from a row of tents along the edge of the park.

Behind her bright purple and pink banner reading “Doña Alejandra Tacos,” Alejandra cooks, chats and advertises her taquitos and aguas frescas to potential customers.

"Oh well, I'm so happy, very happy that the community is growing, and now offering my food, my traditions, my roots," she says.

In English: A photo of three servings of meat on tortillas. En Español: Una foto de tortillas con carne.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Alejandra says she's happy to share the traditions and food of her country.

Alejandra is also signed up with one of the tournament’s four women’s teams.

"In fact, there is a women's team called 'Las Chicas del Sur,' [Women from the South], and that's us," she says.

Under the shade of a tree, Maria Neuri is sitting with a group of women. They’re all braiding each others’ hair before their soccer matches begin.

"Today is the big event, and I come with my teammates from my team 'Mujeres Sin Fronteras' [Women Without Borders]," Maria Neuri says.

In the last few years, more women have been finding time — and rides — to join the tournament.

"We have been training for three Thursdays in a row, and well, most of us met there because we are from different [farms], and well, now in training we are getting to know each other," Maria Neuri says.

In English: A photo of one woman braiding another woman's hair while sitting in the grass. En Español: Una foto de una mujer trenzándole el cabello a otra mujer mientras están sentadas en el césped.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
More women are finding time and transportation to join in and play at the annual Migrant Justice soccer tournament.

This day is about soccer, yes, but it’s a lot more than that, according to Thelma Gomez, the field organizer for Migrant Justice.

“And not only the space to play soccer, we not only talk about that, but about connection to women, [this is] a space where they're heard and recognized, and where we feel good,” she says. "The community has been growing, and I think that this is an example of how we feel here in Vermont."

And on this sunny Saturday, this growing community fills an Essex Junction park, playing, eating, laughing, enjoying.

You can find a Spanish version of this story here, which we produced in partnership with New Hampshire Public Radio.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message or tweet producer/reporter Elodie Reed@elodie_reed.

Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
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