Amy Bass has written about Lewiston's experience absorbing thousands of Somali immigrants. Her lens is soccer. Her book is entitled “One Goal.” Bass talks with Maine Public Radio’s Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about what inspired her to write the book about the Lewiston High School soccer team.
GRATZ: Good morning.
BASS: Good morning.
GRATZ: How did you learn about what's been going on in Lewiston?
BASS: I am a proud graduate of Bates College. And a friend had actually posted a small article about the soccer team on Facebook.
GRATZ: Why is the timing of this story important?
BASS: Conversations about immigrants, about humanity, about acceptance, and about finding common ground is, I think - it's a heightened mode of importance right now for this kind of stuff. And this story has all of that.
GRATZ: Well, let's talk about doing the book. How did you first approach the Lewiston High soccer players and their coach?
BASS: So, their coach, Mike McGraw, was the first one that I reached out to, as well as a member of the community. I talked to Coach McGraw about, you know, what I wanted to do, how I wanted his participation in it, asked for it. He thought about it, and then I made my first trip up there and spent the day with him, and from there just began to make connections and sort of have a comfortable presence in Lewiston.
GRATZ: What about winning the trust of the players? What was that like?
BASS: There's a lot to deal with. They're very young. So, again, I sort of wanted to create a comfortable presence and create the kind of atmosphere where they would come up to me. And that started to happen.
GRATZ: I am curious - where did you actually come in? When did you begin watching this team play and go through its struggles?
BASS: So, I came on the scene a couple of weeks after they finished their 2015 season and spent the rest of that year at Lewiston - at the high school, back and forth between my home in New York, and then really embedded with the team through their summer season, and then continued on into the fall.
GRATZ: When all was said and done, do you feel that this has moved Lewiston significantly forward in absorbing these Somali immigrants?
BASS: I think that Lewiston is hard at work, and it's not just about soccer. I think that this soccer team, and that one moment at their championship game in 2015 - which is, you know, the largest group of people ever assembled in Maine history to watch a soccer game - I think that was an amazing moment of coming together that represented all of that hard work. But, as I say in the book, I think that just because a community comes together doesn't mean that it stays together. I think it's always an ongoing process and it's something that ebbs and flows and can be really fragile sometimes.
GRATZ: Are there lessons here for other communities that are also facing a large influx of immigrants?
BASS: When I look at how many different hands were on the pulse of the soccer team - you know coaches and players and parents and volunteers and community leaders and community volunteers - you really see a bringing together of long-time locals and newcomers, and the end result is fantastic. They soar to the top ranks of high school sports in the midst of a nation that was debating things like walls and keeping people out and national security. So, I don't think it's simple. I don't think that you can find, sort of, that cut and dried heartwarming solution. It's complicated. But I think that we can learn a lot from those complications.
GRATZ: There are similar stories of towns, communities coming together over sports. Is there anything in particular that makes your book - this experience in Lewiston – different?
BASS: It's about using sports as a window to have much bigger conversations, and I think that that's one of the keys that we always need to be doing.
GRATZ: Amy Bass, thank you for your time. We really appreciate it.
BASS: Thank you.
"One Goal" author Amy Bass will give a reading and sign books Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. at Longfellow Books in downtown Portland.