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HOW TO BECOME AN AMERICAN
CHARLES P. PIERCE
December 12, 2011
In the west Arkansas town of Magazine, one sure way for boys from the immigrant Hmong community to assimilate is to put on helmets, cleats and shoulder pads
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December 12, 2011

How To Become An American

In the west Arkansas town of Magazine, one sure way for boys from the immigrant Hmong community to assimilate is to put on helmets, cleats and shoulder pads

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They beat West Fork 6--3 and then reeled off 13 wins in a row, most of them by preposterous margins. (In one three-game stretch in midseason, the Rattlers outscored their opponents 130--8.) Chambers and his twin brother, Cory, were a formidable passing combination, and Jones used the Yang brothers as both speed and power runners: Chang rushed for 425 yards and eight touchdowns and scored twice more on pass receptions, while Long ran for 456 yards (9.1 per carry) and five TDs and scored another four times on passes. "Long," Jones recalls, "used to run just like a hummingbird."

His ninth-grade season finished, Charly Moua moved up to the varsity in time to back up the Chambers twins at quarterback and to join the kickoff and return teams. "It was exciting," he says, "because they were already winning." Moreover, Jones and Powell noticed that Hmong parents were showing up at the games. "We didn't see them very much before," Powell says, "but as the year went by you'd see them at the end of the field."

The Rattlers stormed into the state playoffs and beat Strong, Carlisle and Magnet Cove to qualify for the championship game in Little Rock. By now Long and Chang and the rest of the Hmong players were legitimate high school football stars. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published a long piece on them illustrated by a photo of Skyler McElroy hoisting the Yangs on his shoulders. In the title game Magazine forced five Danville fumbles, returned three of them for touchdowns and cruised to a 48--20 win. Chang ran for a 25-yard TD that sealed the victory.

Noon, torpid and still, came hammering down on the low, dusty hills. Thong Moua stayed inside, because it was too hot to work, and he had no chickens to tend anyway. He showed a visitor his clippings. A picture of himself as a soldier, impossibly young and grim. Proclamations from the U.S. Congress and the Massachusetts state legislature in recognition of his and the Hmong's service in the Vietnam War. He talked about waiting for Tyson to bring him more chickens, so he could work again. "They said a month, six weeks, whenever it gets cool," he said.

He thought things would be all right. Hope has been dearly earned in this shady little house. Moua talked about people he once knew. Some of them died in the war. Some were slaughtered when it ended. Some of them died in the deep jungle, and some drowned in the Mekong, because the Hmong were mountain people and didn't know how to swim. Some of them died in the camps. Moua survived. He is here. His son, on the floor playing video games, is a quarterback and a defensive back and an American.

Moua started going to the games last season and continued this year. Magazine ran off 10 straight wins for an undefeated regular season. Billy Yang, the leading rusher on the junior high team, moved up to the varsity for the last game and had six tackles and a sack on defense as Magazine went to the state semifinals, where it stalled several times in the red zone and lost to Junction City 9--3. Charly Moua, a sophomore, played backup quarterback, halfback and defensive back, scoring two TDs as a rusher and two as a receiver, including a 50-yard score in the Rattlers' 41--6 win over Hampton in the first round of the playoffs. Bobby Moua, a senior, started for the third straight year and was an all-conference offensive lineman. The next generation of Hmong players is still in grade school, but Jones and Powell are watching them closely. Meanwhile, Charly, who just turned 17, and Billy will be back, and Jones says Charly should be the Rattlers' starting QB.

"I don't really know why I play," Charly said. "I like to run, and everybody wants to be on the team, you know? There's a tradition now here with the Asian kids, and the parents are really behind us, and we try to do well, because of all they went through to get here."

He was looking down at the floor as he said that. When he finished, he looked up right at you, dead in your eye, and he smiled.

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