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kottke.org posts about Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee’s Refugee Population

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2019

24-year-old NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo has led the Milwaukee Bucks to the Eastern Conference Finals this year, but as a child in Greece, he lived the life of a stateless undocumented immigrant.

Until recently, even the children of African immigrants who were born here found it difficult to secure legal residency, let alone citizenship. Their stateless status denied them national health care, Civil Service jobs and access to sports leagues. Antetokounmpo only gained Greek citizenship six years ago — just as he was about to go to New York for the N.B.A. draft.

“He was given Greek citizenship in order to prevent him from traveling to New York as a Nigerian,” said Nikos Odubitan, the founder of Generation 2.0, an advocacy group that helps second-generation immigrants gain legal status in Greece.

Danny Chau went to Milwaukee to speak with refugees from places like Syria and Myanmar about their lives, their struggles, and their awareness of Antetokounmpo’s story: Giannis Through the Eyes of Milwaukee Refugees.

Kasim serves as a medical interpreter at Aurora Health Care, Wisconsin’s largest home care organization. I walk past the Aurora pharmacy several times during my stay; above one of the entrance gates hand a vinyl FEAR THE DEER banner. I ask Kasim about the Bucks, about what he knows of the professional sports franchise that has brought new life to much of the city this season. For refugees like Kasim, they may as well be from another planet.

“I heard of this, but again, because of the situations, we are a bit away from the sports,” Kasim says. “We don’t have any chance. But now, I come here, I’m working at the community center, at the same time fulfilling other responsibilities, so time is pretty busy. So I don’t get the time to self-care.” Kasim, often solemn and deliberate in his speech, couldn’t help but let out a smile, having essentially wrapped the term “self-care” in sonic air quotes.

I tell him about Giannis.

He lives here in Milwaukee?

About how he’s one of the best basketball players in the world.

He’s from here or he came here with his parents?

About how, as a child, he, too, had no official claim to the home he had always known. About how he would peddle sunglasses, DVDs, and whatever else he could to make 200 or 300 euros a month for his family. And how his status as an undocumented person meant knowing that at any moment, police could ask his parents for their documentation, and that they could be sent back to Nigeria in an instant.

(via @sampotts)