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House Divided

June 26, 2011

Even people not into soccer knew that there was something going on yesterday.

In the streets of Houston, Los Angeles and Chicago cars were displaying an unusually large number of Mexican flags. Many had even painted their car windows with phrases of support for Mexico.

Of course, it was the final game for the “Gold Cup.” The national selections of Mexico and the US were playing to claim the title of the best national team from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

If this sounds epic, is because it is. For most countries around the world, their national soccer team is a source of pride and nationalism. And for many Mexicans, Soccer is almost more religion than sport. Just look at how their players are depicted in theMexican Soccer Federation website (and compare it to the website for Team USA).

As you may know by now, Mexico defeated the US 4 – 2. It was the first time in over 10 years that the US lost to Mexico on American soil. And a big factor was that the home team had less fans in the stadium than the visitors.

This was very evident to the players. “You come into your country and you know they are going to have more fans than you are,” said Jonathan Bornstein, one of the US players right before the game, “We’re on our home turf, and so we need to be considered the home team even though we might not have all the fans.”

The victory triggered celebrations all over the US, with Mexican fans chanting “Mexico , Mexico!” and waving their red, white and green flags.

As expected, the negative comments were immediate. All were variations of the same theme, expressed well by this comment posted on the CNN website:

“It’s one thing to have pride in your heritage but I’ve seen people on the streets of Los Angeles today screaming how great Mexico is and how terrible the USA is. If Mexico is so great, please, feel free to return there.”

Sadly, this is a very simplistic view of what’s really going on.

When looking at the popularity of sports in the US, “American” Football takes two of the top five slots. The NFL is the top sport in the country (based on number of TV viewers), and NCAA college football is number four.  Of course, High School football is also a big deal.

(Incidentally, Major League Soccer is number 11, behind the Arena Football League and the WNBA).

Imagine for a moment that in a weird twist of events, the football team of your  beloved High School would have to play against your favorite college team for a national Championship.

Who would you root for?

My guess is that you would root for your high school. Not only it would feel like the underdog, but also it would feel more “yours” – you were a part of that community before you knew which college you were going to attend.

Are you betraying your Alma Matter? You probably feel that you’re not. You also love your college, but c’mon! It’s your high school we’re talking about… Why can’t you love both teams?

Identity is not a black and white thing. It’s a fluid, ever changing thing. Identities are formed by layers. You never renounce to what you used to be, but just add new things to what you are.

While many Mexican-Americans rooted for the Mexican team, it’s not an expression of “hating” the US. It’s simply a candid admission of how much they still love the place from where they came from.

As immigrants, we forever live in two worlds. The country where we were born, and the country that we choose for our children and our dreams. That’s why we can love two countries.

So, Viva Mexico! Great job, guys. And God Bless the USA.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 30, 2011 4:45 pm

    Interesting point by a Chronicle columnist: the Mexican national soccer team is the most popular single team of any kind in the U.S.

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