June 28 2002

Coping With a Copa Mundial Loss

Is there any doubt that Mexican Americans should have cheered on la patria?

By Daniel Hernandez

The scene at my cousin’s apartment was so somber last Sunday (June 16) that any visitor might have thought someone close to the family, like a fluffy pet dog, had died.

At about a quarter past midnight, as Mexico and the U.S. squared off on the football field half a world away, a dozen or so siblings and cousins — all but two U.S. citizens — entered a state of shock, mourning over Mexico’s 2-0 thrashing by the U.S. team. One relative suggested he might renounce his citizenship — to Mexico. Another said, with a half-trying smile, that he was “glad to be an American.”

We live in San Ysidro and Chula Vista, two communities in San Diego County close enough to Tijuana see houses’ porches “en el otro lado”. As the saying goes, “the best part of Tijuana is San Diego.” That may be true, but in San Ysidro, the common belief is that the town might as well be a “colonia” of the dense, brown metropolis that is Tijuana.

So you can imagine how some of us felt watching our glorious heroes — Cuauhtémoc, el Conejo — get trounced, humiliated, utterly defeated by no-name (to us, at least) American “soccer” players.

When we lost all hope, we admittedly got a little nasty.

In our bitterness, we started referring to the black and Latino players on the U.S. team as “Uncle Toms” and “sell-outs.” For extra kicks, as time wound down, I turned to ESPN, to see what goofy American things the goofy American announcers were saying. How could I have not guessed it? “The land of the free! The home of the brave!” and then I shut it off. It was all just too unbeareable to watch. My cousins retired to their rooms quietly, dejectedly.

I am an American citizen. I was born and raised in Southern California. I was an American kid and an American teenager and I felt just as American as everyone else when terrorists attacked the U.S.

I have never lived in Mexico and my pocho Spanish might as well be another language altogether. I listen to hip hop and rock and roll, not banda or cumbias.

But when it comes to Mexico, when it comes to the land of our parents and ancestors, nothing could deter me from cheering on “la patria”. I find it reprehensible that Mexican Americans had trouble deciding who to root for — how could there be any doubt?

Yes, we are American. Yes, we owe so much to this country. But did anyone see Korean Americans displaying U.S. flags in Koreatown on Tuesday? The South Korean national flag flew proudly in downtown L.A. after the Koreans beat powerhouse Italy. And I can only imagine how estatic Turkish Americans might be feeling, after Turkey defeated Japan to advance to the World Cup quarterfinals. These are fans cheering on countries thousands and thousands of miles away, and yet Mexico is here right under our noses, just over that hill, just around the corner.

In Tijuana, the sense of defeat is oppressive, hanging in the air, overshadowing everything. It’s the same in San Ysidro.

You see, soccer is a Latino thing. Soccer is our sport. For generations we Latinos in the U.S. have been content with Americans having their U.S. football and their baseball, their “all-American pastimes.” After the final play and the final innings, win or lose, we could turn to soccer, one of few things, unfortunately, that we Latinos had over our U.S. neighbors.

The same is true of the countries as a whole. It’s no secret that Mexico, like most of the rest of the world, has an inferiority complex about the U.S. Our history is a bitter one, drawn along war and exploitation, defeat, and a little something called the Treaty of Guadalupe. Soccer was where we had the upper hand.

Until now.

“There has to be an end to this disgrace where (Americans) treat us like rats and idiots,” a fan in Mexico City told the Associated Press, through tears. Another fan told the New York Times, “I think that the United States always has seen us as inferior and it always has tried to humiliate us — and now they’ve really gone and done it.”

So this is not just about football. This is about national, cultural, raving mad patriotic pride. This is about losing one of our strongest threads of dignity in the face of the strongest superpowers in recorded civilization.

I have respect for the U.S. I have reverence for this country. But I have love for Mexico. Affection, if you will.

The U.S. is like a father, a provider, a pillar of strength, someone to whom you never raise a fist. But Mexico is like a younger sibling. Going through growing pains, ever enthusiastic and full of life, sometimes confused, sometimes mistaken, but always someone that you want to see achieve great things, someone you want to be proud of, someone you know is full of potential and soon really will achieve greatness.

Today, we have seen our father spank and embarrass our little brother with unequivocal prowess, as if the “papi” beat the “hermanito” at his own game — marbles or something. It’s humiliating.

As Mexican Americans, all we can do now is encourage our Mexico to keep fighting, and warn our U.S. that our little brother will be back again soon.

Daniel Hernandez is a freelance writer who recently earned a degree from UC Berkeley. Email him at mykod@yahoo.com. This story is reprinted from the webzine LatinoLA and be accessed at http://www.latinola.com.

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