“Why do you cheer for Mexico? You are American.”
I’ve heard this my whole life. It makes sense. I am Chicano, but I was born in Kansas City, KS and never learned Spanish. My only experience in Mexico has been on beach vacations. I was born into the era of soccer’s rise in America. An MLS team was founded in Kansas City three years after I was born. Yet I cheer for the Mexican National Team and actively root against the USMNT.
I absolutely loathe the on field presence of Alexis Lalas, Landon Donovan, and Michael Bradley. I scoff at every mention of Christian Pulisic being the next Messi (which let’s be honest is a bit much). I was even, partially, happy that the USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup.
September of 2005 was the first time I went to see Mexico play. The game was in Columbus, Ohio, and my dad took me to what would be the only competitive match that I have ever seen Mexico play. We drove a van across the Midwest with some family. I was 12. The final score was 2-0 in favor of the U.S.A. The game was one of the many Dos a Cero finishes, a chant that feels more like a mocking of culture then of performances, that happened in Columbus. But I don’t remember much about the actual game play.
One thing I do remember is the atmosphere. The Mexican fans sang throughout the game. One of the chants, the repeated “Mexico…Mexico…Mexico,” was repeatedly interrupted by shouts of “go home to” by some USMNT fans.
My father, who is a believer of avoiding conflict, and my cousin, who works vigorously with the Latino community, politely confronted the men to stop shouting. There were verbal arguments between the support groups, and they didn’t want the situation to escalate. It turned out the perpetrators were actually from Kansas City.
Some USMNT fans thanked my father and cousin. No one from their fan base had done anything to stop them.
The rivalry has never simply been a soccer rivalry. For myself, the rivalry has forever been accompanied with racial undertones. Some USMNT supporters used the rivalry as an opportunity to dish out their ideals on an entire race, not just a fan base or a team. The USMT home games of this rivalry were moved to the middle of the Rust Belt to ensure that there were more USMNT fans in attendance. The move also helped to ensure that a good number of the fans at the game were less acquainted with people of Mexican descent and culture.
The “dirty” Mexican team and fans was a sentiment I heard multiple times. “You guys throw trash and urine on people.” The incidents did happen. Mexico fans at the Estadio Azteca have behaved in a terrible manner, at times. But, these types of comments were not aimed at those fans. They felt aimed at a culture.
Cheering for Mexico has been often linked with a question of nationalism. I am a United States citizen, and I love that I am here in the U.S. However, cheering for the Mexican national team is not a denouncement of my country. It is showing pride in my culture.
As a Chicano living in the United States these opportunities were few and far between. Growing up, I attended Catholic schools in the suburbs. I was in a constant state of being in-between cultures: my Latino family and friends from my early ages, versus the mostly white school that I started attending at age 11. Cheering for the Mexican national team was one of the few places where I could wholly exist.
My dad was very involved with his union at work. He has a very specific idea of race relations. He’s earned that idea. He was moved to the United States in the 70’s and has worked in blue collar his whole life. Race was always a topic. I was moved from a predominantly Hispanic grade school to an all-white middle school.
I was fortunate to be taught about race by my father, someone who experienced racism, while dealing with my own cultural displacement. It allowed me to become acquainted with my culture while cautiously entering into a space between two separate identities. I learned that I could exist outside of the idea of two stringent cultures. I didn’t have to choose between the two I could find my own cultural identity while still having a deep pride in my Mexican heritage.
The Mexican National team represents that heritage. The players and the fans represent the culture in which I am proud to have been raised. Meanwhile, the USMNT can look like a fraternity pledge class.
My experience isn’t the experience of every other Chicano who roots for the Mexican national team. I also understand that not all of us Chicanos root for the Mexican national team. But, like it or not, I do!