Nada Nos Detiene

Building bridges from Moscow to Mexico City
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I have a confession to make: For much of my life, I agreed to watch (and feign enthusiasm towards) the Mexican national football team every four years simply to appease my father. Born and raised in Mexico, El Tri is an important part of his identity as a sports fan and, by extension, a person. It was from him that I learned rooting for Mexico was like rooting for a pre-Drumpf era Chicago Cubs, my beloved baseball team: Brimming with hope that this was the year to beat the odds and make a run, only to be bitterly disappointed (usually far earlier in the proceedings than even my most pessimistic assumptions).

His suffering is what I remember most watching Mexico fall tragically to Argentina in extra time in the 2006 World Cup round of 16. I joined him in his disappointment when they fell again to La Albiceleste in 2010 and when they exited stage left following a phantom penalty awarded to the Dutch four years later, it may have even registered with me in a way it hadn’t before. But these peaks and valleys would fade after a few hours, stored somewhere in the dark corners of my memory.

Sure, I always rooted for Mexico when they played nearly any other team, especially during World Cups, but I only had passing familiarity with the players. In fact, I feel sorry for saying this, but from the time I began watching soccer in earnest during the 2010 World Cup, I often found my rooting for the US national team above all, even Mexico.

However, in the four years between Brazil and Russia, what it meant to be a Mexican-American or a person with Mexican ancestry in general has changed dramatically for me (and many others) in America. The atmosphere surrounding us has soured precipitously and maintaining a cultural connection to Mexico is no longer just part of my identity but an explicitly political act.

Our leaders demean Mexicans and Mexican culture, with volume and clarity. They started the conversation with the foundational idea that Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers (though some, they assume, are good people) and have further entrenched the positions which flow naturally from this: That we are not to be trusted, are here to take jobs, push down wages and commit crimes. That our culture incentivizes dependency and our people are a menace that should be hidden behind walls that we will pay for.

This rhetoric is not mere ideological disagreement, but a personal attack against my family and our cultural heritage. And in this political environment, I have seen myself grow closer to my Mexican roots than I ever have before. It requires me to interrogate what it means to have Mexican roots in a nation which seeks to expel them for our shared history (and, in a literal sense, us from our shared neighborhoods.).

Which, I’d like to think, is why Mexico’s shocking victory over Germany was the most fun I’ve had watching a soccer match. My heartbeat racing with every dangerous Mexican counterattack, then stopping with every close German shot on goal. The sense of relief and excitement when they finally broke through with Hirving “El Chucky” Lozano’s game-winning goal.

These were the feelings of a real fan came through, not a one-every-four-years casual observer.

That sense of being a real fan was also stoked when an impending dread and helplessness came over me as Mexico fell behind three goals to Sweden with yet another World Cup run on the cusp of vanishing. It grew even stronger when I became a diehard supporter of the South Korean national team for about 20 minutes, pulling hard for them to score against Germany to bail out Mexico.

Watching the legions of Mexican passionately singing the national anthem clad in the vibrant colors of El Tri, and erupt in a cataclysm of uninhibited joy when Mexico scored one of the biggest goals in its history against the Germans, filled me with a deep pride in my ancestry I have never experienced through the medium of soccer.

Watching the Mexican players collapse on the pitch someone with tears in their eyes at the final whistle after vanquishing the defending champions made me finally understand what it actually means for soccer and the World Cup to be much more than just a cool sporting event organized by a comically corrupt organization. It is a beautiful extension of why my cultural roots matter, no matter how many miles away from my family I am or how many walls are erected between us.

Through the World Cup and with the momentum of the last few years, I better appreciate the real value of understanding a culture and people that many Americans do not and have no interest in trying to understand. I no longer see eating Mexican food as just a tasty dinner or speaking Spanish as just a way to keep in touch with my family in Mexico. I see these things as a bridge to the cultural roots that made me the person I am today.

The last three World Cups have been markers of different times in my life and my life as a soccer fan: In 2010, I was a high schooler still trying to find myself and a newcomer to soccer. In 2014, I was in college gradually discovering who I was and totally invested in every World Cup storyline. Now, in 2018, I appreciate all the nuances and complexities of the sport, and find value in the World Cup's ability to fortify the bonds to my Mexican ancestry.

Whether Mexico loses for the seventh time in the round of 16 or if this time is truly the charm against Brazil, El Tri have become a permanent fixture in my consciousness.

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