Like the rest of the world, I find myself caught up in the hysteria that is the 2018 FIFA World Cup. How could you not, right? The biggest and most graceful sport in the world, being played at the highest level, by the best in the world, it’s a sports fan symphony. Every four years, Americans like myself find themselves enamored at the game that we cared nothing about just a few weeks ago. With the United States not qualifying for the cup this year I had a crazy thought, “What would happen if Americans cared about soccer?”
At first, this was going to be a satire piece where I play coach for the US national team and I field a soccer team of American athletes, and by athletes, I mean from any sport.
Imagine, Aaron Judge (baseball) 6’7 282 lbs of American man wall at the goal. You take his hand eye coordination and mix it with his freakish abilities for a man of that size, and good luck finding the back of the net. Forget scoring on Judge, first you’re going to have to get past his defense which includes Jalen Ramsey (football), Tyrann Mathieu (football) and pound-for-pound the baddest man on the planet, Demetrious Johnson (UFC) because every team needs an enforcer.
The middle of the field is where it would just get gross when you’d have LeBron James (basketball), Russell Westbrook (basketball), Chris Paul (basketball), and Deandre Yedlin (soccer) just running past and over anything in their path.
You add Clint Dempsey (soccer), O’Dell Beckham Jr. (Football), and Gyasi Zardes (soccer) at the strikers, and this shit just got real. Can you imagine the corner kicks coming from Dempsey where he kicks it 10 feet in the air, and out of nowhere Lebron comes and jumps over everybody? C’mon son, c’mon.
I was going to add in depth analysis of what skill each player would bring to the game of soccer and why they would excel. I’d break down footwork, court vision, and how their overall athletic ability would translate to the game. But, before I could even map out a full staring squad something changed. I felt something as a sports fan that I’ve never quite felt before, I didn’t feel Mexican enough to be cheering on “El Tri,” or better known to Americans, the Mexican National soccer squad.
Let me tell you a story.
I was born in El Paso, TX – a Mexican border city that lies directly across from one of the murder capitals of the world, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. My mom, the youngest of five siblings, is the only one of her brothers and sisters who was born on the American side of the border. My grandma, RIP, and grandpa conceived her in Mexico and right before she was born they came over into El Paso (legally), so my mom could be an American citizen. After she was born, my grandparents took my mom back to Mexican side of the border where she would live throughout her childhood. My mom has a funny saying, she says, “She’s an American made with Mexican parts.”
At age 15, my “father” got my mom pregnant. At 16, my mom had the presence of mind to make a decision that would drastically alter my life forever. Right before my mom’s water broke, her oldest sister, my Tia Ana, drove her across the border so that I could be granted the opportunity of a lifetime, I was blessed to be a social security carrying American citizen. She’s a big reason why I’m out in Los Angeles chasing these visions I see in my head like my life depended on it. I owe her everything, and that’s why one day she’ll live in the Hollywood hills with me, so we can drink some fancy wine, while we overlook LA, and think about how fucking far we came.
And even though I was given a gift, I was stripped of something more valuable to my people, my Mexican authenticity. Remember how I said my mom was born in El Paso? And that after my grandparents took her right back across the border where she grew up in Ciudad Juárez? Well, the same happened to me. After my mom was released from the hospital I went straight back to Juarez where I lived for a year before my parents decided to relocate to the city that raised me – Austin, TX.
The first language I learned was Spanish, that goes for reading or writing. To this day, I speak to my family in Spanish as a sign of respect for the country that we come from. When I started school, I did a year of ESL (English as a Second Language) before I was proficient enough in English to go to regular classes. In my eyes, I was as Mexican as they came. That was until I got to high school and I got my first taste of discrimination among my fellow Mexicans. I was called a, “Chicano” and I was looked as less than my classmates born and raised in Mexico. Both high schools I attended, Reagan and Lanier, were almost predominately Latino student bodies, so I was surrounded by people who looked like me. It’s one thing to be told you’re not good enough by somebody from another race, but, to be told you’re not like the rest of us by people who hail from the same motherland as you – that shit hurts, man.
As the years went on I developed a thick skin, and to this day I don’t care what anyone thinks of me, what you think of me is none of my business. But, just over a year ago I dropped a piece where I spoke as a proud Mexican. I basically called Trump starting mass deportation and with that would come concentration camps. I spoke loudly and clearly on the behalf of every Mexican who had the same blood flowing through their veins. At that moment, I was Mexican enough to be accepted. But now, why not? What changed? I genuinely care what you thought of me then, and now, and more importantly, what caused you to have a change of heart?
Which ultimately brings me back to my original question, what if Americans cared about soccer? Would I have a World Cup team to root for? Would I have a country that fully embraced me? Isn’t this the world’s game? I always told myself that I was going to teach my son one thing when it came to sports. That it had the power to unite people, but now, I’m thinking about it twice.
Crazy, the same ones telling me I don’t deserve to root for Mexico simply because I was born on the wrong side of the border, will be the same ones rooting for Michael Phelps to come back to center stage and deliver more gold medals for the states, or they’ll be the same ones rooting for an American to knock off Usain Bolt in the next Olympic 100 meter sprint, but most likely, they’ll be the same ones rooting for team USA men’s basketball team to continue their run of dominance.
You want to know what’s worse? The same people praising me then, are the same ones talking down on me now. I hope that if you learned anything from this piece it was this – in this world all you have is your integrity, always keep that same energy.