Later today, the country of my parents and culture, Mexico and the country of my birth, The United States, will play a pivotal qualifier for Brazil 2014.
The US is coming off its first hexagonal win and an important three points. Meanwhile Mexico is off to its worst start with only two points out of a possible six.
This game between CONCACAF’s powerhouses will prove vital in determining who gets their 2014 ticket. A loss to either team will prove disastrous for the remainder of the campaign.
Although I grew up in both cultures, the decision on whom to follow and support was never difficult.
Ever since I was a child, I have supported the Mexico National Soccer Team. The United States gave me an education and an opportunity. And I will always love this nation. But Mexico gave me something that Uncle Sam didn’t, a love and passion for soccer.
I was six years old when I fell in love with the beautiful game. It was in the living room of our old trailer home in Modesto, CA. Mexico and Bulgaria had just gone into penalties during their 1994 World Cup match. The winner would advance into the quarterfinals. My dad and uncles were huddled in the living room, eyes fixed on the television. I was off to side, cast away and angry that I couldn’t watch cartoons.
But as the game progressed and I watched how the game transfixed my role models, I too became enamored with the world’s game. On the television I saw people that looked like me. That spoke like me. And that could be me. I was sold. But Mexico would go on to lose that game and be eliminated in the knockout stage.
Although Mexico’s tournament had ended, my love for the game had just begun.
Maybe it was bad timing. Maybe if my dad had been watching The US take on Brazil, this love story would have had a different ending. But it didn’t.
They say that the first 5 years of a child’s life are the most important, as they help shape the personality and growth of the child. Well I think that the first 5 years of a football fans “fandom” are the most important. From 1994 to 1999, I saw Mexico dominate the CONCACAF and qualify for the knockout stages of the 1998 World Cup. Furthermore, I became obsessed with the Mexican soccer league, learning the history of every league team and memorizing names, dates and numbers.
The US meanwhile, would continue loitering as a second tier CONCACAF team and finished dead last in the 1998 World Cup in France. Additionally, it wasn’t until 1996 that the US even had a pro-league.
My love for the Mexican National team wasn’t based on nationalistic loyalties, it was based on familiarity. The Mexican players spoke like my parents, they looked like my cousins and they had names I could pronounce. As a person, you’re drawn to the familiar, as it’s safe and it cannot possibly hurt you. I had no exposure to the Stars and Stripes. My dad never watched games, my cousins didn’t either. And in school, all the “white” kids didn’t even watch soccer. They watched NFL and NBA. So even if I had love for the US team, I had no avenue to express it. They were as foreign to me as England or France.
I will always support the US when they play in tournaments. Always. But it’s a support, not a passion. You can’t fake passion. And passion is all that counts. Why do you think one key to happiness is to follow your passion? It is the only thing that is important, in both life and soccer.