But where are you really from?” When I tell someone I’m from Chicago, they almost always ask some variation of this question. “I’m Mexican-American,” I respond. “Oh…so you’re Mexican?” And American, I have to remind them. Submitting to these inquiries always makes me feel uneasy, bringing to the surface questions I don’t have definite answers to.
While I’ve learn to brush off these questions, it would be untrue to say they don’t affect me. They often leave me asking how American I can really say I am, as if there was a ruler to measure myself up against. I was born in la Ciudad de México but immigrated to Chicago with my family when I was five, and, over a decade later, became a naturalized citizen. Growing up in the US I only learned about American history in school and American culture on TV. While my mom primarily watched Spanish-speaking channels I hardly paid attention to them, as I classified them as something older people watched and it clashed with my weekly viewing of WWE Smackdown. While I didn’t openly deny my Mexican heritage it was easier to not have to think too much about it.
As I got older and experienced curious questions of varying degrees (and some outright racist comments) I started to realize I wasn’t seen as I saw myself. The American culture I had learned watching TV and interacting with my peers couldn’t provide answers for questions I was starting to ask myself. Like why I never saw anybody who looked like me on the TV shows I watched. Slowly I started to pay attention to the telenovelas and to the countless futbol games that I used to ignore.
I didn’t have a love at first sight moment with futbol, but at all family events – as other Mexicans know, we have a lot of them – football was always a topic that was passionately discussed. Futbol runs deep in the Mexican community and so became a major vehicle for how I gradually started to appreciate my Mexican heritage. Naturally this lead to me following the Mexican national team, el Tri. Here, on the field and in the stands, I saw people that looked like me, who spoke the language I spoke, who lived and breathed the sport I was learning to love. Following el Tri provided a space where I could openly express my nationality and not be questioned for it. For many years el Tri was the only team I followed religiously. It taught me to love the game. That’s nearly impossible to ignore.
As I became more in touch with my Mexican heritage I wondered if the American culture I had absorbed was somehow being diminished. However, I’ve made the United States my home and I cannot deny that I feel American in many ways. As a young single working woman living in the US, I have freedoms and rights that are not readily available to other women around the world. It is something that I am eternally grateful for and that I don’t take lightly. This country has provided me and many other Latinos opportunities to better ourselves and a path to reach our own version of the Latino American Dream. If American history and exceptionalism have taught me anything it is this: who has the right to deny me my Mexican-American identity?
Yet US Soccer has never tried to include me. We proudly call ourselves a melting pot but consistently have fewer than five Latinos in the men’s national team. The 2015 World Cup winners had a squad glaringly lacking diversity. The captain of the US women’s national team, Abby Wambach, still felt the need to publicly announce how she didn’t agree with the amount of ‘foreigners’ on the men’s national team. It was difficult to not feel abandoned after such statements. Then Landon Donovan, who I’d always respected for being one of the few US players who consistently gives interviews in Spanish, to Spanish-speaking channels, backed her up, saying the national team should only include players who grew up, and identify only as, American.
No other nation has come close to the achievements recorded by the USWNT, with its multiple gold medals and World Cup wins. It’s been a testament to the US as a land of opportunity, especially for women – and it’s been a delight. But such statements sounds too similar to the toxic rhetoric of a racist national presidential candidate for me to ever agree to, or even look passively away from. I cannot commit and unconditionally love a team whose arguably biggest stars defend the idea that there is a ‘right’ type of American to represent the national team, a team that denies chances to many dual nationals, or a community that laughs at questionable “jokes”.
Leading up to U.S. vs. Mexico CONCACAF Cup in 2015, USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann stated,”Tthe U.S.] are going to win over thousands of Mexican fans to their side… a lot of them have another jersey underneath and that’s the American jersey.” It is hard to consider changing jerseys when you don’t feel welcomed. I might have the U.S. jersey underneath but I would like to wear it proudly instead.
I have hope that one day I can take for granted that I am lucky to have two national teams to celebrate with, to bemoan squad details over, to question managerial appointments, and to watch countless football matches of. A big part of me wishes I could buy into the fanaticism and actively cheer for the U.S. national teams now. Football is the world’s sport and I want that sport to grow here in my home. I want the dismissive mentality that I constantly encounter around soccer in the U.S. (seriously, just Google “American soccer fans” and look at the top suggestions) to change. But, while I don’t viciously root against them, I just can’t find it in me to be a strong believer while I feel unwelcome.
The only attention Mexican Americans receive from U.S. Soccer focuses on their pockets. MLS’ marketing arm SUM seems to view the 40 million Mexican-Americans in the US as a big pile of cash waiting to be exploited. Through the Federacion Mexicana de Futbol and SUM’s contract, el Tri has played 62 of 93 matches on American soil since 2007. It has opened the door for advertisers like Home Depot, Coca-Cola, and Bud Light to target the Mexican population as another revenue source.
It was easy for me to not overthink my nationality when I was younger but that is something I regret. I fully value my Mexican culture, the good and the bad, and futbol, specifically el Tri, gave me a space to embrace it. While there are parts of me that feel exclusively Mexican, there are others which feel American. This often leaves me in an awkward state of limbo. Never completely from here nor from there, ni de aquí ni de allá.
So the calls for correct “American” players, the calls insisting fans choose just one national team, the calls that only widen the divide between two types of soccer have ultimately made it impossible for me to accept U.S. Soccer. I want to be welcomed with open arms, to find a space to feel at home – not to just be seen as a revenue source, one to parade when it’s beneficial but ultimately left lurking in the background.