This is a guest post by Antonio Espinosa, an intense fútbol fanatic and good friend. He acts as a diversity coordinator for a banking institution and organizes Latino networking events around the San Francisco Bay Area.
In the book Soccer in Sun and Shadow, author Eduardo Galeano tells the story of two Mexican journalists who were covering the war in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The journalists were captured in Sarajevo by soldiers and were condemned to death like so many other journalists. About to be executed, the journalists showed their Mexican passports. The Army official looked at them and said “Mexico! Hugo Sanchez!”
Hugo Sanchez was a Mexican soccer player who played for Real Madrid and won the Pichichi trophy five times for being the league’s leading scorer. He ended up being the highest foreign player goal scorer. The Army official embraced the two Mexican journalists and set them free.
This story exemplifies not only how soccer is the World’s sport, but also how it brings people from different countries, cultures, backgrounds, and languages together, and can unite them and give them a sense of having something in common.
Having been born in Mexico City and lived in Argentina with a Mexican mother and Argentine father, I grew up with the game of soccer in my blood. I remember my first game when my grandfather took me to Azteca Stadium to watch a game between Club America and Cruz Azul when I was 5 years old. It was a rite of passage because that day I knew I was an Americanista even though I was born that way without
knowing it. I became one more family member who supported the powerful Mexico City soccer team.
When my family moved to Rosario, Argentina, I found out that my heart was big enough to support two soccer teams. With the encouragement of my father’s family, I became a fan of Newell’s Old Boys, which is one of the two teams in the city.
Si me muero, que sea de Lepra
(If I die, can it be of leprosy)
In the early 1900s, Newell’s Old Boys was asked to play a benefit soccer game against bitter city rival Rosario Central, in a game to benefit people suffering from leprosy. Rosario Central refused to play the game and they have since called fans of the Newell’s Old Boys team los leprosos (the lepers). In turn, we call Rosario Central fans canallas (scoundrels) for not wanting to play the game. While it may seem like an insult, these are names we carry as badges of honor and we use to identify ourselves, which we do proudly. The names are part of the rich folklore that soccer teams have and in many cases are more than 100 years old.
As a young kid, I would hear the names of cities that were far from Mexico City and Rosario such as Santiago, Asunción, Montevideo, SantaCruz de la Sierra, Lima, São Paolo, and many others. These were cities in
other South American countries that I would later get to visit as a teenager and adult by following Newell’s Old Boys play in the Copa Libertadores de America, which brought the top teams in South America to play a continental championship. It is the South American version of Europe’s Champions League where Hugo Sanchez once played for Real Madrid and where he got to play in what was formerly Yugoslavia.
Little did I realize when my family moved to the United States when I was young, that by having followed not only my favorite soccer teams, but also the different international competitions they competed in, my sense of geography and different cultures was more advanced than kids my age who hadn’t been exposed to the game of soccer. While growing up as an immigrant in the United States was sometimes difficult, the fact that this country is such a melting pot made me make friends quickly with others from such countries as Netherlands, Russia, El Salvador, Egypt, and Ghana. While we didn’t speak the same language, the one thing we had in common was the soccer ball and the joy we got from playing the game. It was our bond that helped us grow up together.
Just as Hugo Sanchez opened the door for his journalist compatriots years ago in Yugoslavia, I have learned that soccer has also allowed me to bridge the gap to people of different cultures, backgrounds, and languages by showing me that we all do have something in common and that the world indeed is united by one ball.