Soccer prompts thinking about immigrants

Last Sunday afternoon was a bad time to walk to the grocery store. Crowds swarmed out of the Roosevelt Road el station to go to Soldier Field for the Gold Cup game between the men’s national soccer teams of Mexico and the United States. A sea of green shirts and Mexican flags overwhelmed me as I tried to find an opening to cross Roosevelt. In their postgame stories, two Chicago Tribune reporters wrote that Mexico’s fans vastly outnumbered those cheering for the supposed home team.

“Is this pro-Mexico exhibition wise?” I wondered, considering that a rap against Mexican immigrants is that they don’t want to assimilate as European immigrants did.   

I confess to also feeling a little offended, a contrast to my usually liberal bent. 

Scenes like I witnessed have happened whenever El Tri, the Mexican team, plays the United States on US soil. El Tri essentially enjoys home team advantage in US stadiums. Anti-immigrant forces predictably respond to the pro-Mexico fervor with comments along the lines of “If you like Mexico so much, go back there.”

But not only bigots wonder, in the words of Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke, “[I]s it really right for folks who live here to boo and jeer as if they don’t?” Plaschke watched as the US team was “smothered in boos” at the 2011 Gold Cup final between the US and Mexico at the Rose Bowl. 

“Most of these hostile visitors didn't live in another country,” Plaschke wrote. “Most, in fact, were not visitors at all, many of them being US residents.”

Plaschke’s feeling that he “was in a strange place” is a good description of how I felt Sunday. It was like going to Wrigley Field and seeing the opponent’s colors everywhere instead of Cubs blue.

Plaschke resolved his uneasiness by taking pride in America’s diversity and freedom of speech. Rather than burying my non-pc reaction, I decided to make it a learning opportunity.

Mexican assimilation is slow; that’s not just a perception of the right. Studies have found that the third generation still identifies as Mexican, marries Latinos, and can speak Spanish. Some scholars say that huge numbers hinder assimilation: it’s easy to remain in a homogeneous neighborhood and find a spouse within the community.

There are explanations other than that Mexicans don’t want to assimilate. Mexicans arrive poor and poorly educated, qualifying for only low-paying jobs. Those here illegally can’t get certain jobs or services. The educational level of succeeding generations lags behind the national average. 

It would be preposterous to think that any group chooses to stay on the low rungs of the economic ladder.

Some suggest that maintaining pride in being Mexican is a reaction to feeling unwelcome and stigmatized. The more Donald Trump disparages Mexicans, the more foreign they are made to feel, the more they identify with Mexico rather than with the United States. A Mexico-US soccer game is an outlet to express frustration with the adopted country. 

Many millions of people of Mexican origin live in the United States. How can it be in the country’s interest for them to be a large disaffected subculture? The solution has to be immigration reform that offers hope rather than retribution. That would be an achievement to earn cheers for the US.



“We don’t really believe [Trump’s] administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.” 

—Sir Kim Darroch, British ambassador to the US since 2016

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