The Cultural Significance of Soccer in the Latino Community
Posted by: Felipe Vieyra
Soccer plays a large cultural role throughout Latin America. It’s commonly accepted as a normal aspect of life. The beautiful game inspires kids, and brings families and countries together.
My family first moved to Colorado 22 years ago. Drawn by the prospect of well-paying jobs and affordable housing, my parents decided that after two years, California could no longer harbor their hopes of achieving the “American Dream”. Los Angeles was way too expensive and it was difficult to find quality job opportunities. Colorado would be their next destination in a journey that started in Mexico. Settling into a small town in the front range, my parents found good jobs, hard jobs, but they were good opportunities at the end of the day.
Growing up in this small, blue-collar town, I remember my parents working hard to get past the language barrier when it came to school for my brother and I. My mom, especially, worked diligently to ensure she knew all that she needed to know when it came to school expectations. From health shots, school registration, parent-teacher conferences, extracurricular activities. My parents were always on top of it, even though they didn’t speak or understand hardly any English. One of those extracurricular activities that I was signed up for was soccer. At that age, soccer was cool and all but I was more into playing Pokemon and other video games that kept me inside. My parents insisted I play pee wee soccer but soccer didn’t draw me in as much as catching a pikachu did from the comfort of my couch while I watched some Saturday morning cartoons.
Big soccer tournaments would come around like the World Cup, Copa America and the Gold Cup and the Mexican National Team would play in these tournaments. I would sit there in our living room and inattentively watch the games while my parents would go crazy with enthusiasm. They would cheer their team on and would scold them for making a terrible pass or failing to score from a great chance. I would sit there and play my handheld game. My dad would look over and bark at me that I should be paying attention carefully to the game. That I should care more about whether Mexico wins the match than my video games. My parents, along with their friends lived and breathed soccer. When Mexico would win games, my mom and dad would wear their jersey’s to work the next day to show off pride. Both of my parent’s workspaces were comprised of largely Latino workers. My mom worked with people from all over Latin America. She worked with Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and people from other various countries. Everyone’s topic of choice at work would always turn to how their countries national soccer team was doing. It was a way to show pride in the countries that they had grown up in.
I grew up loving soccer more and more, due in large part to realizing how closely it was connected to my cultural identity. The more I learned about my Mexican roots, the more I tried to find ways to express pride in them in the United States. What better way to express pride in your roots than by celebrating them through a sport?
Latino Culture in the United States
In talking about the Copa America Centenario and how much of an impact it’ll have on the United State’s population of Latinos, EC Hispanic Media recently said that “Soccer remains an outlet for cultural pride for Hispanics.” This is true, as I mentioned earlier about my own experience, it’s a way to celebrate where you come from and share it with others.
It’s also a way for parents to pass down the love for their country of birth to their first generation kids, to their kids born in the states. I can see that with the families that I work with in the Zarlengo Outreach Program. When I interview a family for a scholarship or in general, when I have conversations with parents of the kids in the Zarlengo Soccer League, they ask me where I’m from, what soccer team I go for. We connect on what’s happening with the national team and what Liga MX team I root for. I especially love it when I see U.S. born Latino youth mention they absolutely love Las Aguilas del America or Chivas de Guadalajara because it goes to show that that passion for their parents country of birth is already there.
The United States has a substantial Latino population. Latinos from all over Latin America. There are over 50 million Latinos in the United States. The population of Latinos has been growing since the 1970’s. For Latinos, coming from countries where soccer is the #1 sport, to a country where soccer is at most, the 4th or 5th most important sport leaves Latinos, for the most part, looking for ways to feel close to home. For example, attendance at international soccer games when Mexico or another Latin American soccer powerhouse plays is huge. In the most recent Copa America tournament, the all-South American final had more than 82,000 people in attendance, breaking records for attendance. Mexico could arguably call the U.S. their home turf as well, considering El Tri fans consistently outnumber rival fans in attendance.
Soccer in the United States is growing. It’s growing especially with the rise in the Latino population. In Colorado for example, by 2040 one-third of Coloradans will be Latino. Currently, 21 percent of the total population of people in Colorado are Latinos. Will we see soccer become the #1 sport in the state, who knows but there is a large chance it could be. For that to happen, we have to continue providing access to quality soccer programs like we do at CRYSC.