When the World Cup tournament began, I was surprised by a question from a friend.
"By the way, whose flag are you flying in the World Cup?" my friend Jim asked in an e-mail.
I thought it was clearly understood that I was rooting for the USA! After all, my native Cuba wasn't even in the tournament. But even if it had been, knowing that the Cuban communist dictatorship uses athletes as propaganda tools probably would have been enough for me to root against them. Unfortunately, the Cuban government doesn't separate sports from politics.
Besides, I wanted nothing more than to see my adoptive homeland catch up to the rest of the world in the passion it feels for soccer, and I knew that a good showing by the U.S. team could evoke enthusiasm that could last for years.
But once the U.S. team was eliminated from the competition in South Africa, as a Latino American, naturally, I had to cheer for my compadres from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. They not only are my hemispheric neighbors and my fellow Latin Americans but also share my native language and culture. We all have roots in the same motherland — España!
After Mexico also was eliminated from the tournament, I was pleased to see that five South American teams, including Brazil, were still in contention. It was a huge display of talent that made most U.S. Latinos, regardless of nationality, extremely proud.
Of course, Latinos were not alone. During the past few weeks, there were many hyphenated Americans waving foreign flags and rooting for Italy, Germany, Greece, France, Korea, England and other countries represented in the international soccer classic.
It's all about that nationalistic pride we feel when we see one of our own people do well. It's prevalent in sports; it involves every ethnic, racial and immigrant community, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. Even when some people root against the U.S. teams, no one should question their love for this country or their American patriotism. After all, these are athletic competitions — sports, not war!
Throughout U.S. history, even American sports figures have instilled nationalistic pride among hyphenated Americans. We've had many "Italian stallions" and "Irish sluggers" who have made their people proud.
In the United States, when we move from one city to another, we often remain loyal to the teams of the city from which we came. But it doesn't mean we dislike the town in which we have chosen to live. I grew up in Miami and still root for the Dolphins, but it doesn't affect how much I love New York!
Yet some people tend to resent the pride that the rest of us feel during the Olympics, the World Cup and other international sporting events. To the bigots who think hyphenated Americans are actually anti-American, sports allegiance to our ancestral motherlands — even after the U.S. is out of the competition — is an act of betrayal. Imagine how lonely they must have felt as they watched the World Cup and saw each game begin with star players delivering statements condemning racism — and the whole world applauding!
For me and many other U.S. Latinos, as the South American teams sadly kept being eliminated in the final rounds of World Cup competition, we naturally migrated back to our ultimate motherland.
And when Spain won the World Cup, even Latinos who still hold grudges against the conquistadors for what they did to the indigenous Americans some 500 years ago were singing, "Que viva España."
I was proud to be one of them. Our Spanish blood is undeniable.
By the way, in the beginning of the World Cup tournament, when I felt the frenzy of those who rooted for the U.S. team, part of what made me proud was knowing that we had fielded a team that was truly representative of this "nation of immigrants."
We had a midfielder who was born in Brazil and another one who was born in Scotland. We had a goalkeeper whose mother came from Hungary and a team captain and star player whose father came from Canada. And we had other players who traced their roots to Jamaica, Nigeria and several Latin American countries. We had the most ethnically diverse team in U.S. soccer history and our best performance since 1930, and those were great reasons to be proud to be Americans.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.