Soccer and Solidarity

It has been delightful traveling through Mexico and Central America during the World Cup. I normally don’t follow soccer, although it has been impossible not to do so during the last month. The one element that has completely surprised me has been the dedicated regional solidarity with Latin American teams. As various national teams were slowly eliminated during the playoffs, we saw that many people began cheering for Argentina, and to a lesser extent, Brazil.

Fans in Mexico. Photo credit, Marcos Barrera.
Fans in Mexico. Photo credit, Marcos Barrera.

One of my traveling companions, Marcos, is from Argentina, and a diehard soccer fan. Over the last week leading to the final game he took to wearing his Argentine jersey almost daily. The response from people we met was amazing. As we drove our motorcycles down the narrow cobblestone streets of towns, cheers of Argentina! Argentina! could be heard as we rolled by. But Marcos wasn’t the only person wearing the Argentine jersey. From Mexico to Nicaragua we met people wearing the blue and white stripes.

Marcos with a Guatemalan fan (the one wearing the blue and white shirt).
Marcos with a Guatemalan fan (the one wearing the blue and white shirt).

In Latin American Studies we tend to use the term Latin America so often that one could be led to think it refers to a country in its own right. After crossing eight borders on our motorcycle trip so far, and dealing with the customs hassles of each country, the everyday physical separation from one country to another has been made painfully obvious. One particularly frustrating border crossing was entering Honduras. We spent several tense hours, with Marcos, who happened to be wearing his Argentina jersey, negotiating documents. While there are several things that went into us being able to finally cross the Honduras border that day, it is safe to say that solidarity with Argentina significantly helped the process.

It’s relatively easy to cross most borders if you have time, money, and the privilege of a specific passport, but of course there are many who don’t have access to this privilege. We encountered quite a few people who blamed their specific country’s social problems on (undocumented) migrants from neighboring countries. This especially stood out to us in Costa Rica, where several people complained about the high level of migration from Nicaragua. There had been a particularly disturbing crime that week, and my Costa Rican acquaintance was quick to point out that the perpetrators of this crime, like many others, were actually Nicaraguans. Of course there are many who disagree with this type of analysis, but frustratingly, there are still a lot of people, who continue to subscribe to this xenophobic mindset.

Argentine Jersey on the wash line in Panama City. Photo credit, Marcos Barrera.
Argentine Jersey on the wash line in Panama City. Photo credit, Marcos Barrera.

Especially because of these painful divisions it has been amazing seeing the solidarity of Americans, in the broad sense of the word. Although Argentina lost the World Cup game, we still see people wearing the jersey or flying the Argentine flag.

I hope for a future in which international borders become less restrictive and estranging nationalistic politics are forced to become history. In the meantime, in my experience at least, the enthusiasm surrounding events like the World Cup has been a wonderful experience of Latin American solidarity.

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