Thursday, June 30, 2011

An international kind of night....

As we were finishing up the semester and finals, some classmates hosted a (much needed!) gathering at their apartment. It was a combination end of semester/ going away (vacations and people going on their semester abroad for research) / birthday party and quite the international night in terms of people, food, music, etc! We enjoyed homemade sushi, pasta, pastel de elote (Chile), humitas (Chile), patacones (Colombia) and yuca (Colombia). There were people from Mexico, the US (me!), Chile, Colombia, and Haiti (if not more countries represented) and we danced to salsa, cumbia, bachata, merengue and more.

some classmates + friends at the dinner/ get-together

Club Rotario San Rafael

On June 14th I joined Rotary Club San Rafael for their weekly breakfast meeting, held at Club Universitario. 

I was one of three guest speakers at the meeting. We heard from the president of the San Rafael Rotaract Club. They have participated in various activities and completed various projects throughout the year. I was most impressed by their Make-a-Wish project, in which they granted the wishes of two children with leukemia. The 6-year-old boy attended a Cruz Azul soccer game (his favorite team) and got to go onto the field, accompanied by his favorite player. The 11-year-old girl got to meet her favorite actress and spend the day at the Barbie Store. We also heard from a group that is looking to expand the services of a 1-day a week soup kitchen to include psychological evaluation and treatment. 

After my presentation, I exchanged banners with the Club President and they presented me with a nice plaque as well. 

exchanging banners with Rotary Club San Rafael president

Rotary statue outside of Club Universitario

Rotary Club San Rafael banner and plaque they gave me
for presenting 
During the question and answer time, I was asked what I am doing to "pay Rotary back" for the amazing opportunity they have offered me through my scholarship. Though it's not much (and I'm always open for more opportunities), I've been presenting to various Rotary Clubs throughout the year and will eventually be presenting to clubs in the US about my experiences/observations/reflections, which is one of the requirements of the scholarship. However, I find I fulfill the "ambassador" role on a much more daily basis with the people I come in contact with in everyday life. Mexico has an extreme love/hate relationship with the US in general and my program includes some classmates (and professors) with some pretty radical perspectives. I find that I am learning a lot, but I also try to offer a perspective from the US when necessary and appropriate. I have also helped connect Rotary Club Jardines de Pedregal in Mexico City with my club in North Carolina (Crescent) and District 7690 to partner in a project creating a small, women-run shirt factory in Cuauhtepec, a densely-populated, low-income area in the north of the city. I help friends and classmates when I can with English questions/ homework/ translations. And I hope my blog has been and will continue to be a source of information that readers can learn a bit more about Mexico while reading updates on my life there. Finally, I know the experience I have had so far (and another year+ to go!) will stay with me in whatever I do in the future as well. 

Article: In Gold Cup final, it's red, white and boo again

Article from the Los Angeles Times about the interesting dynamic at the Mexico-US Gold Cup final and Mexico's "home-field advantage" on US soil. 

In Gold Cup final, it's red, white and boo again

Mexico rallies for a 4-2 win over U.S. behind overwhelming support at Rose Bowl. In what other country would the visitors have home-field advantage?

June 25, 201110:15 p.m.

It was imperfectly odd. It was strangely unsettling. It was uniquely American.

On a balmy early Saturday summer evening, the U.S soccer team played for a prestigious championship in a U.S. stadium … and was smothered in boos.
Its fans were vastly outnumbered. Its goalkeeper was bathed in a chanted obscenity. Even its national anthem was filled with the blowing of air horns and bouncing of beach balls.

Most of these hostile visitors didn't live in another country. Most, in fact, were not visitors at all, many of them being U.S. residents whose lives are here but whose sporting souls remain elsewhere.

Welcome to another unveiling of that social portrait known as a U.S.-Mexico soccer match, streaked as always in deep colors of red, white, blue, green … and gray.

"I love this country, it has given me everything that I have, and I'm proud to be part of it," said Victor Sanchez, a 37-year-old Monrovia resident wearing a Mexico jersey. "But yet, I didn't have a choice to come here, I was born in Mexico, and that is where my heart will always be."

On a street outside the Rose Bowl before the Gold Cup final, Sanchez was hanging out near a motor home that was hosting 17 folks — 15 of whom were Mexico fans. Inside, that ratio held, there seemingly being about 80,000 Mexico fans among the announced crowd of 93,420.

This was Staples Center filled with Boston Celtics fans. This was Chavez Ravine filled with Giants jerseys. This was as weird as it was wild and, for a U.S. team that lost, 4-2, it had to be wearisome.

"Obviously … the support that Mexico has on the night like tonight makes it a home game for them," said U.S. Coach Bob Bradley, choosing his words carefully. "It's part of something we have to deal with on the night."

It wasn't just something. It was everything. I've never heard more consistent loud cheering for one team here, from the air horns to the "Ole" chants with each Mexico pass, all set to the soundtrack of a low throbbing roar that began in the parking lot about six hours before the game and continued long into the night.

Even when the U.S. scored the first two goals, the Mexico cheers stayed strong, perhaps inspiring El Tri to four consecutive goals against a U.S. team that seemed dazed and confused. Then when it ended, and the Mexican players had danced across the center of the field in giddy wonder while the U.S. players had staggered to the sidelines in disillusionment, the madness continued.

Because nobody left. Rather amazingly, the Mexico fans kept bouncing and cheering under headbands and sombreros, nobody moving an inch, the giant Rose Bowl jammed for a postgame trophy ceremony for perhaps the first time in its history.

And, yes, when the U.S. team was announced one final time, it was once again booed.

"We're not booing the country, we're booing the team," Sanchez said. "There is a big difference."

Mexico soccer fans have long since proven to be perhaps the greatest fans of any sports team that plays in this country, selling out venues from here to Texas to New Jersey, dwarfing something like Red Sox Nation, equaling any two SEC football fan bases combined.

But eventually, the rules for their unrequited love get tricky. Because eventually, Mexico ends up playing the U.S. team on U.S. soil. And then folks start wondering, as they surely did Saturday, is it really right for folks who live here to boo and jeer as if they don't?

"I know, it's strange, and when we got here, we were a little worried," said Roy Martinez, a U.S. fan who wrapped himself in an American flag and led "USA" cheers to passing cars outside the stadium before the game. "But, you know, it works."

It was truly strange but, in the end, it indeed worked, perhaps because there is pride in living in one of the only countries where it could work.

How many places are so diverse that it could fill football stadiums with folks whose roots are somewhere else? How many places offer such a freedom of speech that someone can display an American flag on their porch one day and cheer against the flag the next?

I hated it, but I loved it. I was felt as if I was in a strange place, and yet I felt right at home.

Certainly, for the U.S. team, it undoubtedly stinks. But then, well, to be honest, the team stinks.

All the misguided hopes that surrounded their advancement into the second round of the 2010 World Cup — We beat Algeria, whoopee! — have come crashing down in recent lackluster play under Bradley.

If this were any other country, Bradley would have been relieved by now. But because U.S. expectations remain sadly low, he is allowed to continue guiding a team whose mistakes and missteps led to the Mexico comeback.

Long after that comeback was complete, when the stadium was finally cleared and the party had moved to the parking lot, the Rose Bowl field contained scattered patches of blue and gold celebration glitter. It was messy, and mangled, and beautiful.