Houston | A transparent effort to add a patina of history to the newest team in Major League Soccer appears to have misfired. Calling on a European, especially German, tradition of including a year of founding in the team name (e.g., Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Hannover 96 and so on), soccer officials and civic boosters on Jan 25 announced that the name of the club would be Houston 1836. In choosing this title for the former San Jose Earthquakes, organizers have been deliberately provocative. The date in names of European clubs points to a neutral, historical fact that all supporters can recognize; the 1836 date, however, recalls the contentious origin of Texas in an Anglo-driven secession from Mexico, sealed that year in the Mexican army’s defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto. The date has nothing to do with soccer.
Writing in the Houston Chronicle, University of Houston history professor Raúl Ramos says that the link to secession is inescapable.
Initially seen as economic boosters, Anglo American immigrants brought slavery and failed to keep contracts made with state officials. For Mexicans, Texas secession started the process of American conquest culminating in the invasion of Mexico in 1846 and the loss of almost half its territory. Few would disagree that Texas independence was an important chapter in the imperial story of American Manifest Destiny.
“This is a team for Houston,” counters team president Oliver Luck. “If you live in Houston you must like it here.” Fallacious reasoning aside, it must seem especially hurtful to Latinos that the sport with which they closely identify—fútbol—is being co-opted by Anglos. The sport’s popularity in Houston has been achieved, of late, through large crowds at friendly matches involving Mexico and at the InterLiga tournament, which selects Mexican sides for the Copa Libertadores. The tradition of soccer in the Houston area, as in much of the United States, demonstrates influence from abroad. The first professional outdoor soccer team in the region, the Houston Stars of the United Soccer Association, was actually a summer-league version of Bangu Atlético Clube of Brazil.
Perhaps a more appropriate name for the new Houston team would have been Gatos or Toros, names in the original selection pool. Or Houston 2006, an honest choice and signifying a fresh start.
Update: On “considering the input from the Hispanic community,” a name change for Houston 1836 appears to be a done deal, according to the Houston Chronicle. Suggestions that the side might choose “Lone Star” as its new name, however, have been met brusquely by Lone Star Sports and Entertainment, marketing arm for the National Football League’s Houston Texans and a local promoter for international soccer. (See Mar 6 for more on the name change.)