Mexico | Despite opposition, loyalists continue to spread América brand

Francisco Hernández dates his attraction to América to being five years old in Mexico City and seeing América’s kit, a dramatic combination of canary yellow and indigo. In fact, after being known as the canaries, à la Norwich City, for most of their history, El América rebranded themselves “eagles” to accompany their greatest successes beginning in 1983. After the Milan match, Francisco carries grandson Dylan who, overwhelmed by sleep, trumpet blasts and shouts of “Aquilas” from exultant América fans, cries in his arms. “He’s scared,” says Francisco.

The family marks passage of time by América losses and victories. Christian Hernández, when he was five, wept in the car after a Mexican playoff semifinal against Monterrey. Three América goals were disallowed for offside. He and his brother Emmanuel recall the pleasure of late nights attending Monday fútbol matches at Azteca later in their childhoods, after which mother Maria would struggle to rouse them for school the next morning.

Despite the memories, Emmanuel confesses that “we don’t like that much about the team now. We miss the passion that the players used to have for the team. I don’t know. There’s something that is missing … a leader.” Their support persists despite a poor run of form. For the first time since the 1950s, El América finished last in league standings during the 2008 Clausura.

Refitted for soccer, the Georgia Dome attracts 50,306 for the Wednesday night Milan-América match. Tickets started at $90, but no one seemed concerned that David Beckham was not playing.

The Hernández family as well as several others outside the Dome mention the perverse attraction of numbering among a hated elite in Mexican society. Competing capital sides such as Atlante, Necaxa, Cruz Azul and Pumas of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México have historical associations with union groups or, in the case of UNAM, with students.

Magazine, an anthropology professor at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, starting in 1996 studied supporters of Pumas who, in countercultural proclamations of youth and joy, contrast themselves to América’s corporate ties and long-standing affiliation with Partido Revolucionario Institucional. The PRI governed Mexico for more than 80 years before defeat in 2000 presidential elections.

Calling someone an “Americanista” in Mexico City constitutes an insult. The label suggests that a person, even if not an América fan, belongs to a power structure sympathetic to el equipo de los ricos (the team of the rich) rather than the clases populares.

One Pumas supporter tells Magazine that América fans in her office wear the club’s paraphernalia to work “with the intention of showing off this allegiance to office superiors.” They do not care about football, just about advancement. In his study of Pumas fans, Magazine witnesses Americanistas becoming targets for verbal abuse. “Estos colores me dan asco!” members of the Pumas group shout on seeing one of the América shirts. “Those colors make me sick!” Inside the Pumas stadium, América shirts and flags are sometimes ripped and burned or taken home as booty.

Another tactic is trying to strip the América supporter of his masculinity. Magazine reports that a schoolyard jibe, “Le vas al América y te sientas para mear” (You support América and you piss sitting down), is used for this purpose.

In the United States, it is not clear whether such divisions are replicated among expatriates. Rather, interest and participation in soccer has been a way of creating social networks and disproving stereotypes about Mexican life. Although baseball established itself sooner in Mexican society and among Mexican migrants to America, soccer at least since the 1940s has enabled newcomers to “celebrate a notion of Mexicanness,” according to Juan Javier Pescador.

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