Club América supporters speak about an attachment to the side, based at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, that, in nearly every case, dates back to the womb. América beat AC Milan 2–1 in the World Football Challenge. (5:10)
Atlanta | Finally granted an occasion to show off their replica-jersey collections, soccer-deprived Atlantans took advantage Jul 22 at a friendly between Club América and AC Milan. Yellow América shirts, featuring the Bimbo Bakeries sponsorship logo that never fails to raise eyebrows among English-speakers, predominated in the Georgia Dome, an American football stadium that had never hosted a professional soccer match.
It was one night that Atlanta, with a reputation for progressiveness and Olympian ambition, felt like an international city. América supporters left daytime occupations as produce sellers or laborers or students to fill mass transit. Some had stuffed eagles on their shoulders, matched by Milan backers with the inevitable rubber chickens, wan and featherless, dangling around their necks.
“In Mexico you either hate América or you love América,” says Mexico City expat Luis Flores. “You can’t be like, maybe I like América.”
“They’re just a money club,” counters Chivas supporter José Alvarez, Flores’s brother-in-law. Originally from Guadalajara, Alvarez cradles Flores’s daughter, Emma, but wears an AC Milan jersey to make his loathing for América clear. “Chivas is a soul club … soul.”
América supporters interviewed outside the Georgia Dome support anthropologist Roger Magazine‘s observation that they back the team based on tradition and a run of results in the 1980s that brought five league titles and three international trophies. In contrast to Chivas—which signs only native-born Mexicans (an exception being Jesus Padilla, born in San Jose, California)—América has drawn support over time from clubs of Spanish immigrants and refugees. Mexicans and Spaniards have a prolonged sporting rivalry.
While most of its first team comes from Mexico, América has also invested in talent from Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Greece. The branding of fútbol as entertainment has been part of América’s plan since the late 1950s, when broadcaster Televisa bought the club and started to emphasize merchandising and marketing. América’s appearance in Atlanta was no accident. Will Ramírez, publisher of Spanish-language weekly Estadio, estimates that more than 40,000 Hispanics play soccer regularly in leagues around the city.
Many América fans, born in the United States, have adopted Las Aquilas based on family ties. They acquire the team by birthright. Xavier Miranda, although he could have chosen any side, follows his father, Cesar, in continuing to root for América. The pair has never been to Estadio Azteca, the team’s home since the stadium opened in 1966. “Not yet, but we will very soon,” says Cesar, a construction worker originally from Guanajuato state.
Representing four generations of América support, the Hernández family attends en masse to take advantage of what might be one chance to see Las Aquilas in a major Atlanta venue. Ever conscious of the U.S. market, the team must parcel its visits north of the border. Cities like Chicago, with a first-division team that includes former América legend Cuauhtémoc Blanco, are better positioned to benefit from América’s gate appeal.
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.
“Everyone in Mexico wants to be a soccer player, like a pro soccer player,” says Adolfo Carrillo, a 32-year-old produce seller from Forest Park, Georgia. “It’s a dream. It never comes true sometimes. … People in Mexico, they don’t have too much money to spend. They got the time, but they don’t have the money. … When I was a kid, like everyone, like every child in the world, I wanted to be a pro.”
The Mexican contribution to soccer’s resilience among gringos in America has been untold. It speaks volumes that the four-team preseason event could be called the World Football Challenge. And when Georgia Dome officials passed word that attendance exceeded 50,000, no one batted an eye. Fútbol had arrived in Atlanta, not for the first time.
Roger Magazine, ” ‘The Colours Make Me Sick’: America FC and Upward Mobility in Mexico,” in Fear and Loathing in World Football, ed. Gary Armstrong and Richard Giulianotti (London: Berg, 2001); 187–98; idem, “Introduction: Soccer Fandom and Competing Social Projects in Contemporary Mexico,” chap. 1 in Golden and Blue Like My Heart: Masculinity, Youth, and Power among Soccer Fans in Mexico City (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007), 3–45; Juan Javier Pescador, “Los Heroes del Domingo: Soccer, Borders, and Social Spaces in Great Lakes Mexican Communities, 1940–1970,” in Mexican Americans and Sports: A Reader on Athletics and Barrio Life, ed. Jorge Iber and Samuel O. Regalado (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007), 73–88.
For more on the intersection between soccer cultures of Mexico and the United States, see conversations with Estadio‘s Ramírez and Los Angeles Times writer Sam Quinones (25 Jul 07) as well as with Oscar Casares, author of Brownsville (10 May 07).