Dr. Gabriel Aguilera is a professor of international security studies at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama, but during his free time, he is a hardcore fútbol, or soccer fanatic. Tonight, he says he will be watching the U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier, taking place in Columbus, Ohio, at a local pub.
Born in the small village, Ejido Tabasco, Mexico, near the California-Mexico border, he moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was 5. He grew up in East LA, while his parents worked in the fields. So which team is Aguilera rooting for?
“I root for the U.S. first and Mexico second,” says Aguilera, 46. “Growing up, I would root for Mexico with my dad and the family, but when I went to live and work as a professor in Mexico around 2000, I witnessed a lot of the anti-Americanism by the Mexican soccer fans, and that kind of got under my skin a little bit…I decided then and there that I would root for the U.S. — it was somewhat of an awakening for me.”
He further explains he identifies strongly with being American, but still maintains affection for the old country. Although his favorite team is the U.S. men’s national team, which is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary this year, His favorite player is Mexican midfielder Giovani dos Santos.
Juanita Lopez, 50, who was also born in Mexico but has lived in Sacramento, California for the past 37 years, feels similar to Aguilera.
“I always want the U.S. to win, but now that Mexico is playing, I want them both to win,” says Lopez who’ll be watching the game at home tonight, while logged into Facebook, so she can comment on the excitement with her friends.
Lopez says she roots for the U.S. because not only has the U.S. become her home, but after seeing that her son lost interest in soccer when he was 13 due to the mainstream popularity of football and baseball, she says she would like to see soccer become just as popular in the U.S. one day.
Maididi Villa, 35, however, feels very differently. She moved to the Bronx, NY when she was 13 from Puebla, Mexico, but she is very adamant about cheering for the Mexican national team and watches all of the games with her friends and family.
“In Mexico, we follow our customs and most of our parents teach us we are Mexican,” says Villa. “All of my cousins are in Mexico — so it’s not hard for me to choose between the U.S. and Mexico. I go with Mexico, because we always stick together — even though we get disappointed if they lose — that’s how it always is.”
While most U.S. Latinos and Mexican-Americans are focusing on the game and their favorite players, there is a lot at stake, especially for Mexico, according to Telemundo political analyst Carlos Rajo.
“The commercial interests around the Mexican national team are enormous. It’s not only the television networks which are affected but also the official advertisers and a whole range of businesses, big and small, and many others in the middle that ride the train of the ‘Tricolor,’” he says.
Rajo adds it all depends on Mexico making it into the Brazil 2014 World Cup.
“The ‘Tri’ is a fabulous business that in good measure depends on the prestige and exposure associated with the World Cup,” says Rajo, explaining a loss would also be damaging for the Mexican players’ self-esteem.