July 5th, 1991, the day I pledged allegiance to the flag.
Unlike most days before, I actually had something great to look forward to; this was the day that I was to attend the US vs Mexico match at the LA Coliseum. The prior day, my father and I had spent the afternoon kicking the ball around at the park, I was never much of an athlete as a kid but for some reason that day I was kicking the ball harder than I ever had. At one point my father was so impressed that he spent what seemed like hours trying to show me how to make the ball bend, it took me a while but I got it, and I could tell it made him very happy.
In midst of our very rare father –son bonding experiment, he asked if I wanted to go watch the Mexico vs US match the next day, unlike most kids I knew, if you gave me a choice to go watch a soccer game at a stadium or go to Disneyland, I would have undoubtedly have chosen the first.
The next day came, and by the time my father got back from work it was too late to try and make it out to the game. I didn’t understand this at my young age, so like any other irrational 11 year old kid, I threw a tantrum and locked myself in the bathroom in hopes that this would change his mind. It took about 5 minutes before I realized I wasn’t helping my cause, therefore my only option now was to rat the old man out to my mother about the whole ordeal. Rather than sticking around and listening to my mother complain about his lack of parenting skills and broken promises, my father called up a bar in Pomona that was known for televising closed circuit International games, word was that for only $10 a person, you could watch the Mexican National Team hand the Americans a beating, for most Mexicans, paying $10 dollars for this kind of action was money well spent.
We got to the bar with plenty of time to spare before kickoff. As we exited the car I took a small American flag out of my pocket that I had saved from the night before, my father quickly noticed this and asked what I was planning on doing with it, rather than giving him a straight answer, I paused for a second and proceeded to wave the small flag in the air and said; “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.”, as you can imagine, he did not find my patriotism very amusing.
As we made our way inside I noticed a few double takes from the patrons but no issues from the staff, for some reason this dump didn’t mind me being in the bar as long as I paid my way in… very classy establishment. The room quickly began to fill; there was people seating, people standing, and people waiting to get in. The place however was clearly understaffed, they had one cook and one waiter who was named Jose, I remember this because every time the cook would shout his name from the kitchen, half the men in the room would turn around…. Okay so maybe I just made that last part up.
As the national anthem for Mexico played the crowd began to sing along, it was as if 300 Mexicans in a packed room were coming together in brotherhood by the lyrics of a song from the motherland, truly a thing of beauty to have witnessed for a kid that had grown up in Mexico for most of his life
And then something strange happened, something that forever shaped my perspective on the way I felt about Mexican fans and their bitter dislike towards the US team. As the national anthem for the US began to play, the mood in the room turned to that of what I could only describe as hatred and hostility. The men began booing, cursing, whistling, and at one point even throwing and empty bottle of beer at the projector screen. I didn’t know what to make of the whole thing, I looked back at my father with a puzzled look on my face, and rather than giving me an explanation he looked right back at me and asked if I wanted anything to eat. I interpreted this as his proud Mexican way of explaining to me the behavior of those in the room.
The match finally kicked off, and although I started as a kid that rooted for either team I quickly felt a sense of resentment towards the pro-Mexican crowd. They would curse at the referee when they felt like they didn’t get a call and they would root anytime and American would get fouled by a Mexican player. For them it was easier to make excuses for the poor play of their team than to credit the Americans for being the dominant.
The game had a lot riding on the line; it was the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the championship regional tournament for North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. What started with 8 teams had now moved on to a semifinal of 4, prior to this game Honduras had defeated Costa Rica and would face the winner of this match in the Final. For the Mexican team who was accustomed to be the supreme and unconditional leader in CONCACAF, losing to any opponent in the region was not a very common occurrence.
The first half played out beautifully with the Americans dominating the majority of the match. In those 45 minutes I had gone from happy go lucky fan of “La Seleccion” to bitter enemy of everything that was Red, White, and Green… kind of like the Italian flag that I already despised so much.
In disbelief, of what had just played out, the men in the crowded room proceeded to regurgitate just about every excuse in the books, with the second half ready to kickoff, they recharged their optimism and got ready for the verbal battle that was to come.
By now I had a plate full of stale nachos and a cup soda in front of me, I had originally requested my soda in a glass bottle however after the incident with the guy throwing the beer at the screen the manager decided to play it safe and serve everything on red cups. I was halfway in to my giant plate and 3 minutes into the second half when the Americans did the unthinkable. Hugo Perez of the US took a free kick from outside the box which landed on the foot of John Doyle who in return put it in the net to give the Americans a 1-0 lead.
Without thinking about the consequences, I released what I could only describe as a mega-ton of bottled in emotions as I jumped out of my chair lifting both arms up in the air to celebrate the goal. Although I quickly caught myself doing this, by now the eyes of all the men in the room quickly turned to me, and then on to my father with disgust, as if it was his fall that his 11 year old son was a…
Well yeah, a US Fan.
For some reason, every time the US would do something good on the pitch, I would t turn back to my father with a condescending look on my face. By now the mood in the room wasn’t as great. There was no more “Ole’s” on every time the Mexican team passed the ball to each other, the clapping of hands was replaced by pounding of tables, and the orders of beers were eventually replaced by shots of tequila, oh man, I was LOVING IT!
They didn’t know this at the time, but the US team was about to rewrite 50+ years of history.
In the 64th minute, Peter Vermes would add insult to injury by scoring an amazing goal from about 25 yards out. This time I knew better than the last, so rather than jumping out of my chair with joy, I happily sat back with pride and once again smiled back at my father, which by now had joined the rants of the others, with a look of shame and dislike, he told me to hurry up and eat my nachos because we were leaving shortly.
The match eventually ended 2-0. Of course I didn’t know this at first, because like the rest of the men in the room, my father left with about 10 minutes to go on what was a very lopsided game. On our drive back he avoided all conversation with me, and what had started as a rare father-son bonding experiment the day before, ended as a father-son bonding disaster the day after.
As the years passed and the rivalry between Mexico vs US grew and our relationship only took a turn for the worse, but so much more on that later.
July 5th, 1991, the day I pledge my allegiance to the flag.
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