The “Tri” of Life (2018 FIFA World Cup Notebook)

Robert Cole/ALOST


akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief


NEW YORK — Sacarlo! Sacarlo!! SACARLO!!!

Of the two dozen patrons who escaped the stifling 90-degree heat outside and into the Fulton Ale House in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, no voice resonated inside of those walls more so than a young Latina woman situated at the bar adjacent to the beer taps, her green-and-white “Mexico” jacket giving away her soccer allegiance while her brown Panama hat a near giveaway of the ever-growing hipster nature of the neighborhood. Striding into the establishment just before the start of Mexico’s much anticipated Group F opener against defending champion Germany at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, it was clear that her holding anything back, in one of the biggest games soccer games her country has ever had a chance to play in, was not an option.

Winning, apparently, was not an option for her either, at least before her first beer and the game’s first goal, boldly stating as she sat on the bar stool that Germany would won 5-0, but hoped that Die Mannschaft might take it easy on them and win 3-0. Every person that stood or sat next to her who eventually made eye contact became a friend immediately, including myself, sitting on a stool abutting the back wall, as every foray by Germany into Mexico’s half of the field was greeted at the bar by her unmistakable exclamation of “Sacarlo!,” Spanish for “get it out.”

On the pitch more than 4,600 miles away, Mexico did keep everything out of their own net, and, in the 35th minute, a Hirving Lozano shot snuck inside the near post, giving Mexico a 1-0 lead – and my new friend a conniption. Celebratory screams inside of the cacophony of noise swelling inside of the bar became a couple of slams of our new friend’s chair onto the ground, profanities being hurled into the air mixed in with a fair amount of praise and disbelief. The emotions on her sleeves were became as boisterous as a tenor during a dramatic climax in an opera.

As the final whistle blew and as Mexico completed its historic 1-0 victory, it was impossible to not notice the scenes broadcast to the television screens in Brooklyn and across the world, from the Mexican players embracing each other on the pitch with wide-eyed grins to  its fans both doing the same and overcome with emotion. Looking down from the monitor for a second to take in what had turned into a pro-Mexican crowd inside of the bar, the lady who seemed to have nothing to hide from her first step inside clearly did have something tucked away for at least the two hours of game time.

And it was coming out in the form of tears of joy, as well as tears of undeniable psychological pain. Amidst te high-fives and hugs, she was at a loss as to why this win, which has continued to spark nothing but joy in the Latin world almost 24 hours later, was making her so emotional. Fortunately, she and I talked through her thought processes at that moment in time, and it was obvious that the political language that has been bombarded on the Mexican and Latin community from the very top of the United States government, with the outrage stemming from the more than 2,000 children of migrants being held in camps along the Mexican border after being separated from their families as the most recent backdrop, had taken a toll.

Mexico’s soccer victory over a global world power was the embodiment of hard work, sacrifice and togetherness that many Latino people would want the world see and understand, rather than concentrate on the xenophobia, stereotypes and social media shaming that has now enveloped a number of regimes worldwide that disparage and demean refugees.

America, sadly, included.

There is no other spectacle that reopens the scars of geopolitical baggage more effectively than the World Cup. Every on-field matchup between Argentina and England brings animosity borne from the battle of the Falkland Islands. Croatia’s run to the 1998 semifinals ended up becoming the signature symbol of the nation’s nascent independence after years of war in the former Yugoslavia. World economies have been lifted, national holidays have been declared and perceptions of nations have been changed time and again by a group of 11 footballers who use the millions of supporters back in their home countries to perform well on the biggest stage.

For almost every person of Mexican heritage living in the United States, it must not have been easy for the pride that swelled after El Tri’s momentous occasion to turn into one, big, loud “F*** You!” to any and all people who have espoused the dehumanization of immigrants – a number of whom are of Mexican descent  – under the guise of making America (or whatever country going through a neo-conservative, anti-refugee/immigrant movement) great.

Not too long after the tears streamed down her cheeks, a heartfelt conversation between the two of us started, hitting on the political backdrop of why this game more of a social statement than three points earned. I am positive she and I never expected a couple of warm embraces would be shared between us after the end of a soccer game, but it proved to be cathartic, not just celebratory.

For a moment in time, the concept of marginalization was washed away, both inside our tiny bar in Brooklyn and at the expansive Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, and every Mexican and Latin American voice worldwide, including the one from the woman sitting in front of the monitor at Fulton Ale House, should bellow from the top of their lungs with pride about what Mexicans, and, by proxy, all immigrants, contribute to what has made America and our world great.

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