I’m in a pickle.
My country is not in the World Cup.
I’m American so I should root for the USA, right? But just because I am American doesn’t mean I identify with USA’s men national soccer team.
I speak Spanish. But just because I speak Spanish doesn’t mean I will root for the originators of the language, Spain, or any other Latin American country for that matter.
But just because my country isn’t in the World Cup doesn’t mean I won’t watch the World Cup.
My parents were born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to the states in late 70s. It has been well documented that baseball rules Dominican Republic, both figuratively and literally. Young boys of the slums use a stick and a bottle cap to master the basics of the game while the teenagers picked out of the crop fields by baseball academies forgo an education to pursue a large payoff in professional baseball. But soccer isn’t as popular.
It’s like the United States. Soccer exists, but it isn’t given the attention it deserves. Soccer is the world’s sport. It connects international with locals, native speakers with foreign speakers. In soccer, there are no borders.
But with the World Cup taking place this year and with me more interested than ever in the event, I found myself asking myself two questions. One, who should I cheer for? And two, if soccer really is the world’s sport, then why isn’t my country represented?
Yes, I understand I was born in the United States, am an American citizen, go to an American university, Boston College, and will most likely live in this country until my dying breath. But just because you live somewhere doesn’t mean you are required to identify with your location. I am proud to live in this country, but in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, I wasn’t draped in a star-spangled banner. I was draped in cross-bearing banner with the words Dios, Patria, Libertad etched in the center as I watched the Dominican Republic national team win the World Baseball Classic.
In the World Cup, my country, Dominican Republic, isn’t one of the 32 nations represented. It may not seem like a big thing because the World Cup is a joyous occasion, but my co-worker is Colombian and rooting for Colombia. One of my good friends is Mexican and rooting for Mexico. Restaurants across New York are hosting viewing parties for respective countries.
The representation I have in the World Cup is the United States and I have nothing wrong with cheering for them, but it just doesn’t feel the same. My roots are planted in Dominican Republic and you can’t pull those roots and re-plant them somewhere else to identify yourself as the new plantation. I can’t root for more than one country and just because the one I do root for is not represented in the World Cup, that doesn’t mean I can throw a dart to a picture of the 32 nations and pick or pretend to cheer for a team I’m not passionate about.
It’s a tricky situation to be in and one that I’m not alone in. Haiti, Jamaica, Venezuela, Ireland, southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, the list goes on of other nations not represented in the World Cup and certainly many others that feel similar to me.
But we, the bystanders, who may not identify nor cheer passionately for the 32 nations of the World Cup have the best gift of all. We get to enjoy every single game, with no guarantees of heartbreak, agony, despair–the negative emotions of sports–and we get to watch all the way until the final whistle of the championship game feeling that way. As a fan of teams known for making me question my loyalty to them, it is a feeling I am not willing to trade for the sake of having my country in the World Cup.
I’d love for one day to wave my flag, draped in red, white, and blue (of Dominican Republic that is), and scream at a TV screen with DR playing in the World Cup like I did for the World Baseball Classic. But for now, I’ll take the road less traveled. I will sit back, relax, and watch at the edge of my seat, enjoying every second of the 2014 World Cup, with no fear of letdown and no bandwagon hopping.
Just watching, for the love of the game.