Phi Do • LA Beez • News Feature •
Mexican Americans at Mexico Plaza during Mexico v Croatia game
“What’s the word for ‘GOAL’ in Korean?” smiled the 19-year-old Patrick Kim. “It’s ‘GOOAALL!’”
The 2014 World Cup fever has infected Los Angeles big time. The planet’s biggest sports event is not just about athletes showcasing their fantastic skills but also a manifest of nationalism with 204 countries participating. Throughout the U.S. and especially in the Southland, residents of the City of Angels, arguably the world’s most globalized city, have come together in separate cultural enclaves to root for the US and their motherlands’ teams.
But what about the Angelino youths? Does this millennial generation interest in the game of soccer and connect with their parents’ motherland cultures? It’s often the norms that by the second and especially third generation, for any immigrant groups, the degree of “ethnic identity” decreases while the “American identity” increases and may even reach a hundred percent.
Mexican American youths at Mexico Plaza during Mexico v Croatia game
According to the California Dreamers survey, a 2007 poll conducted by New America Media (founder of LA Beez), nearly half of California’s youth consist of immigrants or children of immigrants. Many see themselves as Americans and don’t feel in touch with their ancestral cultures as much as their parents. Cultural events and traditions can be a part of their life but many are pulled along to these by their families. Essentially, what really unite and characterize the millennial generation are their common interests in music, fashion, and social media trends rather than religion, ethnicity, and race.
But with the World Cup, we are seeing a unique cultural phenomenon that allows these youths to enjoy a universal game and feel a sense of connection to their family heritage at the same time.
L-R: Patrick Kim and Jesse Suh
“My family got me interested in the World Cup. I’ve been following the Korean team since the match with Russia,” said Kim, who joined his friend, Jesse Suh, 20, and hundreds of other Korean American fans, clad in red, to watch the S. Korea v Algeria game on the big screen sponsored by Radio Korea in the middle of K-town, a.k.a. Korea Town on Wilshire Blvd. in downtown Los Angeles.
Nearly half of the Korean American fans who came to K-town to watch S. Korea play against Algeria are young adults and under. While some like Kim attended just for the game, others came to see their country win.
Korean Americans watching S Korea v Algeria game in Korea Town on Wilshire Blvd.
“I jump around, shout, and hug people whenever [S. Korea] score a goal,” said Suh, a Cal State LA student who played soccer in a junior league. “I’ve been following Korea ever since S. Korea hosted 2002 World Cup.”
In fact, social media like Facebook and Twitter play a big part in engaging youth interest in the World Cup as they tweet, blog, and post about their favorite teams, players, and games. Discussions range from referee calls to missed goals and even to debates on which is the superior team. Many dedicated fans claimed to have watched every game regardless of how early or late the broadcasting schedules were.
Some, however, have only joined the hype recently like Gina Choi, 15, who has only been following the team for a day. Nevertheless, she is still able to enjoy the energetic and nationalistic atmosphere the crowd resonates throughout the game.
“I just came with my parents. I like it when they make a goal and everyone cheers on them. It shows how they support the team,” said Choi who turned up wearing a T-shirt displaying the message “We are the reds!”
Cristian Reyes and his father
The day after the S. Korea v Algeria game, about 16 miles south of K-town, hundreds of Mexican Americans filled the main square in the Plaza Mexico with red and green, colors of the Mexican national team, to watch Mexico compete against Croatia. Similarly, about half of the turns out were youths ranging from babies to young adults.
Draped in a giant Mexico flag, Cristian Reyes, 14, came to the Plaza with his father who donned a Mexican sombrero embroiled with the “Viva Mexico” slogan. He knows all the players on the Mexican national team by heart. “He’s good,” said Reyes, referring to the striker Giovanni Dos Santos. “He scores a lot of goals and he doesn’t stop fighting for the ball.”
But for Angel Ramirez, 17, who proudly displayed his cheek-painted Mexican flags, he related more to the defender Hector Moreno since he plays defending position in his Locke High School soccer team. Ramirez, who has watched every World Cup game, not only understands the rules of the sport but its intensity as well.
“I can take out any emotion on the field. I’m good at it and I like it; it’s a hobby,” said Ramirez.
Crisscrossing to Redondo Beach, 17 miles southwest from the Plaza Mexico, is a USA v Belgium viewing game on giant screen just meters from the sandy beach. The event, sponsored by the LA Galaxy soccer team, has drawn hundreds of fans, who really resembled a global village of ethnic diversity. But virtually everyone is either clad in colors of red, blue, and white or holding a US flag or draped in one.
Left to right: Haniah and Hadia Hamza
“I was born in the U.S.,” said Haniah Hamza, a 9-year-old Sri Lankan American who turned up with her parents and sister, “so I’m rooting for my country.” Haniah, who occasionally blew her bullhorn, and her sister Hadia, 12, who clutched a US flag, got hooked on soccer as their father often watched the game on TV and together they are now playing in a local girl league. Hadia’s favorite player is USA team captain and forward midfielder Clinton Dempsey.
Even though the attending youths are supporting the US, at the same time, they appreciate the World Cup’s ability in uniting different people around the world and in Los Angeles. And that’s one of the characteristics of the game that non-immigrant youth Trevor Taub and Koa Wouk found fascinating.
Left to right: Trevor Taub and Koa Wouk
“I like how all the countries come together,” said Taub, 15, while his friend and schoolmate, Koa Wouk, also 15, noted that the USA v Belgium game also brought different communities in LA together to root for US. Both Taub and Wouk, clad in USA Team jerseys, play soccer for Mira Costa High School and but on separate local club teams. “They’re able to communicate through a game rather than a language,” added Taub.
“I love the diversity of the World Cup,” said Ramirez during the Mexico v Croatia viewing game at the Plaza Mexico. “Everyone gets together and no matter what or where you’re from, everyone wants to watch it.”
And “GOAL” is an understood universal word regardless of different languages, cultures, gender, and age.
Score Cards: S. Korea lost to Algeria, 4-2; Mexico defeated Croatia, 3-1; USA lost to Belgium, 1-0.
Phi Do is Staff Writer for LA Beez.
Photos by Phi Do.