Benny was born in El Salvador but has lived in the Washington metro area for a little more than 20 years. He works behind the bar at one of the most visited watering holes in the heart of downtown D.C., home to many influential people who have never heard of checking their egos at the door. He calls them all by name, knows exactly what they like to drink and serves everything with a side of smiles and a splash of chatter. His Salvadoran Spanish is accented with the inflections of someone who now speaks English every day for a living.
His English informs patrons enjoying the World Cup at the bar's TV screens that he is not from here, but he, like me and millions of immigrants living in certain U.S. cities, is rooting for the U.S. soccer team to go all the way and screaming as loudly as any American, "I believe that we will win!" during the matches. We say "we" and actually believe it even if for some of us, legally, it might be fiction.
We root for the red, white and blue, and not because we are sellouts or love our countries of origin any less. The tunes of the Salvadoran national anthem still get me teary-eyed, reciting the poetry of my roots makes my voice break, "football" still slides easier off my tongue than "soccer," and nostalgia has led me to invest what is, at this point, a small fortune in tasty pupusa meals that are pricier than what I am used to. And yet, I root for the U.S. because many of its people (if not its government) have embraced me and others like me, letting us interweave into their communities.
They have increasingly let us learn from their education systems and debate in their classrooms as equals; have enjoyed our national foods and shown interest in our cultures, stories and differences; have not seen us as competition that endangers their job opportunities but have called us colleagues; have purchased many of our services, some of which have allowed many women, thanks to the childcare help they can now afford, to make strides in closing gender gaps in the labor market.
It is not "they," the Americans we join in celebration when Dempsey makes a play, who see us as threats to national security. They know no one hurts what they love, and we have shown our love for their community by co-creating projects that range from startups to families.
Those who embrace us at the bar after a goal are not the ones who, when looking for votes, preach free markets for everyone and everything, except for the people they dislike. Only those who deny the magical, spontaneous-order process that goes into creating this national melting pot would ask where a person was born before engaging in a mutually beneficial, voluntary transaction, whether commercial, social or emotional. It is those denialists who want to make our being in this country a security issue as opposed to an economic issue that results from the rational maximization of the value of labor by both workers and businesses. These denialists restrict the creation of value by building concrete and bureaucratic walls to limit employer flexibility and hinder the United States' competitiveness in a globalized world.
And maybe we believe the "we" while chanting, "I believe that we will win!" because the U.S. soccer team is a visual reflection of the audience that bounces up and down in stadiums cheering for them: a group that harmoniously mixes individuals whose families were born in the U.S.A. and individuals whose families chose the U.S.A. as the country where they wanted to work, love, start families, and build communities, whether temporarily or permanently. Yet many, despite being served drinks by Benny on a weekly basis, are still blind to these beautiful contrasts and see as amnesty the loops of paperwork and bureaucracy immigrants are forced to go through in order to stay and "grease the wheels of the economy." Because of this blindness, some would rather create a humanitarian crisis through governmental abuses at the borders than let thousands of children be reunited with their families.
But we don't take offense: Any politically infused or ignorance-fueled views are balanced out by the open hearts of the masses who have embraced us as their own. If it weren't for them, many of us would have never found a home away from home in this place. Go, Team U.S.A.!
Follow Cristina Lopez G. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/crislopezg