Photo by Marisela Tapia
After nearly a century of fierce and condescending resistance, mainstream American culture has caught World Cup fever and is now just as infected as the rest of the world.
Face and hair painted crowds are overflowing in public squares in places such as Chicago, San Francisco, and Kansas City and riveting audiences in bars and airports across the nation as they hunch over beers or luggage to live the thrill of this action packed, record breaking goal scoring FIFA World Cup 2014 taking place in Brazil over the course of four weeks.
This has precipitated anywhere from benign bewilderment by many older generation Americans ("seems like I should be watching this but I don't know what's going on!") to derisive commentary by people such as anti immigrant provocateur Ann Coulter who claims that the only people watching the World Cup in the US are immigrants.
How telling her misguided analysis is. She simply cannot comprehend that not only has the nation changed in its racial/ethnic makeup where the new demographics are overwhelming political and popular culture but -- and here's the big story -- these new Americans are reversing the assimilation so that rather than the assimilation pressure being to fully lose oneself in mainstream American culture, mainstream American culture is in many ways assimilating to immigrants' way of life.
Let's count some of many ways. According to the New York Times here's a sampling of the increase in World Cup TV viewership since the 2010 World Cup in cities without significant immigrant populations: Columbus 71%, Orlando, 94%, Oklahoma City143%. But this influence goes beyond fútbol. It's no coincidence that the all-American ketchup was surpassed in sales a few years ago by the all-Latino salsa and dulce de leche, a Latin American caramel-like flavor, is one of the most popular ice cream flavors. It's not just Latinos driving these numbers but it's that nearly everyone loves salsa and dulce de leche.
This is not just about assimilation on the food front. Some habits in the US are taking on elements of the more communal elements of the new immigrants from Latin American and Africa such as many more European Americans who have often been seen as physically standoffish by other cultures becoming a lot more comfortable giving hugs and kisses.
Mainstream American culture was definitely not always this soccer watching, salsa dipping, dulce de leche savoring, huggy kissy place.
I have witnessed this transformation first hand ever since I first came to the US from my native Peru to go to college thirty years ago. I remember during the 1986 World Cup taking place in Mexico I could not find any of the games televised on any American network channels and had to look hard for some bar that had a closed circuit feed. And when you are trying to keep track of 64 games over a course of a month this is not very practical. The streets were quiet while back home the streets were raucous over the various World Cup results. Worse, when I tried to engage anyone in conversation about the World Cup only blank stares followed "World Cup what?" But now nearly everyone around me in Chicago is a World Cup expert.
And I don't say this sarcastically. They really are. The Gen X and Millennial generations grew up playing soccer making it the number one youth sport in the US above football, baseball, and basketball. A stunning statistic in a land where I used to be able to travel coast-to-coast on a Greyhound bus and not see a single soccer goal post. Now they pepper the landscape as if a Johnny Appleseed of Soccer went amok across the nation.
So assimilated has mainstream USA been that it was non-Latinos who taught this Peruvian how to eat Mexican (as another Peruvian friend of mine shared with me we had no idea that Mexican tacos were not heals and burritos were not mules). And when it comes to hugs and kisses some European Americans are even catching me off guard with their assimilating the two kisses of some other immigrant cultures versus just the one kiss of my own.
Now Latino, Asian, African, and Muslim kids rather than fully assimilating like previous generations of immigrants did are more fully embracing the culture of their parents' country of origin. According to Pew Hispanic Research Latinos Millennials tend to, while not necessarily being Spanish-speaking dominant, identify by the Peruvian, Colombian, Costa Rican, etc. background of their parents like my twenty-two-year old daughter Marisela does. But this does not mean they ensconce themselves in legacy culture islands. They also fully embrace mainstream American culture along with its Big Macs, CheezWhiz, American Idol, the Super Bowl, and various forms of individual expression.
So why is assimilation flowing in a reverse way now? When the Latino, African, or Asian kids where the only ones in the classroom they had no choice but to assimilate. But as immigrants stand now at 40 million in the US in many places their kids are now one-third, one-half, or even more of those in the classroom.
This leads to the Melting Pot assimilation going the other way as their classmates line up for the arroz y frijoles mamas made for the school potluck, or scamper after the soccer ball at recess, or pushed by their parents learn the language of immigrants to increase their own success in the modern global world. And as they grew into adults they are seeking global assignments in the very emerging markets their classmates or their parents came from and for fun skip work to catch the latest World Cup game.
So the World Cup. It has always swept and captured the imagination of billions around the world but had fallen into the black hole of that then nonexistent American interest. No more. As this exceptionally lively World Cup is riveting the globe, the new immigrants and their childrenhere are waving their flags along with that of the USA. And their mainstream USA friends, neighbors, co-workers are also making immigrant ways their own by joining the chorus of gooooaaal ! and hugging and kissing before going back to dipping their chips in salsa.