El Tri defeated the reigning champion Germany in its World Cup debut. Every commentator, every analyst, every Mexican person with a realistic mentality believed that pulling off a win — or even a tie — would be nearly impossible.
Everyone except my grandfather: The old man with the glistening white mustache, florid face and keen sense of humor. He believed that the Mexican squad, under the direction of coach Juan Carlos Osorio, could conquer the Mannschaft. And he was right, and so was Osorio.
On Father’s Day, I sat alongside him and my dad. We witnessed 90 minutes of tension and agony as Mexico bested Germany 1-0. I witnessed tears escaping my grandfather’s eyes, as the referee blew the final whistle. My dad and I observed his prideful and silent smile as the teams left the field.
I sat there reacting differently, phone in hand, channelling my emotions on Twitter and Instagram — sharing random memes and expressions only my Twitter followers would understand. Filming the TV and channelling the soccer commentator in me to impress my Instagram followers, who don’t really care about hot men kicking around a ball.
As the son of Mexican immigrants, this victory was mine as much as it was my parents’. I am Mexican and have always identified as such. I have light skin, but I’m pretty sure my heart was replaced by a nopál. Everything about Mexico — my culture, my people — continues to fascinate me everyday. But it also contributed to my insecurity when I was a child.
I have never seemed like a stereotypical Mexican. My skin isn’t brown. My last name isn’t Hernandez or Garcia or Rivera. When people looked at me as a kid, they assumed my mom was my nanny and called me güerito or gringo. I hated it and throughout my life have had to prove to people my own Mexicanidad.
I take pride in who I am and am not afraid to show it. Calling me Thomas isn’t gonna cut it. It’s Tomás — con acento.
That’s why this game meant so much to me. Because my country and my identity are a crucial part of who I am.
Mexicanos, like me, were glued to Telemundo, as Andrés Cantor, known for his deafening “GOOOOOOAAAAL,” commentated one of the most watched games in Spanish-language TV history.
For Mexicans in the U.S., the national team is holy. It’s a constant reminder of a country left behind. It’s a connection to a place that roughly 7 million undocumented Mexicans have yet to return to. And it’s a distraction from the reality of subordination that these people face in a country they cannot call their own.
Mexico’s lone goal against Germany provided hope for these people. Perhaps it did so just in the sport, but maybe in real life, too. Mexico did the impossible that morning and began living a dream — a dream similar to the one pictured by thousands of migrants who travel to this country with hope of a better future.
The national team and the World Cup not only provide hope, but they also unite people: cooks and construction workers, landscapers and housekeepers, undocumented immigrants and legal residents. It reminds people of why they came to the U.S.. It brightens their day as their love for Mexico revives when they watch 11 men in green run around chasing a ball, just as they chased a dream in this country.
Mexico faces Sweden on Wednesday, following its triumphant matches against South Korea and Germany. El Tri has a high chance of beating the team that ousted four-time World Cup champion Italy.
Mexico will have to play like it’s the team’s last game, because it could be, if it loses. With a tie or a win, Mexico will secure its spot in the knockout stage and consequently put the team a step closer to getting to el quinto partido (the fifth game). If Mexico loses, things could get complicated.
Mexico hasn’t reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup since it last hosted the event in 1986. In the last World Cup, the referee awarded the Netherlands a nonexistent penalty kick, which led to Mexico’s elimination. In 2006 and 2010, it lost to the ever-so-powerful Argentina. And in 2002 … actually, I’d rather not talk about that one.
2018 just might be the year El Tri makes it into the top eight. My grandfather sure believes it can.
That’s why on Wednesday, before heading to work, Mexicanos will again be glued to their screens to witness la selección’s final match in Group F. It’ll be a real test for the team, but if El Tri wins, fans’ expectations for the knockout phase will be pretty high. Mexico will either face Brazil or Switzerland, two tough competitors, but ones the team has seen before.
Mexico probably won’t win the Cup, but that’s what I said about it defeating Germany. If it happens, this will be the year it does.
Tomás Mier is a junior majoring in journalism and contemporary Latino and Latin American studies. “Cup Convo” is a guest column on the 2018 FIFA World Cup.