World Cup Brazil: Mexico’s Problematic Football “Chant” and What It Implies

#SayNoToRacism. World Cup 2014 Brazil's message to the world.

#SayNoToRacism. World Cup 2014 Brazil’s message to the world.

DISCLAIMER: Most of you may know the word in question. I have opted not to use it in my post because I choose not to promote its use.

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In the early years of life in Mexico City, I was invited out to a local bar with some friends: my American friend, her Mexican boyfriend and his friend from the university.

Both men were doing their master’s in engineering.

The bar was a cozy option and above it was a large screen where they were playing Droopy cartoons. I hadn’t seen one in years so I was happily watching when the friend came up and asked me if I could see the screen alright.

“Of course,” I said, a little confused. “It’s right there.”

“Well, your eyes are so small that I thought you couldn’t see the screen.”

I told him that if he said anything that stupid to me again, I was going to castrate him with my teeth.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

The Boyfriend tried to patch things up between us and to his credit, he did try by saying that his friend is from the north and northerners tend to joke about everything.

I told him that I don’t have to think that any joke he tells is funny. And I don’t.

Fast-forward to my days on the football pitch in Mexico City, at the Azul Stadium. I was a photographer, getting shots of the game, and behind the goalkeeper of the opposing team, as he launched to perform his free kick, that familiar chant sounds. It is a derogatory word towards homosexual men and I thought it ironic that it came the loudest from the fans of the UNAM, my Mexican alma mater.

I mention this because it all comes on the heels of the situation with the fans from the Mexico-Brazil game, where Mexican fans shouted this word as a part of their chant when the Brazilian goalie kicked off. Now, certain measures are in place to be taken against the Mexican National Team to see if there will be penalties, or even expulsion, because of the conduct of their fans. Uproar that the FIFA should even consider the ban on such a “tradition” has many a Mexican football purist very angry. It also has a hint of nationalistic pride and age-old resentment against the encroaching foreigner who is trying to buy California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and parts of Wyoming for a mere $15 million dollars, all over again.

I know that I am better suited to address this question than most. In Mexico, I was referred to as the “China” (China Girl) even though I’ve never been (I was born and raised in San Francisco, California and my parents are from Japan). I’ve known racism here in Mexico as I have never known it in the States. I have had friends and acquaintances who were brought to tears because they were leered at and harassed in markets in a language they didn’t understand. I have had people ask me if I was related to Yoko Ono or Bruce Lee and if I knew karate, to which I would answer that I do not have to know karate to grab a pair of balls. I was even asked, at the beginning of my residency, to stand a friend’s father’s carnitas stand as a sort of novelty act, just so that everyone could come by and see the “China.”

I have seen commercials from Mexican banks like Banorte from two World Cups ago, where there is a bench of players for Mexico with green jerseys, each one with a foreign-sounding last name and the announcer giving the line-up. The jersey numbers grow progressively smaller until they reach the #1 jersey, “Gonzalez”. The tag line was, “It doesn’t matter how many foreigners there are in your bank/on your bench, as long as the best is the Mexican.”

The name Gonzalez, however, is originally from Spain.

Football fans can complain all they want and say it is “tradition.” I wonder then if they had noticed that during every single game, there is a sideline board that says “Say No to Racism” as well as the FIFA’s role in instituting the “Fair Play” mentality. That would apply to discrimination. Having studied languages in university, I am well aware of language as a cultural expression. I may swear a whole hell of a lot and use “fuck” indiscriminately (primarily in two different languages) but I will not stoop to using the debated word because it is not in my nature to insult a whole group of people in that fashion. What then would happen if fans of the opposing side started shouting, “LAZY MEXICAN!” during a game? What if the argument came back that “Oh, in our country, it is just a phrase. It doesn’t imply that all Mexicans are lazy and it isn’t hurting anyone. It isn’t hurting the stadium and no one has complained. It’s better to abuse the freedom of speech rather than to limit it. Besides, everyone is having a good time! Of course using that phrase doesn’t make us culturally poor! What are you talking about?” These are genuine arguments for the continued use of the word in question. If the tables were turned, there would be a diplomatic nightmare and perhaps severely tragic implications on several different levels.

What most people who promote and defend the use of this word don’t understand is that if you allow it with one word, it is saying “yes” to everything else that is hurtful. You are saying it is alright to mock people based on their sexual orientation, how they look, where they come from and what biological equipment they were born with. It is very clear to me that none of the defenders of this argument have ever been the butt of a life-long “joke.” I would like to see those people try to defend themselves every single day from the scrutiny and the rude curiosity that being different causes. Differences that you cannot hide and have to look at in the mirror daily.

Walk in my shoes, motherfucker. You have no fucking idea what it is like to be an Asian female in a racist, macho country. Or a gay man trying to show his affection for his partner in public. Or a Belgian from the French Congo, who is pointed and stared at and asked if he’s from the ‘hood in the States. Or a woman being told she can’t wear a short skirt to work on a hot day because it will make the men behave “badly.” Being stared at as if you were an animal in a zoo. Laughed at because you look “funny.” Told you are stupid because you are “just a kid.”

What a different song you’d sing.

Mexico, you have so many beautiful things to share with the rest of the world. Don’t share this one. It’s ugly, stupid and it makes you look bad. You are not exempt from criticism and no argument in favor of such language will make you invisible to the weight of reality. That homophobia, sexism, racism and ageism exist in full-fledged force and so rampantly that it has become public debate to retain these barricades in the name of “culture.” Hurtful language does not have to be part of your culture. And this lesson I have learned from your hard-working women, your wise indigenous ethnic groups and your loving gay population.

Mexico, you are above that so step up to the fucking line and get with the fucking program. And if you still don’t believe that that sort of language has weight, I refer you to Jonah Hill’s recent apology. Saying sorry as one man with the eyes of an entire community on you is hard but it can be done. And this is how it should be done.

Mexico, step up to the plate.

By the way, if you think “fuck” is offensive, let me remind you that it means “to have sex,” which, if teenage pregnancies and children born out of wedlock are any indication, there is a lot of that going on. Everywhere.

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