This past Sunday, as I watched the USA vs. Portugal world cup match at a local bar in my neighborhood, it was really hard to hear anything above the crowd’s roar: “U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!” Clint Dempsey’s goal at minute 81 had given the United States a 2-1 lead over a battered Portuguese team struggling to stay alive. It was difficult to resist the patriotic furor, a sort of frantic and vociferous sirens’ call to embrace the home team and chant with the drunken masses as beer mugs clashed in the air and cheap American lager splashed down on hot wings and greasy French fries. But the irony of an all-white-American crowd cheering for a team 60% percent of whose players are immigrants did not escape me.
One Nation One Team!
Immediately after the second US goal Facebook posts went crazy with status reports both celebrating and lamenting the US lead over Portugal. Among those celebrating were some of my friends who are immigrant rights’ activists, people who have been actively fighting for comprehensive immigration reform for many years. Some of those activists have been working with domestic workers, who are overwhelmingly immigrant women, and overwhelmingly undocumented. Their efforts have concentrated on calls to the US government to pass laws to protect the rights of this group of workers, which is among the most disenfranchised in the American labor force. The demands include sick days, vacation time, overtime pay, workers’ comp, medical insurance, and other benefits and protections to which all workers should be entitled.
Other immigrant rights’ activists advocate for changes in policy to allow undocumented workers who are parents to US-born children to stay legally in the country until comprehensive immigration reform is passed. In other words, they advocate against family separation. Yet other activists concentrate their efforts on laws and policies protecting the rights of farm workers, who are exposed to infrahuman working conditions, including toiling in the sun under armed guard surveillance. At least 8 employers have been found guilty of modern day slavery in the fields of Florida.
The list of grievances around which immigration reform activists concentrate their efforts is long and multifaceted, but one of the main commonalities among the different struggles is that all these groups of immigrant workers and families are severely exploited by the industries that finance the campaigns of the very xenophobic politicians who are bent on keeping these workers “illegal.”
The goal that tied the game and saved the Portuguese team came literally at the last minute, complicating things for Team USA. Portugal’s problems are far from over, but at least there is the hope that Germany will defeat the United States, in which case a strong victory over Ghana might give them the lead they need to avoid elimination.
The crowd did not cheer!
As I became aware of the silence, I realized my glass of red wine was the only drink up in the air. As I withdrew it I wondered if my position could be deemed un-American or, even more importantly, if I could be deemed un-American. And then I remembered… I am not American; I am an immigrant!
The conflict I face is not one I should face by myself. As a nation the United States was founded and built by immigrants looking for a place where they could live with freedom and dignity. Today, the right to that freedom and dignity is being denied to undocumented immigrants who came to this country looking for a better life.
For some immigrants, like those in Team USA, the search for the American Dream may be over; the glory of playing in a world cup for the United States should provide enough protection from the racist and anti-immigrant atmosphere that dominates politics in the US. But for the vast majority of immigrants, who also came to this country looking for a better life, the One Nation One Team slogan provides no protection. There is no glory in their trade; no drunken crowd cheers for them.
But not all is lost… Portugal’s fate in this world cup may hang by a thread, but there is hope yet for them, and, who knows, they might still make it to the final. For Portugal, and for all undocumented immigrants, laboring in the sun, cleaning toilets, working construction jobs, taking care of rich white babies while their own kids are home alone, for all my people, unglamorous, uncelebrated, I raise my glass!