Mexico just had one of its biggest victories in World Cup soccer matches beating the German powerhouse 1-0. As is common nowadays, the memes came fast and furious as mexicanos and mexicanas (Mexicanx for those x-ing the Spanish language in Gringolandia) gloated over the important win. They have every right to do so, especially since Mexico hadn’t beaten Germany since 1985. The pent-up emotions that were released by the victory drove some of the players to tears, as I’m sure also happened to many fans of la Selección Mexicana in Mexico, the U.S. and other parts of the world.
The victory reminds us of the role soccer plays in creating national unity in Mexico, a country in disarray that seems to have lost its moral compass and is perilously close to being certified a failed state. In this regard, La Selección is second only to La Virgen de Guadalupe who many would argue is the perennial glue that allows people to “imagine” the Mexican nation in the sense Benedict Anderson proposed long ago. The national soccer team also functions in a similar way, especially during its participation in international cup competition or even more when playing against the American national team. However, unlike the perennial glue provided by La Guadalupana, the magic of the national team only last for as long as the team is a contender in cup competition. A strong feeling of solidarity among the people is created through the ritual of attending games in stadiums, watching the match on giant television screens in zócalos across the country, at home on plasma televisions, computers, and cell phones. Unfortunately, after La Selección is eliminated by Germany, Argentina, or worse, by team USA, this feeling of national cohesion quickly dissipates. People put away their flags, Aztec regalia, mariachi sombreros, serapes, wrestler masks, green jerseys, and they go back to living their lives in what Octavio Paz called The Labyrinth of Solitude.
This year, the ritual is quite interesting due to the fact that the World Cup and the Mexican presidential elections will coincide, which will make for some bizarre situations. On the one hand, the country will be united behind its national squad, hoping for them to make it all the way, especially after its mighty first victory over Germany. The media will be full of images of Mexicans wearing the red, white and green colors, waiving and kissing the flag, singing “Cielito Lindo,” yelling “Viva México, cabrones” and “Sí se puede,” and all the other commonplaces denoting nationalistic sentiment. That is, the soccer glue will be stronger than ever before unifying the nation as one.
At the same time, the media will also remind us that a presidential election is going on in which, paraphrasing Clausewitz, politics have become a civil war by other means. In this scenario, the nation is fragmented into four factions with Mexicans constantly at each other’s throat; in fact, over a hundred people have already died in this political sporting event and we still got two more weeks to go. The trophy everyone covets in this game is presidential power, which bestows immense wealth to the winner, his relatives, and close friends; all of them will gain the right to enrich themselves illegally and with impunity. Like the national soccer team, the political squads will make great promises and raise the hopes of the people: they will try to convince everyone that they are seeking a win for the sake of the nation, the fortunes of the country will change for the better if they prevail, but despite all of these promises the chances of the common people winning in this political civil war are about as good as la Selección Mexicana winning the World Cup.
Yes, Mexicans will experience a strange schizophrenia in the following weeks, especially if La Selección doesn’t let us down and continues to qualify in the elimination stage of the Cup competition. Mexicans will experience the nation as a happy, cheerful, solidarity among equals full of pride and hope, coalesced by the euphoria of a soccer game. At the same time, they will have to deal with and take part in a more sinister version, characterized by the politics of hatred, deceit, and violence against fellow citizens. Soccer and politics: the Mexican Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens if the national team is still a contender at the time of the elections on July 1. Will the euphoria of a nation of soccer fanatics affect the elections in any way? Will the voters’ happy mood sway them to vote for one candidate or another? Will the success of the team make the fans oblivious to the dire political juncture in which the country finds itself? What if the team is eliminated? No, the possibility of losing is not crossing anyone’s mind. To borrow words from Johnny Rotten: there is not much of a future and Mexico is dreaming.