Despite a robust youth soccer apparatus, fútbol in the U.S. has always been relegated to an activity solely conducted by immigrants, derelicts, and contrarians. The U.S. sports pantheon doesn't have room on the mantle for another sport that's not basketball, baseball, or football (and sometimes hockey), especially one as flamboyant as soccer, which allows its players to writhe on the ground like injured seals, and bark for red or yellow cards from doting referees.
U.S children play soccer as a form of physical development, but once they move past the threshold of adolescence, fútbol loses steam as a worthwhile athletic endeavor. Of course, this puts the U.S. at a huge disadvantage since fútbol is the world's most popular sport, and most populous state of Play. But, that is slowly changing, and the fútbol sea change that was destined to hit the U.S. is finally roiling with the sustained intent of Major League Soccer, and our promising display in the last two World Cups.
a complex, multi-layered optical exposition that asks several uncomfortable questions about U.S/Mexico futbol relations
It is no secret the U.S. has zero World Cup titles; in fact, even the idea of the U.S. winning the World Cup seems primitively outlandish. In 2012, for example, "NBC Sports Network’s first MLS telecast, a game between FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls…drew a whopping '0.07 national household rating...That’s equivalent to about 82,000 viewers." ("NBC Sports...") In Contrast, the final of the Champions League between Bayern Munich and London's Chelsea drew a viewership of 10.6 million. ("Champions League...") In terms of numbers, there really is no comparison between Europe's predilections for fútbol, and our tepid viewership. The difference is clearly one of ordinance: the U.S. tabulates their viewership to be in the thousands; viewership in Europe is typically in the millions, and generates that in kind through advertising.
In short, the U.S. just hasn't yet earned the right to brag, boast, or speak in a particularly bombast way when it compares itself to European teams, but might it have enough mojo to make the Mexican national team anxious? Moreover, what political, linguistic, and historical overtures can we infer from the history of wins and losses each team notches into their belt—given their long history of wars, surreptitious treaties, and outright land theft. What compromises in allegiance might have to be made by U.S. Latinos who become fast fútbol fans or seek to unravel the gauze of that relationship?
Gringos at the Gate
(Arroyo Seco Films, 2013) is a complex, multi-layered optical exposition that asks several uncomfortable questions about U.S/Mexico fútbol relations. That relationship has always been dominated by Mexico, but on June 17, 2002, in a final of the World Cup in South Korea, the U.S. defeated Mexico, 2-0, and managed to mindfuck millions of Mexico fans. Also, in 2011, Mexico and the United States played at the Rose Bowl for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Mexico came out victorious, 4-2, which is not an anomaly, but it did not escape unscathed. The game was telecast in Spanish, even though it was played on American soil (where supposedly the official language is English). Everyone seemed to be on board with the program except for Tim Howard, U.S. goalie, who was quoted in The Sporting News as saying, "You can bet your ass if we were in Mexico City it wouldn’t be all in English."
Howard's comment might have emanated from a place of deep annoyance at having been spanked, yet again, by the Mexican National Team, but it also underscores an interesting phenomenon: U.S.-born Latinos rooting for the country of their parent's heritage instead of for their national team. But, can you really blame U.S.-born Latinos when the U.S. has never dominated any international fútbol competitions. Moreover, aside from clearly not understanding the demographic that drives ticket sales in Los Angeles, might Howard have a point? Do Latinos of Mexican heritage get it all wrong when they booster for la Tri instead of yawping for the Stars and Stripes? Soccer is proving to be a litmus of loyalty for Mexican-Americans, but loving fútbol anchors them to family in Mexico. For example, if you were born in the states and your parents were born in Mexico, do you booster Mexico? Do you booster the U.S.? In this sense Gringos at the Gate
is more than just a documentary on the history of interaction, fútbolistically, in many ways it is also an ethnographic dialogue, a suggestive prompt from which to proceed, and a digital vignette on the rivalry that spills over from the global promontory of geopolitical decisions.
Despite its growing negative connotations, Globalization has also ensured that a player like Hérculez Gómez fields the pitch. Gómez is an American-born fútbol player whose parents are Mexican immigrants to the U.S.; he plays for the American National Team when it comes time to play the World Cup, but he plays for one of the biggest clubs in Mexico, Santos, to make rent and bring home the bacon. Gómez has a vantage point that very few people could share, but it is exactly that space that titillates the documentarians, and it is exactly that genetics of adjacent allegiances that is addressed and brought to the forefront. The documentarians do a keen job of keeping the concepts roiling and churning, revealing themselves as they stir up nationalistic and emotive sediment (from Mexico and the U.S.).
The film makers toggle between jingoistic fútbol fans (from both the U.S. and Mexico), ex-players and coaches, like Steve Sampson, USA National Coach, 1995-1998, to cultural critics, like Gustavo Arellano, journalists/fiction-writers, like Hector Tobar, and historians, like Juliette Levy. The film makers use a lean, investigative narration style reminiscent of a mixture of “Frontline,” and the hand-held camerawork so in vogue with war correspondents, and Vice Magazine
. The film makers explicate a huge chunk of Mexican fútbol lore, spieling about Pachuca and taking the viewers to a museum where the first fútbol game in Mexico was played. In this respect, Gringos at the Gate is comprehensive and didactic in the best possible way—that is, unobtrusively.
This title is highly recommended for any programs or curriculum that center on U.S./ Mexico relations or Latin American History; however, this title would be equally as useful at an institute, center, or museum with a high Latino demographic. I imagine that a documentary of this nature would go over well even in the student lounge of the International Relations Department, or movie-night at the local branch of your public library system. Moreover, the trio that have written, produced, and directed Gringos
are mavens in their own right, and so that verve and complicity is faithfully displayed as well.