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Do the U.S. and Mexico care about the Gold Cup anymore?

Gold Cup
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The significance of United States-Mexico for a Mexican-American

It's literally in the name: USA vs. Mexico.

At the risk of starting this article with a cliché, the rivalry match between the two countries has always been much more than a game to me. It goes beyond the pitch. It genuinely represents the conflict in my identity as a Mexican-American.

USA vs. Mexico, futbol vs. soccer, Americano vs. Mexicano.

From East L.A. to Suburbia

Although I was born in the largely Mexican-populated area of east Los Angeles, my family moved to a suburban town just north of the city when I was still young. I am blessed to have parents that left the city for better schools and a safer area for me and my younger sister, but the side effects of the decision replaced my Mexican neighborhood surroundings with that of a predominantly Caucasian and middle-class one. The tract-housing lifestyle in a suburban town became my new culture. Goodbye panaderias and a hesitant hello to Panera Bread.

Growing up, I rarely discussed my Mexican identity. In fact, looking back, I would even say that I was almost hiding it. Outside of my love for the Mexican national team and my mother's chilaquiles, there was little about me that truly portrayed pride in my heritage.

That wasn't too much of a problem for me, at least when I was a kid. As a 10-year-old, I didn't sit in my room, pondering the significance of my early development. I didn't consider the steps I could take to familiarize myself with my Mexican ancestry. I just wanted to play "Sonic the Hedgehog" and listen to Green Day. It was a simple way of dealing with the problem because there was no real problem. Well, at least not yet.

I unfortunately became more aware of myself superficially as I got older, and so did my classmates. The occasional comment about who I was would be thrown my way every now and then as a teenager.

You don't sound Mexican. You don't act like a Mexican. You're totally whitewashed.

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I learned to brush these types of comments off, but a few made me feel as if I was doing something incorrectly. As if it was improper for me to speak and act the same way as some of my classmates. Yet, as awful and simple-minded as the comments from my high school peers were, they fed into my self-awareness at this age.

Around this time in high school was an early recognition of the pronunciation of my name. My family called me Cesar, like Cesar Chavez, but outside of home it was pronounced as Caesar, like the emperor or the salad.

I blame teachers who had a hard time pronouncing my name and myself for not correcting them when they said it wrong. "Caesar" was easier for others to pronounce, so I preferred it for many years. Depending on the context, I was either Cesar or Caesar throughout the day -- almost like a reminder of who I was at a certain situation.

If I was eating arroz y frijoles while watching soccer -- ahem -- futbol in the background, I was Cesar. If I was hanging out with my friends at the local fast food place eating hamburgers, I was Caesar.

It wasn't until recently that I decided to introduce myself as only Cesar, but even now, it's hard not to feel as if I'm imposing myself on others. I sometimes imagine myself in mid-sentence correcting a friend's accent. "No, no, no," I would say, "It's Cesaarrrrr" -- adding in unnecessary weight and power to each individual letter in my name like a pretentious chef describing a fine meal.

Eventually, I embraced my Mexican heritage. I developed a genuine curiosity in my late teens and early 20s about my family's past and my lineage, but the process has been gradual. As undramatic as it sounds, there was no epiphany or life-changing situation which suddenly made me appreciate my Mexican heritage.

Instead, it was all just interest in my culture, in my race. Nothing was forced; I just slowly started to have a curiosity about who I am and where I came from. I'm years behind many others who know much more than I do, but I'll eventually make my way to that knowledge. Which is fine.

There is a unique spirit in the passion displayed by Mexican-Americans while they watch their beloved <i>El Tri</i>, especially at matches in the United States.
There is a unique spirit in the passion displayed by Mexican-Americans while they watch their beloved El Tri, especially at matches in the United States.

I've learned that I am who I am, whether I like it or not, and I'm alright with that. My experience as a Mexican-American is completely different from that of the various Chicanos in this country. We're not all the same. There are no exact guidelines on how to become a Mexican-American or on how to truly become a "real Mexican." If there is a guideline, it's probably nonsense. Different people have different stories and paths.

I also had a realization that there will of course be traits to myself that are American as well. I was born in this country, after all, and have lived here my whole life. I'm proud of being a Mexican-American and recognize that there will always be a representation of both cultures in my life. I'm like a torta with french fries.

I'm a pocho, a Chicano, a Mexican-American in the end, and the push-and-pull from both cultures will likely continue for the rest of life. But that's just my story; it's just one of many that will likely be in attendance on Wednesday night.

Identity in the context of USA vs. Mexico

It's foolish to think that Wednesday's match is as simple as Mexicans vs. Americans. The reality is that these things are complicated. There are American supporter groups like Latinos For Team USA, who will be rooting for the U.S., and Pancho Villa's Army, who will be hoping for a win from El Tri.

The mother of Mexico's starter in net, Cirilo Saucedo, has U.S. citizenship. On the other side of the pitch, the U.S. will have a goalkeeping option on the bench in the Aguascalientes-born William Yarbrough.

Were it not for Chivas' busy schedule, there could have been a good chance that Isaac Brizuela -- the 24 year-old from San Jose, California -- would have been called-up for El Tri. On the U.S. roster, there are seven Mexican-Americans, four of whom play in Liga MX.

It's never just Americans vs. Mexicans. To assume it is, is ridiculous. Many of the fans at the match and a few of the players on the pitch will be there as Mexican-Americans, no matter which jersey they are wearing or team they are on.

To be Mexican-American can mean a wide variety of things, but I find that wonderful in the end. You don't need to root for Mexico and you don't need to root for the United States. In fact, you don't even need to support either team if you don't feel like it.

In the end, it's just soccer.

Cesar Hernandez covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @cesarhfutbol.

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