Wearing a Mexico Jersey Makes You "Illegal"

PASADENA, CA - JUNE 25:  Pablo Barrera #7 of M...

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Hollywood star Ashton Kutcher can don the Brazilian soccer jersey and cheer for the South American team without bringing his citizenship under scrutiny. But apparently a 12-year old can’t wear a Mexico soccer jersey to school without enduring punishment.

Last month, when Coral Avilez attended her performing arts class at Big Bear Middle School in California, she wore a Mexico soccer jersey in anticipation of the Mexico-South Africa World Cup game. For that, she was chided by her teacher.

When the teacher asked 12-year-old Avilez whether she supported Mexico, the young girl replied in the affirmative — and was shocked when the teacher questioned the legality of her presence in the United States. Maybe the educator thought she was in Arizona. (Papers, please.)

The American-born Coral Avilez was then told by her teacher that “people like you make me pay higher taxes and make my insurance rate go up.”

All right, listen up, Mexican soccer fans. You may have been knocked out of the second World Cup round, but you can take consolation in knowing that you have the power to raise U.S. taxes and insurance rates — all by virtue of your support for a soccer team!

In all seriousness, the teacher’s bigoted behavior reveals how fraught Mexican-American identity is in the United States, and how it often serves as a proxy for illegal presence. Cheering for a team other than the United States does not make one any less American. But for people of color — especially for Mexican-Americans — apparently a certain burden of proof is required beyond just an American birth certificate to justify presence in this country.

Despite the U.S.’s diverse makeup, for many, the idea of a true American citizen still remains someone who’s non-Hispanic white. Mexican-Americans are treated as second-class, hyphenated citizens — including those with claims to birthright citizenship. Many have to carry their U.S. passports at all times (hello, Arizona), for fear of being perceived as an invading Other and getting subjected to the horror of deportation.

It’s sad that we have re-appropriated parts of Mexican futbol — such as screaming “GOOOOOOOAAAAALLL!” like the Univision commentators — and yet even in the 21st century, we still haven’t been able to embrace a more expansive notion of American identity.

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