A large part of the Latino community has been religiously watching the FIFA World Cup since it started. And they've made up a significant portion of viewership for soccer games for some time.
Soccer breaks generational barriers, and in the Velediaz’s family living room, fourteen-year-old Kyle is watching a World Cup game with his parents, siblings, and aunts and uncles. He has been in love with the sport from a very young age.
"Probably when I was like, four. Yeah. And I started playing on a team when I was like, when I was in first grade."
This World Cup match is not an ordinary one. Argentina versus Mexico was playing on the television, and this is the last championship for Argentina’s superstar: Lionel Messi. The Velediaz family, however, is rooting for Mexico.
Kyle’s father, Omar Velediaz, migrated from there to the U.S. in 1989, and most of his intimate childhood memories are intertwined with the sport.
"I fell in love with soccer when I saw Luis Hernández play. He was a front player for Mexico back then," explains Velediaz. "My brothers played soccer, my dad too, and when I moved to California, all of my friends were Latinos and we always played after school, during recess, in the afternoons."
He says it wasn’t difficult finding a community devoted to the game in Winston-Salem, thanks to the large number of Latinos in the state.
Everyone in the family plays a role. The family loves the game so much that they created a community league team called “Monarcas,” and Kyle’s mom, Monserrat García, is the team’s coach.
"My mom always had little league teams since I was a little girl. She was the coach," García says. "I would always be riding in the car with at least 15 people to different soccer matches because we were a low-income family. So, in Mexico, so that kids wouldn’t be on the streets, my mom would drive them around or get them into soccer. And that became a part of me. I think that followed me, and I have been doing it and will continue doing it until I no longer can."
The whole family is part of the team, including her sister-in-law, Zee Ventura Velediaz, who’s seen the process and has played soccer since she was a kid.
"It started with the men, my brothers. Then, the kids, and now the women. Monarcas has always been the name. Monarcas is a type of butterfly that migrates from Mexico to the United States."
A big part of soccer’s viewership is comprised of Latinos, and the community made itself known during the Argentina and Mexico match. The game broke a record for being the most-watched World Cup stage match in Spanish-language history, thanks to more than 8 million viewers. The Spanish network, Telemundo, got all the rights to stream the 2022 World Cup in Spanish, and thanks to the large viewership of Saturday’s match, the channel ranked the no 1. network overall, regardless of language, in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and other states.
Betina Cutaia Wilkinson, a Wake Forest University professor who also specializes in sports activism, explains that since Latinos come from so many different backgrounds and countries, soccer serves as a unifier.
"Soccer is what gives them a sense of their identity, right, like their Latino identity," explains Cutaia Wilkinson. "Because in the United States people don't care about soccer that much but I mean, in Latin America soccer is life. If you know your soccer team is playing, you are throwing parties. You are excited for weeks on end if they win, or depressed for weeks on end if they lose."
She says the sport also serves to give hope for many whose countries are going through difficult political times, or have left their country and want to stay connected to their roots.
"I mean especially in Argentina, we have nothing else to look up to. Our democracy is dwindling, our economy is falling apart, there is nothing, so the fact that Messi just did one goal and we lost to Saudi Arabia before, it was hard!"
Back at the Velediaz house, tension is mounting. The family is disappointed when Argentina scores, but they all agree that they have respect for Messi and their team. It’s all in good fun, and watching soccer together is about so much more.
The Velediaz family is a prime example of how community involvement, identity and sports are connected. The generational influence and the devotion to and love of the sport both serve as a bridge for many Latino immigrants and U.S.-born Latinos. Regardless of age, the love of soccer is cultural.
This story was produced by a partnership between WFDD and La Noticia. You can read this story in Spanish at La Noticia.
Eileen Rodriguez is a reporter for both WFDD and La Noticia through Report for America, where she covers COVID-19's impact in the Latino Communities.
Periodista de La Noticia y 88.5 WFDD, Eileen Rodríguez reporta el impacto de COVID-19 en la comunidad Latina en Carolina del Norte. Rodríguez es miembro del cuerpo de periodistas de Report for America 2021-2022