The Mexican flag is back on the streets of Los Angeles after several years of political exile.
Four years ago, Miguel Haro was among half a million people who marched for immigrant rights in downtown L.A. At the urging of organizers and Spanish-language disc jockeys, he left his Mexican flag at home and waved an American flag instead.
But with the World Cup in full swing, Haro proudly has affixed his Mexican flag to his Toyota RAV4 and cheered for the team of his parents. The American flag is fine for politics, he said, but this is soccer.
“My allegiance is to America, no doubt about it, and I’d think I wouldn’t have to prove it,” said Haro, a 25-year-old utility worker. “But when I wave the Mexican flag for soccer, it’s strictly cultural. It’s showing I’m proud of my Mexican background.”
The red, white and green banners hang from cars on the freeway, wave inside countless bars and eateries during games and are even held proudly by cyclists riding through downtown L.A.
With the Mexican team having survived preliminary rounds and scheduled to play Sunday against Argentina in the Round of 16, fan loyalty–and flags–are likely to be at a highly visible peak.
During the World Cup, sales have been brisk for South Korean flags as well as countries with big soccer followings such as Brazil, England and Spain. Displays of those banners are largely noncontroversial.
But the Mexican flag is different. The American political debate over immigration–illegal immigration in particular–is largely a debate over Mexicans. And few symbols in that debate have carried as much political weight as the Mexican flag.
“Showing your heritage during a sports event,” he added, “is very different than showing your heritage in a controversial way during a political demonstration.”
Activist Javier Rodriguez, 60, said he didn’t argue for replacing the Mexican flag with the American one at major rallies. But he was not happy about how the Mexican flag came to be demonized by some.
“The flag just infuriates the other side,” he said.
Rodriguez said immigrant-rights organizers have debated the polarizing effect the Mexican flag has at large gatherings since at least 1994, when Proposition 187 was on the ballot. But the 2006 downtown rally was the most dramatic example of the move to replace the Mexican flag with the American flag at rallies because the event was so well organized and received so much media attention.
Jorge Ramos, a 41-year-old fast-food worker, walked underneath a replica facade of the governor’s mansion in Guadalajara in Plaza Mexico, toward a rendition of the Angel of Independence statue in Mexico City. His sons, ages 3, 5 and 10, clutched Mexican flags.
“It reminds me that we’re far from home, but we always have Mexico in our heart,” Ramos said. “We’re here, and we have to become accustomed to this country. My children are American, and this country has given us so much, but they have Mexican roots, and they shouldn’t forget that.”