Monday, April 03, 2006

My Country, Tis of Thee...

Via Eric McErlain, news of some, err, "interesting" stories from Houston. This links in with Laban Tall's comments on other, very similar stories. Put simply, Hispanic immigrants to America are claiming Mexico's "Cinco de Mayo" festival as their own, and celebrating it in a highly exclusionary manner - to the extent of threatening people of different ethnicities.

I was reminded of this when I saw pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge protest against the Sensenbrenner Bill currently going through the US Congress, which proposes huge restrictions on immigration. The number of Mexican flags seemed to massively outnumber those of the Stars and Stripes.

I'm going to link this to Eric's original story, concerning the change of the name of the Houston Major League Soccer franchise. Originally, it was going to be called the Houston 1836 - referring to the founding of the city of Houston. Now, obviously the history of Texas isn't all motherhood and apple pie. But naming a team after a founding year has a good European soccer pedigree (see 1860 Munich, Schalke 04, Mainz 05 and so on and so forth), right down to inventing a history for the club by pushing the 'founding' year principle to its very limits. Moreover, living in a city, you would expect its founding to be somewhat significant. No matter what the history, you would think the inhabitants of a city could rally around that corporate concept.

Not so in Houston, apparently. The name was controversial from the start, and MLS were forced to back down and rename the team the Houston Dynamo - along with a press release celebrating the dual cultures of Houston (English and Spanish) and how well they formed as a unit. Just like a dynamo. How funny!

It's the two cultures thing that gets me. If there is one thing that America is based one, it is a shared political culture. I am not saying it is a culture that is without flashpoints or without tension. But the Stars and Stripes, the Declaration of Independence, and the US Constitution are powerful symbols, powerful documents, and based on powerful principles. Powerful enough, in the past at least, to have united a pretty disparate country - visiting Texas is different to visiting California which is different from visiting Pennsylvania. It takes some pretty strong glue to hold them together.

If that's breaking apart because of immigration, then that's a pretty worrying thing. I'm not necessarily casting blame on one side or the other here, either, because I don't doubt that some of the harshness of immigration laws prevents an effective integration. But deliberately claiming divisive symbols as your own does make matters harder on the other side, too.

Sports clubs are very interesting filters through which to observe these cultural shifts - as, even in America, where they operate as commercial franchises, they are the biggest congregation place for inhabitants. Fans express their own identity through their team. And if the community cannot rally behind a team name supposed to celebrate the founding of their city, then it suggests to me that something is badly wrong.