Wow. What an amazing run. Yesterday, I took the afternoon off from work to make my way down to the viewing party at Centurylink. The event center was packed. I think there were over a thousand people there. The atmosphere was lively and loud! The crowd chanted “USA USA USA” and “I believe that we will win” in what has become our rallying cry this World Cup. It was spectacular. Amazing. Unforgettable!!!
And we lost.
Despite losing to Belgium, I am incredibly proud of our US Men’s National Team (USMNT). The past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster ride for me, to say the least. Though there’s still a couple more weeks left in the World Cup, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what Asian Americans can learn from the our USMNT.
Sometimes being the best doesn’t mean you’re good enough. Landon Donovan is without a doubt one of the greatest American soccer players ever. Period. So when Jürgen Klinsmann cut Donovan from the team roster, everyone thought he was crazy. It was a huge gamble.
Then our team went on to beat Ghana, outplay Portugal, survive Germany, and break a couple records—Dempsey’s 30 second goal and Howard’s 16 saves in a game. Not only that, we did it all without our target forward Jozy Altidore, who lasted just 20 minutes before his World Cup ended.
Klinsmann put together a team that was able to compete. More importantly, our boys supported each other and stepped up whenever it was needed. When Fabian Johnson went down after 32 minutes against Belgium, DeAndre Yedlin came in and gave an inspiring performance.
I’ve previously written about a pattern of Asian Americans pursuing traditional careers like doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers. These careers are seen as the “best” by parents for a variety of reasons like high perceived salary or respected social status.
Lesson #1: Yes, we have great doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs within the Asian American community, but a vibrant, healthy community needs everyone to realize their full and unique potential. A community without creative artists and poets, strong leaders, caring social workers, and other careers, is flat and one-dimensional–sort of like England’s defense. Equally important, our community needs to support each other in order to have widespread success.
Not everyone thinks we’re “real Americans.” There was a lot of controversy earlier this year with the number of “immigrant” players on the USMNT. For example, Business Insider wrote that the USMNT has 11 immigrant players, including starters like Tim Howard, Jermaine Jones, and Jozy Altidore. However, Politifact looked at these claims and found that “none of these 11 individuals are considered immigrants by the United States, they’re all actually natural born citizens.” In fact, “six of the players were actually born in America.”
When I tell people I’m watching the World Cup, they always ask me which team I’m rooting for. “The United States, duh!!!” It makes me wonder if they’d ask me that question if I were White. I’ve written about the issue of Asian Americans being viewed as foreigners before. You wouldn’t believe the lengths we have gone to prove to the rest of the country that we are genuine, patriotic Americans. We started wearing sunscreen and recycling, talked about our “feelings,” gave up meditation because it too exotic, and practiced meditation when yoga became hip.
Lesson #2: Being White or speaking English natively isn’t the same as being American. If the motto for the USMNT is “One Nation, One Team,” the motto for the United States should be “One Nation, 319 million people and counting.”
Invisible and flying under the radar. For decades, the USMNT has been invisible on the world stage. No one took us seriously. Many analysts didn’t believe the USA would even survive the “Group of Death.” But we did. Not only that, we outlasted Spain, England, Italy, and Portugal…just to name a few. Suddenly, the world is taking notice at the grit and perseverance our team has shown.
The same can be side of Asian Americans; we’re invisible when it comes to sports. Sure, we have some recognizable names in individual sports like golf (Michelle Wie), figure skating (Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan) and tennis (Michael Chang). But when it comes to professional teams sports, we’re nowhere to be seen. Though Jeremy Lin has been a great example of a successful Asian American athlete, there are plenty more out there with skill and talent. We just need an opportunity to compete.
Lesson #3: The USMNT never quit. Ok fine, maybe they took a little break during the last 30 seconds against Portugal, but overall our guys played their hearts out for 90 minutes, over and over again. Asian Americans need to keep pushing and go a full 90 too, especially when the odds seem stacked against us.
Our numbers are growing. World Cup viewing parties are popping up all across the country this year, from California to Alabama. Next door to my work, someone even rented out an empty office for the month just to host a World Cup pop up. The New York Times wrote that “television ratings in the United States blasted through ceilings, surpassing those of the N.B.A. finals or the World Series.” Soccer has suddenly become a mainstream sport and not just relegated to youth leagues and moms with minivans. “Fourteen percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24 said professional soccer was their favorite sport, second only to the N.F.L., according to Rich Luker, who runs a sports research firm.”
Likewise, the US Census reports that since 2010, Asian Americans have been the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the United States. As the population continues to grow, and Asian Americans become more civically engaged, it will become harder for elected officials and other policy and decision-makers to ignore the needs of our community. This issue isn’t exclusive to Asian Americans though, many minorities continue to be marginalized and invisible, such as refugees, immigrants, and even women.
Lesson #4: Size and numbers alone aren’t enough to move the needle in society by wide margins. If Asian Americans want to move beyond the perception of being a perpetual foreigner, it is critically important that our community becomes active in the civic process and make our voices heard. We can do this by voting, writing our elected officials, leading community organizations, and more. At the same time, it is important for our systems and institutions to recognize that the Asian American community isn’t homogenous. We’re varied, diverse and popping up everywhere, from California to Alabama.
So there you have it. American soccer is on the map. Even though our brand of soccer is by no means the prettiest, we showed the world the good ‘ol American spirit; our “can do” attitude and never quit mentality. Of the 209 countries that make up FIFA, we were in the final 16. To all of the folks who ever doubted our team, I dare you to do better. Now who wants to get some bubble tea with me to celebrate a win for America!?