In January, I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, feasting on asado and drinking myself silly with the endless red wine my cousins and uncles gave me. The occasion was technically a New Year’s festivity with my dad’s side of the family.
But in truth, we were celebrating Argentina’s victory in the World Cup that took place the previous month.
It was Argentina’s third time winning the cup. It was also the first time a South American team had won the trophy since 2002. I’m Brazilian on my mom’s side, so the final also felt as if Argentina had avenged all of South America and former colonialism. Given my heritage, it’s needless to say that I’m a huge soccer fan. I was ecstatic.
When I heard that Lionel Messi, the World Cup’s official MVP, would be joining David Beckham’s Inter Miami soccer team, a wave of emotions hit me.
First, I became sentimental. Like many boys my age, I grew up idolizing Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. They are two of the best players of all time, and, in my opinion, undoubtedly the two best living players. They were the yin and yang.
Ronaldo was the product of pure talent, hitting shots and scoring goals that no one else could score. Messi was a genius, completing passes and scoring goals that no one else could see.
It was a blessing of our generation to have watched them face off regularly during the Barcelona-Madrid days. It is now the end of that era. Both left for less competitive leagues in which they could play out their last years making serious money — with a less serious risk of injury. Ronaldo is currently playing for Al-Nassr, a Saudi Arabian soccer club.
Yet I also felt extreme pride. I may be half-Argentinian and half-Brazilian, but I am a fully red-blooded American. Knowing that Messi rejected better offers for Inter Miami means that soccer in the United States is becoming a bigger deal. My dream is that we continue building our talent pipeline so we can become a serious contender for the cup. Perhaps we’ll face off China someday at a match that will be remembered as this century’s “Miracle on Ice.”
Mostly, I experienced a feeling that is difficult to articulate, but all-too-common among us Latine immigrants. It’s the dichotomy of loving your home country but ending up far away from it.
The Argentinian soccer superstar Diego Maradona spent his prime years in Europe before returning to Argentina’s Boca Juniors for a brief pre-retirement stint. Messi might not even do that, and I wouldn’t blame him. Not only are the beaches better in Miami, but some Argentinian clubs treated him very poorly in his younger years. Two Argentinian clubs reneged on their offer to pay for his growth hormone deficiency when insurance wouldn’t cover it. Spain’s Barcelona swooped in, picked up the healthcare bills, signed him on a napkin and kept the star for the next few decades.
Yet, Maradona and Messi — both emerging from destitute origins — went on to fulfill their lifelong goals of raising that coveted World Cup trophy while wearing Argentina’s jersey. They dearly loved a country that, quite frankly, gave them very little.
On a smaller scale, many Latines experience the same thing. My parents moved to the U.S. for a better life. The opportunities they pursued in their early careers simply do not exist in the Southern Cone.
Years later, we moved back, and I graduated high school in Brazil. I could’ve stayed, but I made a deliberate decision to go back to the U.S. — a decision that has paid large dividends in terms of education and employment.
I am in the United States because, quite simply, I want to be where the action is. I want to learn about major industries. I want to work for world-renowned companies. I want to be exposed to cutting edge technology and novel ideas. These opportunities are increasingly rare down there.
Yet I will always love Argentina and Brazil. I will practice my Spanish and Portuguese so I never lose them. I will continue vibing to Brazilian samba and watching telenovelas. And I will never, ever, give up Mendoza Malbec, the best red wine varietal.
It’s no coincidence that Messi ended up in Miami, a city known as “The Gateway to Latin America.” My family lived there for nearly a decade in a suburb known as “Little Venezuela.”
Miami is where us Latine immigrants congregate. The weather is familiar. You’re only a relatively short flight away from your extended family. You can be a Spanish-speaking, beach-going, BMW-driving, salsa-dancing Latine without actually having to deal with Latine institutions.
Inflation is a single digit. American political instability is child’s play compared to the tumult back home. The jobs here are real, not invented by the government. The infrastructure works and the dollar dominates.
Messi going to Miami is a quintessential Latine experience. It reminds us immigrants of our paradox in which we love home, but we leave it. It reminds me of what my dad used to tell me growing up: “Rafa, party down south, but work up north.”