In March, as college basketball teams competed over the NCAA's highest honor, my family was more invested in a different sporting event: the World Baseball Classic. This fairly new tournament — this year marked its third edition — brings together 16 national teams from five continents for two weeks of play. The winning country is proclaimed the "World Champion" of baseball.
While I enjoy a good ball game as much as the next gal, the reason I was so interested in this tournament was not necessarily based on a love of America's favorite pastime. I followed the World Baseball Classic because Cuba, my birth country, was playing and I wanted to support my national team. My Venezuelan husband Tony was rooting for his burgundy-and-yellow-clad national team. In the end, neither of us got to prance around our house and gloat to the other about being world champions; the Dominican Republic walked away with that honor.
The United States also participated in the tournament and — although they ended up in a different pool and never had the opportunity to play against Cuba or Venezuela — I am pretty confident that, should that head-to-head confrontation have surged, Tony and I would have been rooting for the countries of our birth instead of the country of our citizenship.
Don't get me wrong; I love this country. My parents brought me here when I was 9 and I feel just as American as those who were born here. I have no desire to return to Cuba, regardless of what happens there politically. I vote. I cherish the Constitution. I get goose bumps when I hear the "Star Spangled Banner." But I also love Cuba, and preserving my Cuban heritage is profoundly important to me. I speak Spanish to my children, make fried plantains on a weekly basis, and lead impromptu dance parties in my kitchen to Celia Cruz's salsa music. To me, cheering for Cuba in an international tournament is another way of celebrating that heritage. A way of exhibiting pride in where I come from.
But the World Baseball Classic is minuscule in comparison to the mother lode of international sporting events — the World Cup. Although the next one isn't until summer 2014, World Cup fever is steadily rising as teams go through the qualification process. Unfortunately, Cuba's soccer team is deplorable, but Venezuela has a chance of qualifying for the first time in history this year and my family is strongly supporting its team. This is a consistent pattern I've noticed among my immigrant friends living in the United States: When it comes to soccer, they support their country of origin over the U.S. national team.
Is it right for me to root for Cuba or Venezuela over the country that has provided me with so many invaluable opportunities?
If I think about it only in terms of the opportunities the United States has given me, then it could be argued that it's not fair for me to root against someone else. But what about all the opportunities I and the millions of immigrants here have created for this nation? After all, many of the baseball players that represented foreign countries in the World Baseball Classic also play in the U.S. major leagues. They are hitting home runs and winning the World Series for cities like Boston, Chicago and New York, even though they hail from places like Santo Domingo, Caracas and Havana.
I can't say that the United States has always treated its immigrants with dignity and respect (see: the broken mess that is our current immigrations system), but I believe that what makes this nation remarkable, what attracts immigrants to this country, is that system of mutuality. Immigrants benefit from living in the U.S. just as much as the U.S. benefits from having immigrants here. Our sense of national pride and desire to maintain our heritage only improves this nation. America — a country founded on the principles of freedom — isn't weakened when we root for foreign national teams in sporting events, it is strengthened.
Just as with sports, I experienced a great sense of cultural pride when Richard Blanco, a Cuban-American poet, read at this year's presidential Inauguration. Like me, he grew up juggling his Cuban heritage with his American citizenship. The last verse of his poem sums up what it's like for all of us after the game, regardless of what team we rooted for.
"We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always — home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country — all of us —
facing the stars
hope — a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it — together."