My first cultural experience here in South America was appropriately a soccer game. I have been to several major professional sporting events but nothing can come close to the importance and passion these fans hold for their beloved game. The whole stadium was a sea of blue and yellow. The Boca Junior fans rush in hours before the game starts to claim their seats and display their banners. Amidst a sea of confetti and chants the entire game I began to realize that this was more than a sporting event but part of their identity. With each win and loss of their team the fans and supporters of Boca are their sharing in their success and failure. The very passionate fans call themselves player 12 actually associating themselves as a team member.
American sporting events are often an excuse to socialize with friends, grill out, and consume mass quantities of alcohol, but not here not at this game. I learned from some Boca fans next to me, who drove 14 hour from the north all through the night to be there, that to be inebriated in any way was a sacrilege a sin against the team. A true fan, I learned, must me fully aware of what is going on and able to support the team with all of his ability. Not only is this game like a religion and identity to these people it is a means of political expression. During the middle of the game, a huge flag was pulled across one of the sections protesting the paper mills that are being built across the river in Uruguay. A soccer game is a good venue for political protest, because it is a good way to distribute your message to the masses and yet not feel isolated by protesting alone, confidence in numbers. The soccer game is something I will never forget as it helped me understand the cultural and political importance of a field, 22 players, and a rubber ball.