Premios Univision Deportes demonstrates blending of cultures in America
By Seth Vertelney
Plenty of Hispanic figures were honored in Miami last week, but the night’s biggest honors went to a non-Latino from Southern California.
MIAMI — At the first annual Premios Univision Deportes, several of the biggest Latino names in sports were recognized for on-field achievements.
Perhaps the night’s biggest award, however, went to a kid from Southern California with no Latino blood, but who had made an effort to learn Spanish and in doing so, ingratiated himself with the Spanish-speaking community.
Earlier in the night, Univision also honored the head coach of the Mexico national team – a side that plays significantly more games north of the border than in its own homeland.
It was a great representation of the culture blending that is occurring more and more in modern-day America. Other United States-based Latino athletes such as the NBA’s Manu Ginobili, and MLB’s Nelson Cruz and Albert Pujols, were also presented with awards.
Recently retired Galaxy and U.S. national team star Landon Donovan – equal parts respected and reviled by rival fans, especially those from Mexico – was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
For Donovan, who grew up among Hispanics in Ontario, Calif., it was a special honor.
“The week leading up to this I’ve been thinking a lot about all the Latin influence in my life,” Donovan told Goal USA. “When I started playing soccer it was all Latin players, everybody that I played with was from El Salvador, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, Nicaragua, wherever. And so they’ve influenced me a lot. Having the opportunity to learn Spanish and sort of take in the Latin culture has been very special for me.”
Prior to receiving the award, which was presented by MLS commissioner Don Garber, Donovan and the audience were shown a video featuring youth soccer players from all over the USA thanking Donovan – some in English, some in Spanish – for all he had done in his career.
Although they grew up in the USA, some of those kids were likely fans of Mexican club teams and the Mexico national team. This fandom is made possible in large part to the overwhelming popularity of Mexican soccer in the United States.
In 2014, fans of El Tri actually had more chances to see their team in the United States than fans of the U.S. national team. Miguel Herrera’s men played eight matches in the USA, while Jurgen Klinsmann’s side played seven.
Herrera, whose team drew massive crowds to American football stadiums in California, Texas, Arizona, Illinois and Massachusetts among other places in 2014, knows the importance of his side’s rabid fanbase to the north.
“The United States is practically a second home for us,” Herrera told Goal USA. “The truth is the United States is a very important place for us. There are a lot of Mexicans here that like to come and see us, support us and to live with their national team.”
As the popularity of Mexican soccer grows in the United States, Donovan’s retirement represents a bookend of a period where awareness and respect for American soccer grew in Mexico as well – and Donovan was the figurehead of that growth.
From his first national team cap and goal in 2000, to his round of 16 goal in the 2002 World Cup, to his final national team goal in Columbus in 2013, Donovan always seemed to save his best for Mexico.
Mexico didn’t ignore Donovan’s infamy, most humorously when a sombrero, poncho and mustache-clad Donovan starred in a commercial for the Mexican lottery in 2010. More recently, when Donovan was left off the World Cup roster last summer, some of the harshest critiques of Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision came from south of the border.
And so, just a week after his career ended, Donovan was honored by the Latino community in Miami. As the born-and-raised American gave his acceptance speech in Spanish, in a room in the United States filled with talent from various Spanish-speaking countries, it was a fitting reminder that our region is getting smaller and smaller all the time.
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