As fans gathered to watch the U.S. men’s soccer team take on the Germans in the World Cup last week at the Steel Stacks in Bethlehem, PA, chants of “U-S-A” broke out like clockwork.
Ralph Juchheim was one of a few dedicated German fans swallowed in a sea of red, white and blue.
“I was born in Germany and I moved to the U.S. in 1995,” said Juchheim. “So now by 2014 I’m actually a dual citizen of the U.S. and Germany.”
Despite all those years in the United States, Juchheim is not torn between home and adoptive counties
“Of course the loyalty goes back to the native country and that would be Germany so my vote definitely goes to Germany,” he said.
Also in the crowd was Edith Hahn, a German native who has spent half her life in America. She says that for her, deciding whom to cheer for isn’t quite so simple.
“I don’t think you have to be completely one or the other,” she said. “We live in a global society now. I feel that I can have my own identity and I embrace both countries.”
Hahn also says wearing a German team jersey in a crowd of American fans can be intimidating.
“I have to say I felt weird coming here because when I got out of my car at the parking lot I couldn’t see any German color. Everything was American,” she said. “If you don’t belong to the big crowd you kind of feel a little isolated.”
Living on the hyphen
These are just some of the challenges faced by those “living on the hyphen,” as in German-American.
Immigrants, expats and multinationals must constantly balance past and current national ties in order to establish their own identity, says Zabeth Teelucksingh, executive director of the Global Philadelphia Association. Her group seeks to build Philadelphia’s international profile and encourage cross-cultural exchanges in the city.
“That hyphen is something that’s not totally defined because you’ve come from someplace else and you’ve morphed into obviously someone different who needs to meld into the current society that they find themselves,” Teelucksingh said.
Teelucksingh is a half-French, half-English Tunisian. She grew up in Bahrain and is now an American citizen. She, as much as anyone, understands how fleeting World Cup loyalties can be.
“My allegiances sometime switch, sometimes change, because so many different places that I can call home or that I feel tied to or one way or another,” she said.
Not just fans
According to Philadelphia Union midfielder Leo Fernandes, the identity conflict also extends to the soccer field itself, where many Major League Soccer players sport varied national ties.
Fernandes, a Brazilian native who has spent the majority of his life in America, says he roots for both national teams, but that choosing between them would be a tough task.
“Whenever Brazil plays I root for Brazil and if USA is playing I definitely root for the USA,” he said. “But if they were to play each other, it’d definitely be a tough decision. Right now I think I would still root for Brazil but it would be a very tough game to watch.” Of course with the American team’s exit from the cup, he won’t have to make the call too soon.
External conflict too
Multinationals often face prejudice and even racism when they don’t cheer for the “home” team.
Wazha Dube, a blogger for Denizen Magazine who writes about multinationals, says he faced this kind of treatment during the group stage, when Ghana, the U.S., Portugal and Germany were all vying to advance to the knockout round.
Dube, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. as well as Botswana, says he was rooting for Ghana because of the Pan-African roots shared by the two countries. The sentiment though was derided by fans of team USA who taunted Dube at a bar.
“We had a couple unruly fans who were a little bit amped up and were shouting for me to go back to my home country,” he said. “I was getting shouted at to go home, which is quite funny because I’m from the [United] States.”
These incidents are not always laughing matters though.
In this year’s World Cup numerous teams such as Mexico, Germany and host-nation Brazil have faced FIFA investigations after fans chanted racial and homophobic slurs at players during games.
Dube still believes that when it comes to being a multinational, the pros outweigh the cons.
“One thing that we all have to learn is not only assimilate but kind of jump into different cultures where you don’t necessarily belong or you look extremely different from other places and how to just express your culture to other people but also learn as much as you can about the other cultures,” he said.
And that cultural exchange goes both ways.
Zabeth Teelucksingh says that for those without split national allegiances, the World Cup provides a great opportunity to be exposed to other cultures.
“For those who don’t know those cultures it’s definitely a chance to dip their toes in and get more familiar,” she said.
Both Dube and Teelucksingh praised how the World Cup can help people transcend national boundaries, whether it be on the soccer pitch or over pitcher of beer while watching a game.
And with the sport’s growing popularity in the United States, there will be even more chances for making those international connections.