Latinx Files: Club América and Mexican mythmaking

A photo collage of Club America´s coach Miguel Herrera, his assistant and soccer player Cuauhtémoc Blanco
Club America´s coach Miguel Herrera, top, celebrates with his assistant Santiago Banos, bottom. Cuauhtémoc Blanco, right, celebrates his goal.
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times; Christian Palma; Alfredo Estrella /AFP via Getty Images)

One of the happiest memories of my youth took place on May 26, 2002. On that day, my whole family — with the notable exception of my mom — sat around our television and witnessed Club América overcome a 2-0 first-leg deficit against Necaxa to win the Primera División de México (now Liga MX) Verano 2002 tournament.

The second leg of the final was a nail-biter. After being kept scoreless in the first half, Las Águilas finally broke through with an impressive header by Christian Patiño in the 58th minute. Four minutes later, Iván “Bam Bam” Zamorano would tie up the aggregate score, 2-2. That score would hold for the remainder of regulation. The final would be decided in extra time. By a golden goal, specifically. The first team to score would be declared the champion.

It’s been a little more than 20 years, but I still remember the heavy sense of fatalism in the air that day. It was a foregone conclusion that Club América had made it this far only to lose in heartbreaking fashion. The team had spent the last 13 years since its last title being a perennial contender that always fell short when it mattered. Surely this would be no different.

But it was.

In the waning moments of the first half of extra time, Hugo “El misionero” Castillo headed a corner kick into the back of the net. The home crowd erupted. So did my dad, from his La-Z-Boy in Hidalgo, Texas, close to 600 miles north of Estadio Azteca.

I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen my father cry. That day was one of them. He simply could not contain the unbridled joy coursing through his body. It was a euphoria that came from watching his childhood team, el club de sus amores, overcome a curse that had plagued it for more than a decade.


Such a momentous occasion deserved to be properly celebrated, and before we knew it, my whole family (yes, even my mom) had packed into our car and crossed the border into Reynosa. We found ourselves among the countless cars that had spontaneously convened at Plaza Miguel Hidalgo to celebrate. Some waved flags. Everyone honked their horns. When the commotion finally died down, my dad took us to El Pingüino for celebratory tacos.

I thought of that wonderful day as I watched “Club América vs. Club América,” a six-part docuseries produced by Netflix that tells the history of the greatest club in Mexican soccer (with all respect to the Chivas fans, the Gonzalos, reading this, that statement will remain true until another team wins more league titles).

But what I appreciate the most about “Club América vs. Club América” isn’t that it allows fans to relive the team’s former glory (I will say that the episode that covers the Apertura 2013 final against Cruz Azul, Mexican soccer’s favorite punchline, made me especially emotional). The series also examines how Mexican media giant Televisa (now TelevisaUnivision) built this fandom from the ground up in order to make a profit.

Though founded in 1916, Club América was a middling club during the first few decades of existence. That all changed in 1959, when Emilio Azcárraga Milmo bought the club. According to Héctor Hérnandez, the club’s official historian, Azcárraga Milmo told his newly acquired players that he didn’t know anything about soccer, but that he knew quite a bit about business. From that moment on, Club América would become yet another business under the Televisa umbrella.

Azcárraga Milmo kept his word, transforming a mediocre club into a successful powerhouse that imported players from places such as Argentina, Chile and Brazil to win championships. He rebranded the club, giving the team a mighty eagle as a mascot, and even put his stars on television. Azcárraga Milmo controlled the means of mass communication in Mexico and he leveraged them to boost his club’s profile, turning it into yet another symbol of Mexican institutional power. Azcárraga Milmo created a myth that millions of Mexicans bought into and made a part of their identity.

He also turned the club into the perfect villain, one that represented everything wrong with Mexican soccer and society. Case in point: To this day, many people still believe that the Verano 2002 championship deserves an asterisk. After all, at the time Televisa owned Club América and Necaxa, and the theory goes that the network set it up so the bigger club could win. Love them or hate them, Club América means something to every soccer fan in the old country.

In the new country, too. When millions of Mexicans migrated to the United States in the 80’s and ’90s, they brought their fandom with them and passed it onto their kids. As it stands, Club América is one of the more popular soccer clubs this side of the border, along with Chivas and Cruz Azul. Such is the draw that European clubs regularly schedule friendlies against Las Aguílas in some of the biggest sporting venues in the U.S. because, well, there’s plenty of money to be made.


I’m fully aware that this fandom and sense of identity, this idea of Mexicanness that transcends borders and generational differences, is a construction built to be monetized. I know that when you buy a jersey, you’re paying Nike for the opportunity to express your love for the crest, even if it’s surrounded with ads for big corporations.

But that’s the price you pay, literally, for moments like that day 20 years ago.

Because without Club América, I would have one less thing to talk about with my otherwise stoic father. Without this club, my brother’s kid would have one less thing to tie him to the place where his family comes from (now 5 years old, my nephew has taken to celebrating goals by emulating the legendary Cuauhtémoc Blanco, pictured in the main art above).

I don’t know. Maybe it’s stupid, and we’re all just easy marks to be separated from our hard-earned money. It’s quite possible. But it still doesn’t make this blind devotion feel any less priceless.

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