THE HEART OF the debate over illegal immigration comes down to the problem of assimilation. For many of us who generally oppose the silent invasion from the south, if those who broke the law to come here acted as if their true loyalties were with the United States, then much of the fire in this highly combustible subject would be doused.
While at first glance it may seem an odd place to find enlightenment on the issue, the local TV ratings for games involving Mexico and the United States in the ongoing World Cup may provide some of the best evidence yet of where Spanish-speaking immigrants' true loyalties lie.
Take each team's two first games, one on a weekday and one on a weekend. If you combine the local "rating" (the total percentage of households in the entire Los Angeles TV market that watched on either the Spanish or English broadcasts) for each of the Mexico games, you get a 28.1. If you do the same for the two games involving the USA, you get a 19.8. What does that tell you? Simply put: There are far more fans of the Mexico soccer team in the L.A. market than there are passionate supporters of the USA squad. Now, if Mexico were much better than the USA, the assimilation apologists could argue that L.A.-area soccer fans were just more interested in watching a superior product. However, going into the tournament, both countries were rated about the same, and the U.S. opponents -- the Czech Republic and Italy -- were far more compelling teams to watch than Mexico's opponents (Iran and Angola). And yet far more soccer fans in L.A. have tuned into the Mexico games. Can we not conclude that this team preference is a very powerful indication of one's national identity and loyalty?
Some may argue that you can be a bigger fan of the Mexican team than the USA and still think of yourself as an American first. But as someone who was born in Germany and who would root for Germany against anyone but the USA (and would be far more likely to watch the USA play than tune in for Germany), it is very difficult for me to comprehend such divided loyalties. This is especially true in the context of the heated Mexico-USA soccer rivalry, which is becoming one of the sport's more intriguing contests, on the field and off, given such nasty incidents as Mexican fans chanting "Osama" at the American players not long after 9/11.
Even more illuminating than the overall ratings for the World Cup games is the comparison of the ratings for the Spanish and English broadcasts. The ratings for the Mexico games on Spanish TV (Univision) dwarf the numbers for the USA contests on the same network. The combined Mexico rating on Spanish TV is 21.7, compared to just an 11.8 for the USA games. So not only do L.A. soccer fans strongly prefer to watch Mexico over the U.S., they also overwhelmingly prefer to do so on Spanish-language TV. I realize this is not a wholly scientific measurement of assimilation -- some bilingual fans might prefer the Spanish broadcasts -- but the numbers are so overwhelming, it is hard not to see in them a community's resistance to assimilation. According to Univision, during the Mexico-Angola game (for which streets were closed and police in riot gear were brought in to Huntington Park), Latinos were more than 20 times likelier to watch the game in Spanish than in English.
The very next day, for the USA-Italy game, Latinos who watched (far fewer did, even though it was a Saturday) were only five times likelier to view it in Spanish. In fact, the Latino audience watching the USA-Italy match in English was actually more than twice the number of Latinos who watched Mexico-Angola in English. Why is this so important? Because here we clearly see a direct correlation between a Latino being more comfortable with English and having a vested interest in the fate of the USA. If that doesn't encapsulate the issue of assimilation, I don't know what does. Although these numbers do offer evidence that some Latino immigrants are indeed becoming Americans, it appears they are almost as outnumbered these days as German soccer fans must be in England.