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Bolivian immigrants use soccer to get in touch with their country June 20, 2009

Posted by miguelsouza in Sports.
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Bolivian women support the teams that play in the Arlington Bolivian Soccer League

Bolivian women support the teams that play in the Arlington Bolivian Soccer League (Photo: Miguel Souza)

Soccer is a crucial element to have thousands of Bolivian immigrants gathered. The most popular sport of South America gives them the chance to meet each other and also to remind them of the homeland they left behind. (versión en español)

By Miguel Ángel Souza

It seems to be a normal day for most of people in the United States, but not for Bolivians immigrants who live in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. The Bolivian’s men national team will face Venezuela this Saturday in a soccer game for the South American World Cup Qualifiers. The match will be played in La Paz, but will give Bolivian immigrants the chance to be with each other and with their homeland.

“Bolivians who live in the United States get excited when the national team plays. They feel as if they were connected with the homeland,” said the Bolivian Consul in Washington, Oswaldo Cuevas. There are 14,583 Bolivian immigrants in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. according to the 2000 Census, but Mr. Cuevas said the number easily reaches 250,000.

A different day

Most of these people will go to watch the game in Bolivian restaurants located in Arlington, such as El Pike and Cecilia. In these places, Bolivians will watch the game as well as eat some traditional foods, like sopa de mani, chicharron, picante and pique macho. Others will meet at home with family and friends to watch the game, to talk and to remember the country they once left behind. Those who have to work will watch the game from their workplace.

“Some of them take a computer to go into the Internet and watch the game. It is not as good as the TV, but it is enough,” said Sandro Ibáñez, an immigrant who has lived in Annandale since the last year. The site http://www.jump.tv/ is also the most useful for those who do not have cable TV.

“I usually go to watch the game with my friends. We all are from different countries, but we enjoy being together,” said Oscar Rodríguez, a Bolivian immigrant who lives in Richmond and works as a foreman in a landscaping company. Most of his friends and coworkers are from Mexico and El Salvador. Even though he is not in touch with many Bolivians, he is always expecting to see the Bolivian national team.

Not just a game

Soccer and summer time for Bolivian families (Photo: Miguel Souza)

Soccer and summer time for Bolivian families (Photo: Miguel Souza)

“Watching a soccer game outside of the country is really important for the people. It is not just a game. It is a means of feeling that you are not so far away from home. It is like a therapy,” said Gonzalo Canelas, president of the Bolivian newspaper Los Tiempos USA, which is printed in Falls Church.

In April, when the team won 6-1 against Argentina, it was like a national party not only in Bolivia but also in countries like Spain and Argentina, where there are about 2.3 million Bolivian immigrants, according to the National Institute of Statistics in Bolivia

“We usually have about 70,000 to 80,000 clicks per day, but when the Bolivian national team plays, the numbers increase. About 100,000 people went into the web site when Bolivia beat Argentina two months ago. Most of them were from Spain and the United States,” said Esmir Cortez, a journalist who works at the digital edition of El Deber newspaper, in Bolivia.

Going back to Virginia, Ibáñez said that soccer goes beyond just watching a game. “It helps us to be in touch every weekend, after five days of hard work. There is a championship in Virginia. It is organized by the Arlington Bolivian Soccer League. There are 20 teams in which not only Bolivians plays, but also people from El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador,” said Ibáñez.

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