Little Italy in the Bronx is slowly waking up from the previous night’s revelry. A man wearing a “Kiss me, I’m Italian” t-shirt sets up his makeshift sidewalk kitchen, soon to be selling zeppoles, sausage, and peppers on the main strip of Arthur Avenue. To his left a Mexican family sets up their own stand, placing a small Mexican flag in the front. Every year in June, St Anthony’s feast, an homage to the patron saint of lost souls, draws neighbors and some tourists into the street. The feast’s participants reflect the changing composition of the neighborhood—Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Macedonians, Albanians, and African Americans increasingly outnumber the older residents blaring traditional Italian music, as if to drown out the neighborhood’s changing demographics. After 10pm, the Italian music gives way to reaggaeton, salsa, and rap; brown faces and bodies swaying to its sounds, laughing and playing games. Kids shout at the top of their lungs on rides that spin them round and round.
But at 9am, it’s still relatively quiet. Albanian waitresses are setting up tables outside of cafes, Mexican men wearing white aprons are shuffling in and out of one of the local pizza joint. Albanian cafes and social clubs, the Mexican restaurants that sprinkle the neighborhood and the 24-hour Yemeni-owned stores are the only businesses that are open on this Sunday. This year the feast coincides with the World Cup. I am making my way to the gym on Fordham Road, to exercise and hopefully watch Serbia lose to Costa Rica. I choose an elliptical machine facing a huge flat television screen and yell at it every time Costa Rica misses an opportunity to score. Most of the gym goers are oblivious to the game and give me weird looks. Three South American men huddle around the television in front of me, also rooting for Costa Rica. We make small talk and one of them tells me he is headed home to watch Mexico play Germany.
I remember as a kid how Albanians wanted to be either Italians or Germans when it came to the World Cup. We never qualified, except that one time in the Euro Cup when the Serbian team didn’t allow Albanian fans to purchase tickets for the game, and in retaliation, Albanian immigrants flew our national flag over the stadium. A Serbian player tried to grab the flag to tear it down, a fistfight ensued, and the Albanian team won for the first time ever—on a technicality. But Albanians always root for European teams, save for Serbia. On my way home to watch the game, I spot a young guy draped in the Mexican flag. It’s almost 11am and the Mexican restaurant on the corner is already serving customers glued to the television screen. In the small diner a street away, Mexican workers cook up eggs and bacon with an attentive eye on a small television screen.
Back at my mother’s building, most of the residents are Mexican with a few Albanian families sprinkled in. Usually around this time on a Sunday, the street would be dotted with Jehovah Witnesses in suits and briefcases headed to service. But they seem to have taken the morning off. Instead, I see an older woman and a young kid, like me, running home to watch the game. During the first half Mexico takes charge and scores; roars echo through the building. During half time, I leave to grab a beer from my local 24-hour store. The streets are empty. I find the local florist intently watching the game. “I am so surprised,” she tells me in Spanish, confiding that she didn’t expect Mexico to score on Germany. “They are playing really strong.” She sports a Mexico jersey and claps her hands each time a Mexican player runs with the ball. “I just prayed to God we wouldn’t lose by much and be humiliated” she says, alluding to Brazil’s fate in the previous World Cup. I tell her I hope Mexico wins. I can only imagine what my Albanian cousins would say if they heard me utter such a thing.
Against all odds, and most expectations, Mexico beats Germany, the defending champions, 1-0, and shocks the world. The television screen cuts to people celebrating Mexico’s win. The Spanish announcer on Telemundo says fans are refusing to leave the stadium. On my mom’s block—and I’m sure on blocks all around America and the world—people yell and cheer. This is the first time Germany has lost a World Cup opener since 1982. The Daily Sabah, the mouthpiece of the AKP, immediately denounces Germany’s loss, blaming it on the “racist attacks” on its Turkish players who were insulted by fans for posing with Turkish president Erdoğan during his visit in London in May. The Institute of Geological and Atmospheric research registered an “artificial quake” in Mexico City caused by the “massive jumps” during the Hirving Lozano’s goal. An American based fan tweeted: “Everybody’s invited to the cookout except for Trump supporters, they can eat their unseasoned chicken.” Well from the looks of the crowds assembling on Arthur Avenue, it looks like old Saint Anthony is going to have to share the glory tonight.