Portland has a great soccer team, the Timbers, and I've been attending their matches with my husband, Dave, for a few years now. They're always a lot of fun, especially if you sit in the Timbers army section; they bring it with an assortment of trumpets, drums, banners, and top-of-your-lungs singing. They are a very fun and open group that has grown exponentially over the years and I love sitting with them.
Puerto Rico's soccer team, the Islanders, are in the same league as the Timbers, so they play against each other twice during the regular season. One game is in Portland, the other in Bayamón. The Islanders first played during the 2004 season and I attended the game that was played in Portland. There were a few Puerto Ricans in attendance, judging by the random t-shirts featuring the PR flag that I saw on various fans. I decided not to sit with the Timbers Army, leaving Dave to join his friends in chanting against the Islanders. I just didn't have the heart to cheer against them even if I am a Timbers fan -- not to mention that I also root for the Islanders to win and succeed. In 2005 we missed the Timbers vs Islanders games because we were in Florida, but in 2006 we were back in Portland and were able to attend. This time I sat with the Army, although with the same misgivings that kept me away in 2004.
By halftime, I was feeling like a complete traitor. Clearly people were going to root against the Islanders, but sitting in such a vocal section made me feel like I was no longer straddling the line between my two homes. I was making a choice that I did not feel comfortable making. Dave tried to talk me into staying, because he enjoys it when I come to games with him, but he understood that I was feeling out of place. The last straw came when someone, out of a sense of extreme exuberance just as much as ignorance, yelled out something about "go back to your shacks".
I turned to Dave and said, "I'm leaving." At the same time, Dave was turning around to face the guy, who seemed to be all of 19 years old. Dave is 6'5" and when he wants to, he can look just as warm and inviting as a Mack truck barreling towards you. That look, as well as a "hey, man, knock that off", was enough to get the kid to apologize profusely. He in no way represented the Timbers Army as a whole, but I decided it was time to go sit elsewhere anyway for the rest of the game.
By the end of the match I had met a couple of Puerto Ricans and did manage to make plans to get together with them a few weeks later, which was a nice way to end the night. But later on, when Dave mentioned to another Timbers fan that I had decided to sit elsewhere for Timbers-Islanders games because of my divided loyalties, the person said "Well, you live in Portland now". In other words, I'm supposed to root for the local team and forget about any others. My immediate reaction was to say "If you moved to another city, would you forget about the Timbers?" That this had not occured to this person really surprised me. I assumed that even if they had never lived anywhere except their hometown, people would understand that living away from where one grew up means that sometimes you are torn in different ways between your old home and your new one. I suppose making that mental leap is not that easy. Maybe seeing someone with loyalties that lie in other places makes some people feel like their own home is not being afforded the respect they think it deserves. Regardless, it made the phrase "You're in America now" a lot more personal than I ever thought it would be.