Edit: This interview was taken prior to the Orlando attacks. Pancho Villa’s Army recently reached out to state that members were saddened by the tragic events and demonstrated their support in the fan fiesta and during the moment of silence in last Sunday’s match against Venezuela.
Although Mexico has so far done very well in the Copa America Centenario, off the field, there have been many debates and squabbling over one key problem: The infamous goalkeeper chant from El Tri’s fans.
After fines from FIFA last month, who stated that the chant was homophobic, the Mexican Football Federation has responded with the #YaParale campaign to end the shouts from the stands. The campaign, which also features a video of Mexico’s goalkeepers asking aficionados to stop, has recently been backed by El Tri supporter group Pancho Villa’s Army.
In a press release last Thursday, the organization announced that it would seek to end the chant within the Mexican soccer fan culture in the United States. Soccer Nation’s Cesar Hernandez recently caught up with Sergio Tristan, the leader of Pancho Villa’s Army, who opened up about his decision to help the cause.
SN: For those who don’t know, tell us a bit about Pancho Villa’s Army.
Tristan: Pancho Villa’s Army is a Mexican soccer supporters group based in the U.S. and it’s composed of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who love Mexican soccer and culture. We get together to party and enjoy Mexican soccer whenever the national team plays.
SN: What inspired the decision to support El Tri’s “Ya Parale” campaign?
Tristan: It’s time. The whole idea behind a supporters group is that we support our team, regardless, through good times through bad times. It really has come to the point where our team has suffered because of a chant that people think is historic, which it’s not. Personally, I think it is a homophobic term and we should refrain from shouting it.
With that regard, it doesn’t matter whether you think it’s homophobic or not, at the end of the day, the team is going to be affected.
SN: What do you say to those fans who say that the chant is “traditional” or an infringement of free speech?
Tristan: I would tell them that it’s not traditional. It started around like 10 years ago during an Atlas-Chivas game. It’s not a tradition. If saying curse words or derogatory words is a tradition, it’s not a tradition that I would want to be a part of.
To me tradition is our food, our language, our culture, our music, that’s tradition. Nobody is taking away our rights to ranchera music, tacos, or our ballet folklorico. They [FIFA] are asking that we refrain from using what some people consider to be a profane word.
SN: Do you believe there will be a time when the chant is gone from games in the United States?
Tristan: Yeah, for sure. Here is the unfortunate part, there is a historical context that people miss. This is potentially going to be a generational change. It’s going to take time, it’s going to take one fan at a time, but it will be eliminated. There are times when people that say “That will never happen,” but it will.
“The Berlin wall will never fall,” and it did. “Communism will never fall,” and it did. It’s just something that could potentially take some time and it might be quicker than we all thought. I know that we want to be leaders in that change.
I think where American fans and the American gay and lesbian community have made a mistake, is ignoring the context of the relationship between Mexicans and Americans. They forget that, from the perspective of the Mexican people, the American has always been an oppressive person or person of governing towards Mexicans. You come down and say “all of you are homophobic, you need to change it now,” regardless of whether people agree or do not agree with you, they are going to become entrenched.
Because, one, that’s just human nature. And two, the historical context behind the relationship between Mexicans and Americans leads to that entrenchment from people. I think there is a bit of a thing to explore there, because it’s just human nature.
You tell someone not to do something, and then you talk down to them.
That automatically puts you on the defensive. Instead of some of these people reaching out and looking for organizations like ourselves — to talk at the grassroots level, to engage the fan at their own level, because who better to engage a Mexico fan than a fellow Mexico fan — [inaudible]
I don’t think people really care, I really don’t. I think people don’t care about the chant itself, I think people care about being told what to do. That’s what I think is going to be the problem moving forward.
SN: Do you feel as if you and Pancho Villa’s Army could potentially have an influence in those fans south of the border?
Tristan: I would hope so.
I think people are missing what the objective is. If the objective is to eradicate the the word in Mexico and make them understand that the word “puto” is a homophobic word, I think that’s an impossible task right now.
I think you can’t get to the task until you complete the first task, and the first task is to eliminate it from the stadiums. By doing that, and taking it out of standard, normal language, by removing it from the stadium, I think you can begin the conversation of changing the mentality.
People need to focus on what the real objective is, and the real objective is, in my opinion, to eliminate the chant from public displays at soccer stadiums.
Here’s what really bugs me, and I hope you put this in there. We are getting just as much hate from Americans saying “you don’t really believe it’s a homophobic word, you just want to make sure Mexico doesn’t lose points.” Well, we are approaching a topic in a way that the Mexican fan will understand it immediately, and they [Americans] fail to see that.
Instead of trying to work with us and discussing it with us, and understanding our perspective in how we are trying to approach a problem — that they have no cultural perspective about — they’re bashing us. To me, that is more detrimental than the criticism that I get from the Mexican fans who are saying that we are “weak” or that we have no “balls” to stand up to FIFA.
To me, that is more detrimental. Those fans are more detrimental, those comments are more detrimental. All that does is it entrenches the people who are against eliminating the chant and the gritos from the stadium.
That really is the thing that I want to get across. These Twitter trolls are saying that we are only doing it for points. Well yeah, because that’s how you approach it at a grassroots level to begin with. You have to show them consequence, you have to take the first step, and we are taking that first step. No one else is taking that first step. Because we took a first step and it wasn’t the first step that they wanted us to take, now it’s not enough for them. I think that is part of the problem.
I think it will be a matter of getting those kids who are 15-18 years old into the stadiums. Those kids will be getting into the stadiums pretty soon and those kids are more aware of the gay and lesbian community and are more comfortable with it. I think it will be 3-5 years when they start making an impact in the stands and this thing is done.
It might be even less, we have big plans for Nashville [the site of Mexico’s next scheduled friendly] and we hope to make deeper inroads into the discussion. Nashville is on October 8th, and that gives us more time to plan a demonstration that’ll show our support. I really want to help put this behind us as a Mexico fan and as a person of Mexican decent. This word doesn’t describe who we are and what our culture is truly about.