The goal: All you can eat

El Campeon market in Costa Mesa awarding free lunches to those who predict the winning World Cup teams.

June 10, 2010|By Tom Ragan
(Scott Smeltzer )

Leave it up to sports, in this case soccer's World Cup in South Africa, to break down cultural barriers.

In some cases, Mexican Americans are pulling for Mexico's team while Mexican immigrants who have long since become U.S. citizens are cheering on the U.S. squad.

If basketball greats Julius Erving and Magic Johnson forced a predominantly white audience to forget about skin color for the moment and simply see them as fantastic athletes in a sport they truly loved, the World Cup, which begins early Friday morning with a match between Mexico and South Africa, provides a different twist to the polarization that's been sweeping the country lately, sports enthusiasts say.

"Hey, I think Mexico has the better team. What more can I say? I'll be rooting for them," says Fernando Lopez, a carpenter who was eating at El Campeon Carniceria and Taqueria in Costa Mesa on Wednesday. "But that still doesn't mean that the U.S. government shouldn't try to do something about the Mexican people coming across the border illegally."


And so Lopez, whose grandparents came from Mexico but whose parents were born in Southern California, is doing what many fans so often do: Absorb the statistics and cheer with their heads, not necessarily with their hearts.

Hilario Gonzalez, the owner of El Campeon market on Wilson Street and Harbor Boulevard, is going with his heart, and will be cheering for Mexico, his home country, even if he's a U.S. citizen and has lived here more years than there.

He left Mexico nearly three decades ago for a better life in Costa Mesa, where his brothers greeted him with open arms and a better way of life, where all three of them now run a pair of Mexican markets. Gonzalez has started a pool on the first six games involving the United States and Mexico versus other countries, including South Africa, France, Argentina, Uruguay, England, Algeria and Slovenia.

Those who pick the winners successfully will win a free lunch for an entire week, courtesy of Gonzalez, who's owned the market for a decade .

"I'm talking about 'all you can eat,'" says Gonzalez, whose first job in this country was working as a butcher in the late 1970s at age 21. "If you want two big burritos and five different side orders, then you can have them."

Gonzalez said his second-favorite team in the World Cup is the United States, and that he'd be rooting for them if Mexico wasn't in the picture.

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