Joe`s Immigrant Assimilation Acid Test: The Super Bowl
February 01, 2008, 04:00 AM
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Every year at just about this time, I plan a brief lesson for my English as a Second Language class that centers on the Super Bowl.

I do this for several reasons.

  • First, it`s part of an ongoing, light-hearted (but only occasionally successful) effort to get my students involved in Americana.

  • Second, practicing conversations about the Super Bowl breaks the tedium of grammar workbooks.

The lessons are nothing heavy. I put a US map on the black board to point out where the New England Patriots and the New York Giants play. Few students have the slightest idea that the Eastern U. S. even exists. To most, the country ranges from Bakersfield to Sacramento

Before long, I`m looking at a sea of blank faces and glazed-over eyes. I realize even before starting that the students have no interest in the Super Bowl. If it were played in their back yard, I doubt they would watch.

But I gently persist. I suggest mastering these simple sentences:

  • "Who do you think will win the Super Bowl?" or "Who do you like in the big game?"

  • "The Patriots will go undefeated."

  • "I like the Giants in an upset."

I`ll play with this a little every morning, asking the students who they think will win. And after a few days, they`ll be able to answer.

But none are engaged enough to actually watch the game–as a couple of quick questions the following Monday morning confirm.

Three years ago, two well-educated Russian women enrolled in my class. On the eve of the Super Bowl, they told me that they considered American football a big bore. And as long as we were on the general subject, they felt I might as well know that they would rather starve than eat a hot dog.

Two great American traditions trashed at once!

I was disappointed in their reaction, because it`s not at all in the spirit of becoming an American.

Nowhere is it written that you have to be a sports fan to be a good American. But it certainly helps create a positive impression when immigrants have at least a passing interest in the centerpieces of our culture, frivolous though they may be.

Here`s an example from my own past that demonstrates how a foreigner can make himself welcome by demonstrating that he cares about a different country`s traditions.

Over the last three decades, I`ve traveled to Australia five times. I have a kinship with Australia, admiring it for its beaches, bohemian attitudes and overall friendliness.

But its national sport, cricket, has always posed challenges for me. Whenever I visit Australia, cricket season is in high gear with the World Cup looming. The continent is gripped in cricket mania.

I could easily have said, "I don`t know anything about cricket and I haven`t the slightest interest in learning."

But I realized that such a rude remark would not get me invited anywhere. And it looked to me like people were having a lot of fun revolving around cricket. The pubs were jammed and the newspapers and televisions offered non-stop coverage. People buzzed about the Aussie cup chances at the breakfast buffets

Why wouldn`t I want to be part of the excitement?

I noticed that the slightest indication of interest on my part—"Could you please explain what just happened?"—endeared me to the locals out of all proportion.

Without too much effort, I found things to like about cricket—even though the subtleties remain forever elusive.

That tiny Sri Lanka is as capable of winning the World Cup and can compete successfully against a giant nation like India amazed me.

And I appreciate the idea that, unlike the Super Bowl, the entire day doesn`t have to be devoted to cricket. A fan can turn it on while still lazing in bed, have a long swim, enjoy a leisurely brunch, take an invigorating nap and then tune in late in the day to the same game still in progress! 

You`ve got to love that!

But, despite sincere efforts on my part, I`ve concluded that Americans are genetically incapable of mastering cricket rules. And I further confess that I agree in large part with an observation made by one of my traveling partners: "Cricket is just like baseball—only more boring!" 

But you`ll never catch me saying that out loud in Australia. When I`m down under, I`m rooting hard for Australia to bring home the World Cup.

Some readers may dismiss my fixation with sports as a guide to immigrant assimilation as ramblings of a shallow, Western male.

To them I offer the example of my Sicilian grandmother whose pastimes once she came to America were watching Guiding Light  and rooting for the Dodgers, first when the team was in Brooklyn and then when it relocated to Los Angeles. Unlike many Dodger fans, my grandmother held no grudge when the team moved west.

No one expects immigrants to provide an in-depth post-Super Bowl analysis of what went right during the game and what went wrong. And, pointing back to my own experience, just an indication of interest may be enough to pass my acid test.

After all, if the Super Bowl is significant to most Americans, then it should be important enough to immigrants to watch it at least once.

Being an American involves more than passing a citizenship test, enrolling your kids in school or paying taxes.

Unlike a native-born American who doesn`t know the difference between a golf ball and a tennis ball, immigrants have to prove themselves.

I`m sorry. That`s just the way it is. Please don`t come to America and tell me that our national pastimes are foolish and unworthy.

Assimilating isn`t hard—or at least it shouldn`t be. Quite the opposite; it`s fun.

Invite a few friends over, put out some chips, pour soda and turn on your television sets. But this time instead of popping in a foreign language video, turn on the Super Bowl

Presto: for a few hours at least, you`re just like 100 million other Americans.

[VDARE.COM full disclosure: immigrant editor Peter Brimelow admits to being inattentive to football AND cricket, although his citizen child son is an enthusiastic offensive guard—whatever that is.]

Joe Guzzardi [e-mail him] is the Editor of VDARE.COM Letters to the Editor. In addition, he is an English teacher at the Lodi Adult School and has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.