There’s no better time to revel in Sacramento’s ethnic diversity than during the World Cup, when residents with roots in five continents celebrate their origins with cheers and tears as their national teams rise and fall on the world’s biggest stage. It’s the perfect time to learn superlatives and curse words in a dozen languages, sample international cuisine and bask in national pride.
No one’s more fired up than the Brazilians, especially since Brazil is hosting the international spectacle this year. Whenever the squad takes the field, fans pack the Brazilian Center for Cultural Exchange on Julliard Drive. Every time Brazil advances on goal, Ana Boddy leads the crowd in a charge toward the wide-screen TVs, armed with a long blue horn. Boddy kicks her foot, as if she can propel the ball into the net from Sacramento.
“ Embora, embora, embora!” Boddy screams, Portuguese for “let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”
In the knockout round game against Chile on Saturday, when Brazil had a goal taken away because a player was called offsides, Boddy and several other Brazilian Americans shrieked “ Boha!” an all-purpose epithet. “The way they’re playing now, I just want to slap them silly,” Boddy said as Brazil struggled. “We are the only team in the world with five titles!”
Boddy, a marketing professional in Rancho Cordova who hails from Rio de Janeiro, was one of two dozen or so Brazilians and their sympathizers who filled the Brazilian Center, where samba and zumba classes are held the rest of the week – and sometimes after Brazil scores.
Winning and losing isn’t quite a life-or-death proposition, Boddy said, “But I broke a rib once because Brazil lost. I fell backwards over a couch in Rio.”
All of the Brazilians are focused on Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior – known simply as Neymar – the 22-year-old bad boy who has dyed his hair blonde and always manages to score the critical goal. Several fans wore Neymar’s No. 10 jersey.
“He grew up in the favela,” an impoverished expanse of crowded homes, outside Sao Paulo, said Fernando De Oliveira, a photographer from Recife.
“A lot of people are jealous of him; they think he’s a playboy,” Boddy said. “The whole world sees this guy as irresponsible and wild, while Argentina’s Lionel Messi is seen as a balanced, humble guy.” But the truth, Boddy said, is that Neymar has a good heart. As evidence, she noted that he embraced a child who ran onto the field during a game earlier this year.
Sacramentans from other cultures have gathered all over town during the World Cup run. Koreans and others watched the game at Koreana Plaza. Mexican American fans filled Mayahuel and Zocalo restaurants in central Sacramento.
German Americans watch their squad in the trophy-lined basement of Turn Verein, a cultural hub on J Street in east Sacramento that dates back to the 1800s. Jutta Zumach and Ingeborg Carpenter sit at their own table because they like pounding it so much. Zumach, wearing a leopard-print top, pulled her red hair when Germany struggled against Algeria, then threw kisses at the screen and screeched “ Noch ein tor! Another goal!”
A handful of older Italian Americans at the venerable Dante Club saw Italy outplayed by Costa Rica, which opened the tournament at 2,500-to-1 odds to win the championship. Costa Rica has become the standard-bearer for Central America, said Edgar A. Calderón, president of Babylon MediaWorks, who is from Nicaragua.
“Costa Rica and Nicaragua had been fighting for control of the San Juan River across the border, and (during the World Cup) they’ve become good friends,” Calderón said. “That’s soccer diplomacy.”
Some local Costa Ricans have joined other Latinos at Las Palmas Pupuseria on Stockton Boulevard, which has two TVs for as many as 100 patrons, said co-owner Marvin Alvarado, whose parents are from El Salvador. “Of course we’re pulling for Costa Rica. They were in a group with Italy, England and Uruguay, and nobody thought twice about Costa Rica,” he said. “You see a good work ethic from their coach and their players, and it’s really exciting.”
Berman Obaldia, a Costa Rican from San Jose, the capital, said the team’s ascendance has given the country of 4 million a much-needed shot in the arm. “Playing on the world stage is catapulting our country to new heights,” said Obaldia, the son of a housekeeper who is now a lobbyist and part-time actor. Obaldia said he and about 50 other local Costa Ricans will be watching Saturday’s showdown with the Netherlands at a home in El Dorado Hills. “We’re going up against a dominant team, but things can happen. You’ve heard of Cinderella stories.”
Today, Brazilian Americans of various races and ethnicities will gather around 11 a.m. at the Brazilian Center at 3313 Julliard Drive, along with their sympathizers, to watch Brazil tangle with Colombia. Feijoada – a classic stew of beans, pork and beef – is available for an $8 donation, said Saara Burga, who runs the facility. “We’ll have fresh Caipirinha, Guaraná and cold beers,” she said.
Everardo Zuzu Mendes, a Sacramento veterinarian from Rio who flies the Brazilian flag from his hat, said this isn’t just about Brazil. “Americans need to understand how important this is in the rest of the world,” he said. “It unifies people.”