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The Geopolitically Pivotal Border Town of Palomas, Mexico

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Driving south from Albuquerque on I-25 is a surprisingly relaxing experience; unlike in Texas or Florida one can drive with the window down without breaking into an uncontrollable sweat. The desert landscape has a calming effect as I keep to the 75 mile-per-hour speed limit, blaring the country music (as always). In my mind, I laugh about the ridiculousness of driving four and a half hours to Puerto Palomas, Mexico. After all, it is a town that will likely be completely as advertised; it is a gritty, dusty, border town, one that a shoddily done Chinese documentary warns is becoming a “ghost town”. Still, due to my love for pivotal geopolitical regions, I know that I have to see it for myself.

 

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Southbound I-25. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Staring out into the stark desert landscape while keeping a rented Nissan between the lines I realize that this is a good chance for me to clear my head after taking care of my father for the last month following his heart surgery. I liken this drive to one I took six years ago from Austin Texas to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, after feeling the need to get away from it all for different reasons. For generations, Mexico has provided an escape from reality for Americans and today I am no different than Jack Kerouac. This famous “escape from reality” has been embraced by country music stars who often sing about Mexico’s border towns in terms of “escape from reality” (Kenny Chesney’s Beer in Mexico and Charlie Robison’s New Year’s Day are two good examples of this phenomenon).

Even if heart surgery and aging parents are the reality, I reason that my journey might also be an escape from banality itself. Albuquerque, New Mexico is—like all the towns I’ve lived in in the United States (Providence, RI; Boulder, CO; Austin, TX; or Gainesville, FL)—full of the familiar sites of extreme consumption that all Americans know: the one street lined with a Target, a Wal-Mart, a McDonald’s, a Burger King, and maybe a Home Depot or a Wendy’s thrown in for good measure. In the end, however, it makes the outskirts of many American cities indistinguishable from one another. While this offers a sense of security for many—which I understand—it is also extremely boring (to me at least). Perhaps this is why I have always sought out the oddest of destinations in my life, from Tashkent to Tangier . . . and now Palomas.

Of course, escaping banality (or reality) comes with a price: the sense of “danger”, whatever it may mean. The United States Department of State “warns U.S. citizens about the risk of traveling to certain parts of Mexico due to the activities of criminal organizations in those areas,” specifically:

 

Chihuahua (includes Ciudad Juarez, the city of Chihuahua, Ojinaga, Palomas, Nuevo Casas Grandes and Copper Canyon): Criminal activity and violence remains an issue throughout the state of Chihuahua and its major cities. Travel between cities only on major highways and only during daylight hours.

 

On 7 July 2017, the U.S. consulate in Juarez, Mexico, said “There is a likelihood of additional violence among drug cartels in the areas of Palomas, Janos, and Nuevo Casas Grandes. Information indicates this uptick in violence is likely to continue through the near future.” Interestingly, the department of state has a similar warning for my other country, Turkey: “Carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time, and avoid travel to southeast Turkey due to the persistent threat of terrorism”. Of course, to me this sounds comical. Yet, this kind of fear is a reality for many in the United States. I recall my dentist, as well of one of my father’s nurses in the hospital, inquire as to whether or not I was afraid to travel to Turkey to do research for my PhD because “it is so bad over there”. This kind of detachment from the world—from “reality”—is harmful to Americans (something I have written about in the past), and thinking about the similarities between Palomas and Turkey (in the eyes of the U.S. Department of State) makes me chuckle as I drive past the exit for Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. It is a fitting name; if the warnings of danger are the “truth”, what will the consequences be?

 

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Truth…Or Consequences? Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

These are my thoughts as I exit off I-25 to Hatch, New Mexico, home of New Mexico’s famous green chiles, before continuing on to Deming and, ultimately, the border. After crossing under the I-10 underpass and passing through Deming I realize that I am the only car heading south on two-lane U.S. route 11 to Columbus, NM. The vast amount of emptiness is shocking and I wonder how people can live in the glorified no man’s land that follows the length of the U.S./Mexico border.

 

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Its a Half Mile to Mexico Amidst the Emptiness. Images Courtesy Of the Author.

 

As I near the border I head into a small parking lot that (apparently) used to serve a duty free shop; it looks all but abandoned now. Outside sits a golf cart adorned with an American flag, waiting to carry travelers across the border. The clientele waiting for the ride says a lot about the broken healthcare situation in the United States, since one of Palomas’ main draws is the availability of cheap prescription drugs and cheap dental care. Judging by the enduring lure of Palomas, Obamacare has not been as successful as its proponents may claim; that American citizens should seek dental care in another country—to combat the rising insurance costs in the United States—is unfortunate to say the least.

 

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Derelict Duty Free. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

I cross the border into Mexico with little fanfare, no one seems interested in me as I emerge onto what is…a dusty main street. Somehow, I am not surprised. Palomas is basically a single street headed south, the side streets branching out to the left and right give way to sandy desert after a couple blocks, constrained by the border fence (which is not quite a wall). Crossing the border the first thing travelers see is the Pink Store, an emporium of hand-made Mexican souvenirs that also doubles as a cross-border cultural exchange according to the Albuquerque Journal. Unfortunately, due to border violence from 2009-2011, most of the other stores in Palomas seem to have fallen on hard times.

 

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The Borderline (Top); The Pink Store (Middle); A Dusty Border Town (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of the Author.

 

I walk down the dusty main drag for a few blocks, past pharmacies and discount dental offices, before returning toward the border in order to exchange twenty dollars for Mexican Pesos. Local money in hand, I go to indulge in the kind of cultural exchange I came for: Mexican food. I head down the first side street headed west, parallel to the border fence, and find a small taco stand. I order off the chalkboard menu in my rudimentary Spanish—learned in West San Antonio—which fails miserably. Luckily a patron asks me, in English, what I would like and kindly translates for me. Apparently they have run out of barbacoa, so I choose a bean and cheese taco instead. As I wait I learn that the lady who translated my order lives in both Columbus and Palomas; though she is clearly Mexican the blonde blue eyed little girl with her looks like what many would call “American”. It is an example of the population mix that makes border areas so fascinating.

 

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Pharmacies and Decaying Buildings Define Palomas, as Well as Some Interesting Street Art. Such Is the Melting Pot of the Border Town. Images Courtesy Of the Author.

 

Sitting down to enjoy my taco with a view of the border fence, I can’t help but think about the illegal immigration debate in the United States. On 5 June 2017 CNN reported that two thirds of the 700 children at Columbus elementary school—on the U.S. side of the fence—live in Palomas. They are children of illegal immigrants who were born in the U.S. before their parents got deported. Because of New Mexico’s state constitution which provides a free education for all U.S. citizens, these children are bussed across the border every day for school. Given the current political climate, outlets like The Atlantic are worried that the election of Donald Trump will change everything on the border.

 

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Tacos With a View Of the Border Fence. Image Courtesy of the Author.

 

To me, the entire debate about illegal immigration seems absurd to say the least. After all—as Palomas shows so clearly—nations have boundaries. I was not able to order my tacos in English because…Spanish is the language in Mexico; it is not the United States. And that is ok, because Mexico is its own sovereign nation. That nations should enforce their boundaries seems—to me at least—very normal. Some accuse people like me, who believe in borders, of being “cruel” or “lacking compassion”. To me such claims lack validity not only because the term “compassion” is relative, but also because in order to understand the situation on the border people must actually visit, interact with people, and be able to empathize. To opine on (southern) border politics from Boston or Seattle (both extremely liberal cities by U.S. standards) is useless, it is an exercise in building moral superiority at best. Two AP journalists who travelled the length of the U.S./Mexico border put it well:

 

What we’ve found, from the near-empty migrant shelters of Tamaulipas state in Mexico to the drug-running corridors of the Sonoran desert, is a region convulsed by uncertainty and angst, but rooted in a shared culture and history unlikely to be transformed by any politician, or any barrier man can construct.

 

Borderlands certainly do have a mind of their own and it is unlikely that a single politician can change that. One of my favorite trips to a border town was to Yuksekova in Hakkari province in southeast Turkey. As the biggest town in a province that borders both Iran and Iraq, Yuksekova represents the meeting point of Turkish, Persian, and Arab culture (not to mention the ethnic Kurdish majority in the province). It is the kind of real diversity that has survived the Ottoman and Safavid empires as well as the modern nation states of Turkey, Iran, and Iraq; it is not the kind of manufactured diversity that typifies urban areas in “Western” civilization. In a sense, Yuksekova—like so many borderlands—is a timeless place. Palomas is no different, but to understand it one must understand people. And that means empathy.

 

While the fact that students from Palomas (who are American citizens) are educated in schools across the border is celebrated by media outlets like CNN and The Atlantic, there are others who disagree, and for good reason. American taxpayers are paying money to educate students from Palomas while the families of the students from Palomas are . . . not paying anything (since they live in another country and are not required to pay taxes to the United States). Of course this is an absurd situation, and one that residents of towns on the U.S. side of the border have every right to be upset about. That this situation is absurd should not be a surprise to anyone, it just takes a little bit of empathy to see things from the perspective of taxpayers in towns like Columbus, NM and Deming, NM.

Similarly, the debate about illegal immigration often devolves into an inquest on the morality of those who dare oppose it. Personally, I believe that illegal immigration is unfair to everyone, not only to residents of the United States, but also to legal immigrants to the United States regardless of their country of origin since illegal immigrants essentially “cut in line”, so to speak. But these are not the only two groups who are treated unfairly by illegal immigration: the illegal immigrants themselves are also treated unfairly. A tragic news story from 24 July 2017 details how ten illegal immigrants savagely died in the back of a truck while being smuggled/trafficked into the United States. If laws regarding illegal immigration in the United States were more strict—and if sanctuary cities (like San Antonio) did not exist—it is possible that this needless tragedy could have been avoided. Had the likelihood of apprehension—and subsequent deportation—been apparent, it is possible that ten human lives would not have been needlessly lost in the back of a semi parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Sadly, the politicians are not asking the right questions and we are likely to see more needless deaths in the name of “diversity”; no-one can try to empathize with those in the truck in order to see why encouraging illegal immigration is far from the moral high ground.

After finishing my up my taco I pay and the lady says, with a voice of resignation, “its cheap here”. I can’t help but feel for her and this broken community. I ask her about sites to see in Palomas and she directs me to the museums on the American side, in Columbus, because Palomas’ museum has closed down, likely because of the violence. Disappointed, I ask for a restaurant recommendation and I am directed to an amazing place. Although some patrons laughed at my West San Antonio Spanish when I ordered, I can honestly say that the steak quesadilla was one of the best I’ve ever had—on either side of the border.

 

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If You Every Find Yourself In Palomas, Support Local Businesses and Find Yourself Eating Here. Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

Walking away from my meal I am disappointed that border violence keeps travelers away from Palomas; without traveling people will never be able to empathize with the hard working individuals whose lives depend on a functioning border culture. Without traveling, these same people will be left dependent on the news of CNN and The Atlantic, who look to sell a story by capitalizing on the tears of a little girl without acknowledging how illegal immigration and drug violence hurt both the United States and Mexico: Mexico gets rid of its lower classes, sending them to the United States, while the United States benefits from an influx of cheap labor. Unfortunately, this kind of illegal immigration does nothing but harm to the honest working class people on both sides of the border; both Mexicans and Americans are hurt by the failure to enforce border security. As if to prove my point, the abandoned shell of an aborted casino appears in front of me, its construction abandoned due to instability. As I explore the rain starts to come down and the streets of this dusty border town begin to turn to mud. I decide to cross back to the United States, passing the Mile 0 sign.

 

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The Aborted Casino (Top); The Once Dusty Streets Turn Muddy (Middle); Mile 0 and Speed Limit 5(!) (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Inside the Customs and Border Patrol building I am the only traveler subject to interrogation.

“Where are you going?”

“Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

“Where did you come from?”

“Rhode Island.”

“That’s a long way…why did you come here?”

“Pure…curiosity.”

“Curiosity? What’s in that bag? Did you purchase any drugs, alcohol, or tobacco?”

“No sir…its just some souvenirs from the Pink Store.”

The customs official has heard it all before and he waves me through. As I amble to the parking lot I take one last look at the border fence. After this short interrogation at the border, it surprises me that the idea of a “wall” should be so strange to people. Then again, I realize that most who opine on the subject—and who do not believe in borders—have likely never set foot in a gritty border town.

 

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Welcome Back…and a Rainbow. Because…why not? Images Courtesy Of the Author.
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U.S. Soccer and the Illegal Immigration Debate

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Following Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the American presidential election there has been a lot of debate regarding his key positions as he reiterated plans to build a wall along the Mexican border and his goal of deporting between two and three million illegal (or undocumented, the term some circles in the U.S. prefer) immigrants. Unsurprisingly, there have been backlashes to Mr. Trump’s proposed policies. The chancellor of Cal State University vowed to not deport students as campuses nationwide planned protests while the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) said that his department would not assist in deporting illegal immigrants.

This debate has—unsurprisingly—spread to the football field but not in the way that many may have anticipated. Despite media hyperbole designed to turn the 11 November 2016 World Cup Qualifier between Mexico and the United States into a political event, nothing of note materialized. The Miami Herald emphasized that there was no anti-Mexican sentiment in the stadium, and it was business as usual when Mexico went on to win 1-0 with a late goal courtesy of Rafa Marquez.

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U.S. Fans Hang a Political Banner At the Match (Top) While an Unidentified Mexico Fan Wears a Mask of U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump (Bottom). Both Images Are Taken From a Very Readable Piece That Appeared on MLS’ Website. The Piece States Some Things Mainstream Media Won’t Dare Mention, Such as one Mexican American’s Comment That “I was born here, but I’m a first-generation American. My family is from Mexico and normally I support Mexico when they play, but when it’s US vs. Mexico, I’m USA first. When I was born and raised, my mother was all, ‘We speak English at home. You’ve got to integrate yourself into society.'” Images Courtesy Of: http://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2016/11/18/us-mexico-fans-find-joy-refuge-common-ground-columbus-word

Reading the news, I was left wondering why on earth the match was expected to elicit any sort of political response. Aside from the fact that (state) media wants to emphasize division by reporting in certain ways, there is no reason that policies aimed to promote legal immigration and discourage illegal immigration should be seen as an attack on Mexico specifically, or any other country for that matter. Unfortunately, the media is not that nuanced.

I myself as a graduate student in a PhD program have heard the perspectives of those fed by this kind of biased reporting that drives division. I have been told that, since my mother is an immigrant, I should not agree with increased border enforcement. I answer that my mother is a legal immigrant who came to the United States to study and who eventually got a PhD so as to fulfill here dream of becoming a professor. I have been told that the most Nobel Prize winners have been immigrants. When I stress legal immigrants, the other side ceases to argue. The enforcement of borders is a normal policy the world over; when on a family trip to Norway I saw armed soldiers standing guard at the docks so as to ensure that all tourists returned to the cruise ship. I have been stopped by police in Sofia, Bulgaria, and asked to produce a passport so as to provide some sort of documentation in order to prove that I entered the country legally. Interestingly enough, none of this seemed strange to me. Although I dream of a world with no borders (since I enjoy traveling), I also realize that this cannot become a reality until all countries abolish borders.

The saddest thing in the debate is the fact that the American public is woefully uninformed, either because state media has a penchant for churning out extremely biased stories or because Americans have little knowledge of the rest of the world; I had a fellow graduate student tell me that he could “just walk across borders in Europe”. When I told him that he still had to enter the European Union at some point in order to do that, he was shocked. While I cannot fault this perspective—after all, travel is a privilege and a luxury—I can fault the media, since it does a dis-service to all those that would like neutral reporting. The media is complicit in pushing a false narrative that being against illegal immigration means being against all immigration. A good example of this kind of poor journalism is Al Jazeera America’s articleAl Jazeera America’s articleAl Jazeera America’s article about the American 2014 World Cup team which says:

The composition of the team reflects the shifting profile of the North American athlete and the migratory patterns that the U.S. government has so fervently attempted to restrict. Sixty percent of the roster is composed of first- or second-generation Americans, five of whom were born outside the U.S. The team could field a starting lineup of 11 players with direct ties to Mexico, Colombia, Haiti, Germany, Norway, Iceland, Poland, Latvia and the Philippines; 14 of the squad’s 23 men trace their roots through five continents.

This article implies that America’s strength—not only in footballing terms, but in social terms—lies in its acceptance of immigrants. It is a sentiment that I wholeheartedly agree with. But—and this is a huge BUT that is often ignored—that immigration should be legal. This is because I believe that illegal immigration is inherently unfair and unequal. In a democratic society the goal is—ostensibly—to make people equal. Obviously, given certain structural issues, this is a fairly utopian view but it is one that is necessary to further the myth of democracy; those of us living in such societies have no choice but to buy in. The unfairness of illegal immigration stems from many factors. It is, first and foremost, unfair to the countrymen/women of the illegal immigrant; they arrive illegally while others follow the legal route. It is also unequal to other foreigners; those that follow the legal routes to a visa or citizenship are actively being subverted. A third inequality that results from illegal immigration relates to the job market. If one is undocumented, they will work for any wage they can get. Unfortunately, this means that others—particularly poor African-Americans and poor white Americans—get pushed out of jobs since illegal immigrants are essentially competing with poor Americans for the same jobs. This is an inherent contradiction within American politics; illegal immigration is championed at the same time as racial equality even though it is clear that this means a loss of—and lack of opportunity in—jobs for many minorities in U.S. society.

The media do not take such a view, which is important to note since their stories are what drive the narrative of events in the United States. The LA Times reported that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was “expressing concern that mass deportations would hurt the Southern California economy, which he said is dependent on the labor and tax dollars of noncitizens”. The fact that a city in the United States should be dependent on the “labor of noncitizens” is, frankly, absurd and shows that something needs to change. Business Insider also wrote an alarmist piece documenting the economic disaster that may befall the U.S. if mass deportations of undocumented labor does indeed occur. They cite a study by the American Action Forum, described as “a nonpartisan, center-right-leaning think tank”. The study concludes that “Overall, removing all undocumented immigrants would cause private sector output to decline by between $381.5 billion and $623.2 billion. This translates to a 2.9 percent to 4.7 percent reduction in total annual output from the private sector”. While this would clearly mean a big hit to the U.S. economy, the article makes no reference to the fact that there might be unemployed American workers who could fill in and take the jobs of the undocumented deportees. Also, the article does not note the possibility that undocumented laborers who have not committed crimes—and are merely working hard to provide for their families by legal means—might be given documentation and therefore be allowed to continue working (a position that I support). In short, the media’s portrayal of a “crackdown” on illegal immigration is highly alarmist—and not just in terms of economics.

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But Who Is To Say That These Jobs Cannot Be Filled? After All, Relying on Illegal Immigrants For Jobs Is Exploitative Of the Undocumented Workers. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.businessinsider.com/cost-deporting-undocumented-immigrants-study-2016-5

Business Insider also published a piece that underlines the possible violent consequences of this crackdown not only in the United States, but in Central America as well. The article notes that many deportees have few connections to their home countries, and that they will just try to return the the United States if/when they cannot find employment in their home countries. Business Insider also warns that “these people would also fall prey to criminal groups — transnational gangs like Barrio 18 or MS-13 — that have turned northern Central America and parts of Mexico into war zones […]The consequence of deporting many immigrants — a number of whom were already criminals — to countries emerging from a period of war with weak law enforcement and little economic development was the growth of groups like Barrio 18 and MS-13, both of which have their origins among immigrants in California who were deported”. A professor of political science is quoted as saying “Honduran and Guatemalan gangs were aided by deportations as well as the spread of gang influence from El Salvador […] So, in a way, deportations were extremely important to the emergence and expansion of criminal groups like the MS-13 and Barrio 18”. Now, this article raised two important questions to me. The first is “As an American and Turkish citizen, what do I care about how deportations affect Central American countries?”. The second is “if these people are indeed violent gang members—or even have a proclivity for violence—then why would I want them to continue to stay in the country?”. A logical response would be…A president’s job is to take care of their own country and that violent people should not be on the streets. Seems sound, right?

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The Article Is Misleading; Homicides are Decreasing in Two of the Three Countries and I Would Argue That This Says More About Domestic Problems In The Triangle Than U.S. Policies. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.businessinsider.com/problems-with-donald-trump-deportation-plan-and-gang-violence-2016-11

As I have said, the media has a way of skirting the truth. When a former U.S. official is quoted, he says “as a result of that [U.S. deportation policy], we have created a disaster in Central America … where these gangs are fighting among each other, creating a massive migration of individuals into the United States”. While the deportation policy might have been one cause of “disaster” in Central America, I would argue that the true cause runs far deeper. Perhaps this is just another cause of blowback; American meddling in Central America during the Cold War and the policy of “kingmaking” by imposing and deposing strongmen by way of military coups hindered the region’s development so that most of the states are, now, unstable. This is why, for me at least, an abandonment of the notion of “empire” by the United States could lead to a more stable world in the future.

This is not solely a political blog, this blog is also about sports and I will bring the topic back. The main thing is that this kind of reporting misses the fact that there are some real issues regarding the consequences of illegal immigration. In October 2016 an illegal immigrant youth soccer coach was arrested in Texas for molesting eight of his young players. As someone who believes in the value of youth sport—and as someone who has coached youth soccer before—this kind of story is tragic. Soccer will forever be associated with the heinous crime of molestation for these young children, and no one has the right to soil the beautiful game in this manner. As long as the media continues to frame the possible U.S. immigration policies under a President Trump as “racist” or “xenophobic” we will never be able to actually discuss the problem maturely, robbing us of a chance at productive dialogue. The truth is that some—certainly not all—illegal immigrants are a problem and that a solution needs to be found. Allowing people like the alleged molester Marcos Ramos to stay in the United States is not only bad for Americans, it is also bad for Mexicans and other immigrants from Central America since people like Mr. Ramos feed into the creation of harmful stereotypes. Let’s hope for more productive discourse in the media on this topic sooner rather than later.

Top Five World Cup 2014 Shirts and Top Five Classic World Cup Shirts

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Although I am not a huge World Cup fan since the tournament has become the definition of industrial football and mainly a cynical money making machine in recent years, I still can’t ignore the shirts. With the games in full swing I thought I would do what some sites have been doing and rank the top five shirts from World Cup 2014, along with the top five from the past World Cups that I have watched. As with everything on this blog all opinions are my own, so don’t be offended if your favorite shirt—or team—does not make an appearance. Personally, it is always hard to rank the newer shirts because the old ones hold a special place in my heart but here goes nothing.

 

World Cup 2014:

Number 5: Japan (Adidas)

Japan 2014 World Cup Home Kit (1) Japan 2014 World Cup Home Kit (2)

Japan 2014 World CUp Away Kit 4 Japan 2014 World CUp Away Kit 5

Images Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/06/exclusive-japan-13-14-2013-2014-2014.html

 

The “electricity” colored away shirt obviously needs no explanation, but the blue home shirt has a few details that make it, in my opinion, one of the best shirts of the 2014 World Cup. The rising sun motif around the badge is special, giving a sort of Japanese authenticity to the shirt. On the back, however, is a pink stripe that gives this jersey a unique detail that—when seen in person—really gets your attention. Adidas did a nice job with the socks as well, carrying that color through the kit instead of leaving it as a one-off detail on the shirt. It also harkens back to the red used in Japan’s 1995-96 kit, manufactured by Asics.

 

Numbers 4 and 4.5: Cameroon Home (Puma)

Cameroon 2014 World Cup Home Kit

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/10/unique-cameroon-2014-home-and-away-kits.html

Ghana Away (Puma)

Ghana 2014 World Cup Away Kit 1

Images Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/11/ghana-2014-world-cup-home-kit-leaked.html

 

This is really a tie, and I chose to include both because each team’s other jersey (Cameroon Away and Ghana Home) are too light colored to see any of the details which make the darker colored shirts so special. Apparently the design on the Cameroon shirt is taken from cave paintings, with “Les Lions Indomptables” written across each line. This comes from the team’s nickname, “The Indomitable Lions”.

Ghana’s away shirt is a similar design, this one with Ghana’s nickname “The Black Stars”. The sleeve details are also good looking—while not being as eye-catching as the Kente design on the home shirt, the dark red is just too nice of a color to be ignored. I might still prefer Ghana’s 2012-13 kit (the fade is something I enjoy in shirts) but this year’s is still a unique piece produced for Ghana, and that is worth something in itself.

 

Number 3: Belgium (Burrda Sports)

Belgium 2014 World Cup Home Kit Belgium 2014 World Cup Away Kit Belgium 2014 World Cup Third Kit

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2014/02/burrda-belgium-2014-world-cup-kits-jerseys.html

 

This is the only shirt in this World Cup manufactured by the Swiss/Qatari company Burrda Sports—perhaps they’re getting ready for 2022? All three of these shirts carry elements of the Belgian flag, with the black away version the best looking in my opinion with the red and yellow sash across the chest. Belgium are being picked by many as a dark horse; while the outcome of their World Cup campaign may be uncertain one thing is certain—they’ll look good, win or lose.

 

Number 2: Germany (Adidas)

Germany 2014 Home kit Adilite 1 Germany 2014 World Cup Away Kit (1)

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/05/germany-1314-2013-2014-world-cup-home.html

 

Germany’s white home shirt has a “V” design around the neck, which doesn’t represent too much of a change from their jerseys in previous years. The away shirt, however, represents a completely new move for “Die Nationalmannschaft”. Even if the red and black hoops and collar buttons make this shirt reminiscent of a rugby shirt I still found it extremely attractive when I saw it in person. In 2006 Germany moved to the black and red color scheme for their away shirts before moving to black for the 2010 World Cup. I think this represents the best Germany away shirt since they moved away from their classic emerald green kits (the Irish-looking green of Euro 2012 doesn’t count for me).

 

Number 1: Russia (Adidas)

 

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/11/russia-2014-world-cup-home-kit-leaked.html

Russia 2014 World Cup Away Kit (1)

For me, Russia’s away shirt is without a doubt the best jersey in the 2014 World Cup, and I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment. Just below the collar is a view of the earth from space which then fades into white. Of course, this is in memory of the Soviet space program and Yuri Gagarin—the first human being in space. This shirt, of course, has a political connotation as well considering recent developments in Russia. As Putin looks to re-assert Russia’s strength in the modern era, this shirt advertising the greatness of Russia’s past on the world stage makes a bold nationalist statement. It will be interesting to see if this shirt starts a trend of countries visually representing their histories on football shirts—football shirt nationalism by using elements of The Modern Janus Theory (made famous by Tom Nairn).

 

 

Classic World Cups:

Number 5: Nigeria World Cup 1994 (Adidas)

Nigeria Home and Away Kits World Cup 1994

Image Courtesy of: http://kirefootballkits.blogspot.com.tr/2011/10/nigeria-kits-world-cup-1994.html

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Dancin’ the night away–in pajamas?!

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footballfoundout.com/top-five-worst-world-cup-shirts-ever/

I have no idea what this design is but it is definitely unique. Perhaps this was the beginning of the trend of providing special designs for African teams that we see now, since I have never seen this design used in any other team’s shirt. The white version looks a little pyjama-esque (hence its ranking as the ugliest World Cup shirt in history on one of the above lists) but, for my money, its still an unforgettable shirt. And that is what I look for.

 

Number 4: Croatia World Cup 1998 (Lotto)

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.croatiaweek.com/tag/brazil/page/3/

 

This shirt really needs no introduction as it is a piece of history, one of many legendary designs worn by Croatia since 1996. What makes this shirt special is the fact that just half the shirt is checkered. No one will forget Croatia’s historic run to third place while wearing this shirt, fueled by legends Davor Suker, Robert Prosinecki, and Zvonimir Boban (whose kick, some say, started a war). I’m counting on Bosnia-Herzegovina to make a similar run in this World Cup, even if their shirts aren’t quite as special.

 

Number 3: Mexico World Cup 1998 (Aba Sport)

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Luis Hernandez makes another World Cup disappointent look good

Image Courtesy Of: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1936489-mexicos-best-and-worst-world-cup-jerseys/page/4

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.oldfootballshirts.com/en/teams/m/mexico/old-mexico-football-shirt-s3660.html

 

A few lists, including the one at the link above, have cited this shirt as one of the best World Cup shirts of all time and for good reason. This shirt is in Mexico’s classic shade of green with an interesting detail unique to Mexico: printed into the fabric is a design of the Aztec calendar. While this year’s Mexico design by Adidas is among the better designs on display this summer, I still think that nothing can come close to the France ’98 kit.

 

Number 2: USA World Cup 1994 (Adidas):

US national team defender Alexi Lalas jumps in the Roy Wegerle

Alexei Lalas jumps for joy at World Cup ’94, Roy Wegerle isn’t sure what to make of his kits

Images Courtesy Of: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_spot/2014/05/19/u_s_soccer_denim_kit_the_horrifying_true_story_of_the_ugliest_jerseys_in.html

 

This shirt has been derided by so many that it feels funny posting it as the number two best shirt—please see articles at Mashable.com and Slate.com for more on this shirt (albeit from a negative angle). Personally, I do not see why this shirt has so many critics–as you can see above, Alexi Lalas seems more than enthused to be wearing the shirt (!) even if Roy Wegerle gives us a more bemused expression.

The point of a football shirt, in my opinion, is to represent a country in a unique and instantly recognizable way. For me, that is exactly what the United State’s 1994 kit did. The denim look was certainly unprecedented, and it is true that it bore no relation to anything Adidas had—or has since—produced. But it was unique. In fact, it was uniquely American. As a kid watching the 1994 World Cup in I didn’t even notice the denim factor—I just thought it was a blue background with white stars, a representation of the national flag, which is fine. And for those critics of this shirt, I’d like to point out that if a USA shirt need be criticized the USA away shirt for the 2014 World Cup (a shirt I myself own) looks more French than it does American.

I would like to think that like a fine wine, football shirts also get better as the years go by. That sentiment is confirmed for me by the number one shirt on this list . . .

 

Number 1: Germany World Cup 1998 (Adidas)

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Image Courtesy of: http://37.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lwcb1unOX11r6mwuno1_1280.jpg

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Klinsmann et al make bracing for impact look good . . . or at least half-way decent

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/worldcup2010/article-1282545/John-Motson-Ten-greatest-World-Cup-games.html

And now we come to the shirt that—I think—is hands down the best shirt in World Cup history. If Helen of Troy’s face is the one that launched a thousand ships, then this is—undoubtedly—the design that launched a thousand kits. After Germany made this Adidas “basket weave” pattern famous the design became a staple for Adidas kits around the world between 1995 and 1996. The reason this kit in particular is so stunning is that the bold colors of the German flag really jump off the shirt’s white background and right into the viewer’s eyes. Adidas really did their country justice with this well designed shirt, a shirt that hasn’t lost any of its luster twenty years on.