DEARBORN, Mich–If you drive down to Dearbornâ€™s Warren Avenue around World Cup time, you might not recognize your destination at first sight.
Instead, youâ€™ll have stop to make sense of whatever isnâ€™t buried under an array of world flags that drape across many of the streetâ€™s grocery stores, hookah cafes, and garage repairs.
Yet as the tournament comes to an end, the flags will come down, productivity will return to its pre-World Cup levels, and Arab Americans will reminisce about the â€˜good olâ€™ daysâ€™ when they could sit together, smoke the hookah, and cheer on their favorite team– a team that most likely hailed from South America or Europe.
There is an irony that presents itself in that Arabs and Arab Americans are some of the most ardent soccer fans in the world, yet they are seldom able to see their native Middle Eastern nations ascend to the world tournament level.
However, while there is typically a lack of Arab representation in the tournament, it has never impeded an Arab American love affair with the game.
Palestinian American, Rola Aquel, is not at all surprised by this. For Aquel, the love of soccer goes beyond a simple nationalistic yearning to root for her homeland country. Rather, it stems from a pure love of the game itself.
Aquel says soccer is an Arabic cultural tradition that transcends generations. â€œI think we developed this love affair from our parents, who probably grew up playing the sport on streets and watching it on their small TVs. Itâ€™s the one sport that was always accessible to them, and now, itâ€™s grown as a passion of ours,â€ Gatorade National Soccer Player of the Year and Dearborn native, Soony Saad, would also credit his parents for introducing him to the sport.
Saad says itâ€™s his father, a Lebanese immigrant, who taught him all about the game. â€œI learned how to walk and kick a ball at the same time,â€ said Saad.
And later in elementary school, the passion morphed into a tradition of father-son bonding. â€œOn Tuesdays and Wednesdays, my father would release us from school early so that we could come home and watch the Champions League soccer games and eat nachos. It was something I looked forward to every week,â€ he said.
While Chaldean American, Jason Hannawa, could never get out of school early to catch the games as a child, he is just as happy to be able to watch the World Cup games as an adult. Having watched over 30 matches in the tournament this year, he says that every game is a reminder of the euphoria he feels when heâ€™s playing the real thing.
â€œItâ€™s an escape from the everyday rigors of life. There is no place for my problems on the soccer field, and I love having that release when I step on it,â€ he said. Hannawa is the voice of many Arab Americans this year who will shed a tear for the end of the World Cup but will also celebrate soccer for what it is—a deep rooted Middle Eastern tradition.