I am always happy and proud to say I am Argentinean, but every four years, it feels like a privilege to be one. One of the reasons I love the World Cup is because Argentina is thrust into the international spotlight - and in a positive light no less.
I was too young to remember the 1986 World Cup when Argentina won on the back of Diego Armando Maradona. We had just moved to the US when Argentina was runner-up in the 1990 World Cup, and my memories of that Cup are limited but vivid nonetheless. I especially remember watching the semi-final match between Italy and Argentina (Italy was the host nation) in the basement of a friend's house with my dad - both of us under extreme pressure to subdue our urges to scream after a late-tying goal and during the penalty kicks that Argentina ultimately won.
During the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, I was in Argentina and the whole country would shut down whenever the team was playing. After a glorious victory over the hated English in the 1998 quarterfinals, all of Mendoza came out to celebrate in downtown as if we had won the Cup itself.
That spontaneous celebration is something that I cannot fathom happening in the US. Were the US team to win the Cup, I presume that it would be an important news event. But in many other countries, winning the Cup is not a news event - it's a life event. In the US, it seems that those events are always limited - there's a parade in the city of a team that wins the NBA championship, the Stanley Cup, the World Series, or the Super Bowl. So every year, four cities throughout the country have a spontaneous moment of unity. If you have ever been a part of those parades, imagine how that elation would feel if it was a national celebration.
In addition to being a nationally unifying moment, the World Cup as experienced in Argentina is also an important family event - which I am now much more aware of since I have been left to suffer through these games alone. However, even long distances have not mitigated the sense of joint suffering. Before the first game Argentina played last Saturday, I received phone calls from my mother, sister, and both grandmothers. You know it's serious when your grandmother is calling you about a soccer game.