For many immigrants in US, Super Bowl is just another Sunday

Many care more about soccer, the game the world outside the US calls football

For Fanny Lee, owner of the Oriental Pearl Seafood Restaurant, the weekend was more about Chinese New Year than the Super Bowl.
Ray Glier

CHAMBLEE, Ga. — It was 6:35 p.m. EST – kickoff time – and Giovanni Garcia just shrugged at the question, “Don’t you know the Super Bowl is on?”

He widened his eyes, as if remembering the game was something to be taken seriously. “It is today, yes,” said Garcia, a native of Venezuela and a salesman for El Compadre Trucks.

“Who is playing?”

As Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos kicked off Sunday night, many – if not most – in an enclave of recent immigrants were not part of the more than 100 million people consumed by one of the most holy days in American sports.

Fifteen miles northeast of Atlanta, along Buford Highway, arcades teemed with frolicking children, restaurants hummed with patrons and a wedding reception was in full swing. A line of men and women waited to get haircuts.

Did they already know the game was going to be a rout—Seattle 43, Denver 8—and not worth watching anyway?

An hour before kickoff, cars jammed the Plaza Fiesta parking lot. But it was not because people were rushing for seats to watch the game at sports bars or on a public big screen. The vast indoor mall of Latino shops was packed with people – but one minute into the game, just two men were watching it at the Dish Network sales desk in the middle of the mall. One was the proprietor.

“The commercials are nice,” said Garcia, the truck salesman. “Sometimes I will watch for them. They call it football, but it is not the same to me as our football, you know, soccer.”

“We are accustomed to football not so violent as this grabbing of limbs in your football. … I don't watch."

Paul Ntumba

Democratic Republic of Congo

Families came into Plaza Fiesta regularly during the first hour of the game to shop for clothes or turn children loose in the arcades. Fathers did not rush off to find the nearest television to watch the Super Bowl, but instead hung around, like one man who started playing at an air hockey table game with his son.

Hector Rivera, a native of Mexico, manages TYS Performance, an after-market auto accessory shop, inside Plaza Fiesta. He planned to leave his wife in charge and find a television inside the mall for the kickoff. He did not expect much competition for a Super Bowl viewing position in the mall.

“One hundred people here will be looking for soccer on the TV and 10 will be looking for the Super Bowl,” he said. “There are not many like me looking for the Super Bowl.”

The man handling money transfers and the man at the tattoo parlor just shook their heads “no” when asked about the Super Bowl.

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Three miles away at the Oriental Pearl Seafood Restaurant, owner Fanny Lee gave a wave of her hand toward a crowded dining room. The Super Bowl extravaganza was having no impact on her business. The Chinese New Year started Thursday, and a business dinner filled half of her space. The other half of the restaurant was taken up by Asian families out for the evening.

Fanny Lee’s daughter, Doris, said Super Bowl Sunday was just like any other Sunday. There was a wide-screen television on one wall tuned to CNN. A family sang “Happy Birthday” at one table. At another table, as steaming piles of vegetables and fish arrived, no one was peering at their phones under the table trying to catch the score.

“No one said anything about changing the channel from CNN to the game,” Doris said. Then she hurried back to the kitchen.

Outside the Buford Highway Farmers Market, Paul Ntumba, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, leaned against a long line of yellow shopping carts he had just hauled in from the parking lot.

“We are accustomed to football not so violent as this grabbing of limbs in your football,” said Ntumba, 28, a student at the nearby technical college. “Your football is much more violent than our football. I don’t watch.

“I guess I should know the score, though,” he said. “Who is playing? Maybe I can find it on this phone.”

At the Canton House, another Buford Highway restaurant, guests at a wedding reception focused on the bride and groom. Once again, no one was looking under the table to sneak a peak at the game. It was all respectful.

The Sweet Hut Bakery and Café on Buford Highway was bustling with teenagers at the tables lining the wall. The Super Bowl was on the television screen behind the counter, but that was more for a couple of male workers to glance at every few moments.

The Sweet Hut bakery has a Taiwanese/Cantonese flavor and the rich, succulent pastries under the glass showcases drew much more attention from the customers streaming through the doors in the game’s third quarter than the TV.

“The game is not bad for us and the business,” said Rachel Ewe, the daughter of the owner. “You can see we have customers.”

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