Ghana Soccer Fans Set Aside Ethnic Rivalries

Ghana's Black Star soccer team is set to take on the United States Thursday, in a potentially pivotal World Cup match. Ghanaian immigrants in San Diego are forsaking the ethnic tensions of their homeland to form a united cheering squad.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand. In less than 24 hours, Ghana and team USA meet in a soccer showdown that will likely eliminate one of the teams in the World Cup. The Ghanaian team is surprisingly strong, and they have their fans in this country to thank. Gil Griffin reports from San Diego.

GIL GRIFFIN reporting:

Last weekend, the Black Stars - as the Ghanaian national soccer team is known -became the first African team in this year's World Cup to win a match. But don't dare call Ghana's historic victory Saturday over the Czech Republic an upset. Ghanaian's say it's destiny.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GRIFFIN: For Jennifer Lyaig(ph), a 20-year-old Ghana-born college student, watching her heroes at home wouldn't do. She came to a San Diego hotel with her mother Olivia and a family friend last Saturday to watch the Black Stars shine on a big screen TV in the lobby.

(Soundbite of screaming and cheering)

GRIFFIN: Almost 50 years ago, Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African country to liberate itself from European rule. A black star adorns Ghana's red, gold, and green flag. It inspired the naming of the soccer team. At home, after the match, even though her excitement had tempered, Jennifer Lyaig's national pride hadn't.

Ms. JENNIFER LYAIG (Ghana national): I was born in Ghana, on the soil of Ghana. Just because I'm here doesn't mean anything. A lot of people are born in America and they play for other countries. So, just because you live somewhere doesn't mean you have to go for that country. You still have to remember where you come from, and I come from Ghana.

GRIFFIN: Ghana is the size of Great Britain. It's population is 21 million. There are about 75 different ethnic groups there, speaking almost as many languages. James Almwaco(ph) is a U.S. Navy petty officer stationed in San Diego. He was born in Ghana, and says rallying around the Black Stars tames any inner ethnic tensions.

Petty Officer JAMES ALMWACO (U.S. Navy, born in Ghana): When we are back in our country, Ghana, everybody, you know, goes to their tribes. You know, you don't see that we are really united. But when we are out here, it doesn't matter what language anybody speaks. It doesn't matter what tribe or ethnic group anybody came from. We are all one.

GRIFFIN: About 65,000 Ghanaians live in the U.S.. mainly in cities like New York or Chicago. But even in San Diego, where only a few hundred live, Ghana-born residents can't contain themselves about their team or any other African squad in the World Cup - neighbors Togo and Ivory Coast and also Angola and Tunisia. Almwaco, head of the Ghanaian Association of San Diego, says the support among Africans is mutual.

Petty Officer ALMWACO: We think that we are all the same. We come from the same place. If one of the countries wins the World Cup, everybody in the whole world's going to say yeah, we got a World Cup in Africa.

GRIFFIN: Anani Dzidzienyo teaches Africana studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He's a native of Ghana. He says the continental pride comes from historic under-representation at the World Cup.

Professor ANANI DZIDZIENYO (Africana Studies, Brown University): We haven't had a long history of participating in the World Cup, and so we tend to have a rather importantly (unintelligible) perspective. For myself, for instance, of course, Ghana is number one, but I'm cheering for all the African teams.

GRIFFIN: Another San Diego Ghanaian, Christian Bempong(ph), whose wife Grace owns a store called the African-Caribbean Market, has even bigger soccer dreams.

Mr. CHRISTIAN BEMPONG (Ghanaian native): We're hoping that we can all advance, and the championship will be played between two African countries.

GRIFFIN: With Togo, Ivory Coast, and Tunisia eliminated, and Angola barely hanging on, Ghana's Black Stars may carry the hope of an entire continent. For NPR News, I'm Gil Griffin.

BRAND: And you can get the latest scores, team standings, and explore our interactive World Cup guide. There's that and a lot more at our Web site, npr.org.

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