Jamaicón Syndrome (noun): the sorrow and nostalgia that Mexicans feel when they are far from Mexico.
Think of those things you love the most about your country. Are they the people, the landscapes, its history and culture, your family, or perhaps the delicious food? Now, think how much you would miss any (or all) of them if you were far away from home. I know it might sound kind of stupid, since it's an opportunity to go abroad and experiencing new things, but sometimes nostalgia and homesickness can hit you really hard. Let me tell you a little story. When I went abroad, I brought as much Mexican stuff as I could. I got a box full of traditional candy, a couple of bottles of good tequila, a pair of canned salsas, and of course, the most beautiful Mexican shrine on my desk with different traditional crafts and ornaments. Once I was done, I proudly took a picture of it and uploaded it on my Instagram. Besides all the people saying how gorgeous it looked with the Scottish view outside my window, I got one comment that really left me thinking. My cousin had commented, “Wow, you’re really prepared for when the Jamaicón syndrome hits, aren’t you?” Well, yes, I was!
The Jamaicón syndrome is a common term in Mexican slang to refer to those who, when they're away from Mexico, feel a deep nostalgia when they remember the wonders of our culture and traditions. But what’s the story behind the term and why is it so relatable (at least for Mexicans)? The syndrome gets its name from a very popular soccer player in the 1950s. José “Jamaicón” Villegas Tavares was born in 1934 in a very small and picturesque village in Jalisco, land of the tequila and the mariachi. As most of the population of La Esperanza, from a very early age, he learned the embroidery and textile trade. So, when he finished school, he started working as an embroiderer. However, he had a deeper passion: soccer.
In 1949, he started playing for a local team, but his skills proved to be more than just amateur. In 1952, he was selected to play at one of Mexico’s most famous soccer teams, the Chivas de Guadalajara. Soon, he would be considered one of the best players the country had ever seen. He played for the Chivas for twenty years and won eight championships. He was truly an ace. As a defender, he was impassable, and that made him one of the most valuable members of the team, to the point that he was soon summoned to be one of the elite members of the National team.
However, that invincible streak couldn’t last forever, and his Achilles heel would be shown to the world quite soon. It was 1958 when the team first embarked on a European tour. All eyes were on Jamaicón, who had already made a name for himself in Latin America (he had even stopped the fierce shots of soccer legend Pelé), but the brave Mexican defender was a completely different person the moment he set foot on the Old Continent. He felt uneasy and sad about being that far away from his beloved country. At the end of the day, he was just a young man from a small village who had never been really interested in the luxurious life soccer could offer him.
That same year, Mexico classified for the Football Cup in Sweden. The country was exhilarated, since soccer has always been one of its biggest passions. It was then that the team went to Portugal to play one of their last friendly matches before the Cup. The team was well received and even had a gala dinner in their honor. However, Jamaicón was nowhere to be seen during the party. Legend has it, after some time looking for him the team managed finally found him sitting in the dark garden of their hotel with a deep melancholic look on his face. Why was he feeling that miserable? At the end of the day, he was a star loved by his people, with his whole future ahead of him.
Apparently, he hated fancy parties where he had to pretend to be someone he wasn’t. But above all, he had hated the food. All he wanted were his “chalupas, a few good sopes, or a tasty pozole and not this crap that isn’t even from Mexico.” I know it sounds a little exaggerated, but I don’t blame him (I know what it's like to miss your food). But let’s go back to our story. After some coaching, they finally arrived in Sweden, where their performance, to put it in nice words, was deplorable. They lost 3-0 against the host on the opening game, they tied 1-1 against Wales, and finally the coup de grâce, they were humiliated by Hungary with a horrible 4-0. They were out.
People in Mexico were shocked and disappointed. How had their impassable defender missed eight balls? Defeated, Jamaicón returned to Mexico, where he became once again the hero of his team. That was until 1961, when the National team went to England to play the prior games for the next year’s Football Cup. The odds were already against the team; they were facing the local team who had had a smashing victory of 9-3 against Scotland. They were all nervous, but confident that their recovered star defender was going to stop the shots of the English team. Of course, it didn’t happen. They lost 8-0 in probably the most humiliating loss in the history of the Mexican National Team.
When questioned by the press, Jamaicón said that his poor performance was due to his big sorrow after missing his family, his country, and its delicious food. In his words, “life isn’t life if I’m not in my country.” I kind of understand him, and I bet many out there can relate. Don’t we sing passionately every chance we have, our unofficial anthem, when it says “México, lindo y querido, si muero lejos de ti, que digan que estoy dormido, y que me traigan aquí” (my beautiful and beloved Mexico, should I die far from you, let them say I'm asleep and bring me back to you)? Let’s face it, we Mexicans are a very proud country with a very strong and rich culture, in terms of food, music, folklore, history, you name it, so when your roots are deep in the ground, it’s hard to leave all of this behind. So, yes, although I hate to admit it, I’ve suffered many times from the Jamaicón Syndrome. No matter where you come from, if you love your country, I bet you’ve felt something like it.
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