Hip, hip, hooray! – Cheering and National Identity

If we want to know what a country’s culture and psychology are like, we just have to listen to how its inhabitants cheer. Whether formally during national holidays or casually in sports events, each country has a particular way of celebrating their identity and that of its people, with almost ritualistic phrases that strengthen the bond between citizens. The words, the tone, the accompanying claps or movements, even the melodies used to cheer on the country are a reflection of its people, their history and their national identity.

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For example, the crowd in the USA needs nothing more but their country’s name (“U-S-A! U-S-A!”). Simple and repetitive, it is one of the most popular cheers in almost every country. For instance, “Me-xi-co!”, although our country tends to say it faster, followed by three claps and whistles. Some countries play with their country’s name, like Hungary’s “Ria-Ria-Hungária!”. It doesn’t mean anything, but it sounds well, similar to the popular Mexican cheer of “chiquitibum”, invented by a football player when he heard the sound of a moving train, and the rest of the cheer are just sounds that went well together.

On the other hand, some countries use longer, more serious phrases, almost poetic in their meaning, like Taiwan (“Tâi-wân ka-iû, chhut-thâu-thinn!”, “go Taiwán, we shall rise above the horizon!”). These longer phrases sometimes echo the country’s political past, such as the famous Mexican “el pueblo unido jamás será vencido” (“the people united will never be defeated”), or Ireland, Scotland and Wales’ national phrases. These countries’ relationship is of sibling rivalry, but they share a historical past as British dependencies, and that’s why the national cheers are similar in intention and meaning. Ireland has “Éirinn go Brach” (“Ireland forever”), present in the St. Patrick’s Batallion flag and as a chant for Ireland’s independency. Wales has “Cymru am byth” (“Wales forever”), the slogan of a political party that seeks to preserve Welsh culture. Scotland has “Alba gu bràth” (commonly “Scotland forever”, literally “Scotland until Judgement Day”), which was William Wallace’s battlecry and is now a frequently Heard phrase during Independence referendums.

Poland has “Niech żyje Polska!” (“long live Poland”), but also has the more poetic “Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła” (“Poland is not lost yet”), born during World War II as a chant of hope. Some countries actually ended up forbidding certain expressions because of war events, such as “Deutschland über Alles” (“Germany above all”) because it relates to the Third Reich. Similarly, Spain no longer uses “¡Arriba España!” (literally “Up with Spain!”) because it is associated with Francoism. Also, following their authoritarian regimen tradition, oriental countries tend to occupy imperatives, such as China (“Zhōngguó jiāyóu”, “Go China!”) or Japan (“Ganbaré Nippon”, “Do your best, Japan!”). Mexico sometimes uses this (“¡Vamos México!”, “Go, Mexico!”), but more spontaneously, especially at the beginning or in the turning point moments in sports events.

Some countries use personality traits or values in their cheers. For example, Italy reminds itself to be strong and brave (“Forza, Italia, coraggio!”), just as Mexico reminds itself to give it their all (“¡Con todo, México!”, literally “with everything, Mexico”). Reminders of the countries capabilities are also common, like in Malaysia (“Malaysia Boleh!”, “Malaysia can!”). This is reminiscent of Mexico’s “¡sí se puede!” (literally “it can be done”, commonly “we can do it!”). Other countries use humor as part of their cheers. For example, a popular Chilean cheer is “¡Chi-chi-chi, Le-le-le, en el mapa no se ve!” (“Chi-chi-chi, le-le-le, you can’t see it in the map!”). This speaks of South America’s lovingly self-deprecating humor. Sometimes, the cheer is an inner joke for the country: in Australia, an individual chants “Aussie, aussie, aussie!” and the crowd replies “Oi, oi, oi!”. It seems to mean nothing, but it references how Australians speak.

However, one of the most popular national cries, especially in countries with a long story of revolution, is “Viva + (the country’s name)”, which roughly translates into “may the country live”. Almost every country has a variant of this, starting with “Vive la France!”, which was the battlecry for many a French revolution. It is not strange that Mexico adopted this cry, given that it adopted many revolutionary French ideas as inspiration for its independency, which we celebrate these days.

¡Viva México!” is a very short, simple phrase, having only two words, five syllables, ten letters. It is one of those phrases that live at the tip of any self-respecting Mexican and that prompt an almost automatic “¡viva!” (“may it live!”, an affirmation of the first part of the cheer), in an exchange as natural as “thanks – you’re welcome” or “excuse me – no problem”. It is such an important phrase that it is present in our national holiday, as a cry that erupts from every Mexican throat at once to celebrate our independency as a nation.

But what is, really, “Viva México”?

Is it words that only make sense for us, like Australia’s?
Is it a request for change, like France’s?
Is it a declaration of our capabilities, like Malaysia’s?
Is it an invocation of courage, like Italy’s?
Is it a perseverance imperative, like Japan’s?
Is it a reminder of hope, like Poland’s?
Is it an echo of our historical past, like Ireland’s?
Is it a wish for progress, like Taiwan’s?
Is it just a cry of national pride, like USA’s?

It is all of these, and it is a celebration of our country and ourselves as Mexicans.
If we don’t cheer on ourselves, who will?

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