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Jul 11, 2024

Victory for Little Colombia: New Yorkers Rejoice After Copa América Semi Finals Win

Colombia’s diaspora flooded Jackson Heights to celebrate their team's Copa América semifinal victory against Uruguay, giving them a shot at a second championship title in over 20 years.

By Rommel H. Ojeda

Esteban, middle, holding a Vuvuleza while celebrating Lerma’s goal. Photo by Rommel H. Ojeda for Documented.

Colombia’s colors swept through Jackson Heights last night as fans, clad in yellow, red and blue, packed the streets to watch the national team play against Uruguay in a high-stakes game to advance to the Copa América finals. 

With 10,468 residents born in Colombia, Little Colombia in Jackson Heights, spanning from 79th to 84th Street on Roosevelt Avenue, is home to one of the largest populations of Colombian nationals in the city. The last time the country had a chance at winning the cup was their last championship win in 2001.

It was not only the restaurants that played the match, but also street vendors. Tomas Mosquera, 54, owner of Mister Buñuelo, a food truck selling buñuelos, or deep-fried round cheese bread, in Roosevelt Avenue listened to the game while serving customers.

“I feel that Colombia will win two to zero,” he said. “We will go to the final and we will win two to zero, as well, because we have a really solid team.” Mosquera migrated from Cali in 1999 to the United States and has lived in Jackson Heights for 10 years.

Tomas Mosquera in his food truck where he sells Colombian staples. Photo by Rommel H Ojeda for Documented.

Johnny Velez, 32, who was born in the U.S. to Colombian parents, said Colombia would beat Uruguay 5 to nothing, similar to the quarterfinals game where Colombia beat Panama in what Spanish speakers refer to as a “goleada,” or a blowout.

Along with Velez’s wife, Paola, 30, who migrated from Bogotá 15 years ago, they dressed their 1-year-old daughter in Colombian colors. “We are representing our country,” Paola said, as the couple walked down Roosevelt Avenue to Leo’s Restaurant and Sports Bar.

Paola and Johnny with their one-year-old daughter. Photo by Rommel H. Ojeda for Documented.

7 p.m.

An hour before the game started, Raíces Colombianas, a restaurant and bar serving traditional Colombian food on 86th Street and 37th Avenue, was already at capacity, with lines of patrons in bright-yellow jerseys forming outside the main entrance. 

Nearby, William Yate, 41, who manages the arepa food truck Qué Arepa, set up a projector to play the game as they began selling arepas to people passing by. 

“Colombia hasn’t given us much hope since 2001,” Yate said, adding that he had set up the projector for the previous matches where the team beat Paraguay, Costa Rica, Panama, and tied with Brazil. “James Rodriguez is the best player in the championship, in my opinion. I think that James is nearing the completion of his career and he has us, Colombians, very eager to lift the cup again.”

Yate said he set up the projector to attract more customers. “I hope the police do not come and remove us; I hope they understand that we are playing the Copa América.” 

8 p.m.

As the game started at 8 p.m., a crowd of more than sixty people gathered outside Raíces Colombianas. They watched the game through the glass door left open by the restaurant. A live DJ was making major announcements whenever a play occurred and hyping the game. The crowd reacted to the game as if they were an extension of the more than 60,000 Colombian fans who attended the game at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Colombian fans are relieved and holding their heads as Núñez misses a goal against Colombia at minute 21:54 of the first half. Photo by Rommel H. Ojeda for Documented.
Fans watched the game through La Nueva restaurant’s glass windows. Photo by Rommel H. Ojeda for Documented.

The game started competitively, with Uruguay’s Darwin Núñez shooting at the goal three times — missing all of them but keeping the Colombian fans on their toes.

Esteban, middle, holding a Vuvuleza while celebrating Lerma’s goal. Photo by Rommel H. Ojeda for Documented.

At minute 35 of the game, James Rodriguez, team captain and arguably Colombia’s best player, took a corner kick and passed the ball to midfielder Jefferson Lerma, who scored with a header, putting Colombia one step closer to the final.

But the victorious chants came to a halt minutes later when Daniel Muñoz was given a second yellow card,  ejecting him from the game and leaving the team to play the second half with just ten players versus eleven.

A Colombian fan watches the replay during the halftime of the game at Pollos Marío restaurant. Photo by Rommel H. Ojeda for Documented.
People watching soccer at the projector that Yate set up earlier, next to the Que Arepa food truck. Photo by Rommel H. Ojeda for Documented.

9:00 p.m.

At the start of the second half anxiety gripped most Colombian fans. A team that loses a player to a red card is 59% likely to lose the game. “He should have done better for the team and behaved professionally,” Henry Peralta, 54, told Documented regarding the foul committed by Muñoz. Although nervous that they lost a player, he said that he was very proud of the team. “We have some faults because we are human, but we deserve the championship.” 

On the streets, people congregate outside restaurants watching the game. Photo by Rommel H. Ojeda for Documented.

Suspense encompassed the crowd for the remainder of the match, gathering an uproar of excitement on certain occasions when either a Colombian player tried to score or the goalie blocked a goal attempt from the Uruguayan team. “Seven minutes is too much,” Peralta responded to the referees’ extra time decision. But when the game was finally over, the crowd broke into ecstasy, dancing, playing Colombian music, and singing the national anthem.

9:58 p.m. — Colombia to face off Argentina

Peralta singing Colombia’s national anthem after they won the game. Photo by Rommel H. Ojeda for Documented.

“Now we are ready for Argentina,” Peralta said, echoing what other spectators told Documented earlier.

The match versus the most recent World Cup champions, Argentina, will take place on July 14 and will be played in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. 

It is the first time the two teams meet in a Copa América final. 

Fans celebrate Colombia’s victory over Uruguay. Photo by Rommel H. Ojeda for Documented.
Johnattan Espino, 16, came from the Bronx to watch the game. “We have a lot of compatriots here,” he said, adding that he has been in the States for two months. Photo: Rommel H. Ojeda for Documented.
A fan draped in a Colombia flag, crossing 37th Avenue among a sea of yellow shirts. Photo by Rommel H. Ojeda for Documented.

Rommel H. Ojeda
Rommel is a bilingual journalist and filmmaker based in NYC. He is the community correspondent for Documented. His work focuses on immigration, and issues affecting the Latinx communities in New York.
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