Camino a la Copa recently connected with "Voices 4 Peru," a team that unites rival gangs through the love of soccer in Lima, Peru.

Courtesy Photo

Camino a la Copa recently connected with "Voices 4 Peru," a team that unites rival gangs through the love of soccer in Lima, Peru.

Camino a la Copa: Wearing your colors

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A businessman wears his suit. A rebel, his leather. And as fans stream into Brazil for the World Cup, it’s more apparent than ever that what we wear is more than just what we put on. It allows us to portray who we feel we are to the world, and in turn, allows the world to classify us.

Camino a la Copa

Camino a la Copa is a group taking a five-month journey from Steamboat Springs to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Read more columns here, and visit www.caminoalacopa.com for more information.

In Bolivia, we discovered a world steeped in traditional native dress. Native women, belonging to the Quechua or Aymara peoples, wear broad, multi-layered skirts, colorful aprons, wool shawls and small hats pinned into their long, braided hair. They carry an unseen load in a patterned blanket tied as a knapsack around their neck.

This is a “look” that clearly has deep cultural significance. They are proclaiming to the world that they are native, even though this can be seen as “backward” or “unsophisticated.” European-blood Bolivians maintain a level of discrimination toward these women, and there are plenty of jokes told at their expense. But the traditional dress remains, as a testament to pride in one’s heritage.

In Brazil for the next month, a mock war between nations will play out. Fans, including us, will wear our nations’ colors and chant against the opposing side. But this conflict is contrived, and hopefully the only violence will be cleats against shinguards in the stadiums.

But recently, in Lima, Peru, we visited a place where wearing colors and carrying out violence is a way of life.

We visited an organization called Voices 4 Peru, which has built a soccer program in a gang-controlled neighborhood called Las Lomas.

Las Lomas is largely ignored by the government and has no running water or sewer systems. As we curved up into this hillside slum, we had to stop and check in with each gang as we passed their territory: “Los 6” wore red, “The Curve” wore blue, and “The Flowers” wore yellow. These boys wear these colors and launch into drug trafficking, extortion and armed violence, tearing the neighborhood into three dangerous shreds.

But when we got to the soccer field, we scrimmaged with former members of all three gangs. Instead of wearing their gang colors, they now wear the same soccer jersey. The boys shook my hand and kissed Jordan on the cheek, acknowledging that they are capable of showing respect and class. Furthermore, they displayed incredible talent on the field, proving to us why they won the league championship last year.

Soccer, in this way, can be a great equalizer. Race and class can disappear, and communities can be woven together. As we celebrate the World Cup in Brazil, I hope that soccer can be a source of shared joy.

Our world is filled with too much violence, political warfare and negativity. When we tune in to sport in its greatest display and allow the rhythm of the game to fill us with joy, we all wear the same jersey.

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