From mid-town Manhattan the R train has a stop at Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, NY. Hop off the subway and you enter a neighborhood deemed the most diverse in the country – Jackson Heights.
Dominicans, Colombians, Ecuadorians and Mexicans are among the nationalities represented in a two block radius where residents are comrades, not enemies.
“Latinos are like family,” a passerby said.
On the corner of 76th and Roosevelt is Los Arrieros – a small Colombian restaurant with regular patrons including cousins Michael Olarte and Hernan Marin, who live in Flushing and are massive supporters of Los Cafeteros –the nickname for the Colombian National Team that means coffee growers.
“By my house, there are not a lot of good Colombia restaurants,” Olarte said. “So we come here for good food.”
The 20-year old Olarte left his native Colombia for the United States two-and-1/2 years ago and lives among relatives. At the time, he was not certain that Colombia would qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Nonetheless, he began to make plans.
“With my cousin, I’m going to Russia to watch the games,” Olarte said a week before the opening match. “I saved for two years to go there. Each week I saved 20 dollars and my family helped me a little bit, too.”
Olarte was anxious to begin his journey secure with high expectations after his side advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“I think Colombia has a very good team,” Olarte said before the team dropped its first match 2-1 to Japan. “I think this year we can do better than the last World Cup. I think we could get to the semi-finals or even win it.”
Marin did not display the same confidence as his cousin.
“I like my team, but I don’t know,” Marin said. “I know they are a good team but I think personally I’m not as confident as Mike. For me, the past team was better than this one. We got to be there by luck – nothing else.”
Colombia finished fourth in the World Cup qualifiers in COMNEBAL, a single point ahead of Chile – one of the notable teams absent in Russia.
Marin emphasized: “I definitely want them to do their best.”
Olarte declared that his confidence in Los Cafeteros is fortified by the players who are plying their professional trade with clubs in Europe.
“Very few Colombian players have been seen in Europe,” Olarte said. “In this Cup, we have the most European players we’ve ever had. They play in Europe on great teams like Bayern Munich, Juventus and Monaco, so we are a little bit excited for the team.”
World Cup debutante James Rodriguez scored twice in a 2-0 win over Uruguay to propel Colombia to the quarterfinals in 2014. He finished with five goals and was named to the World Cup All-Star XI. At the conclusion of the World Cup, Rodriguez left Monaco and signed a reported six-year, 82 million-dollar contract for Real Madrid.
“We got good players like Rodriguez, (Juan) Cuadrado, (Juan) Quintero and (Radamel) Falcao,” Olarte said.
If Colombia manages to escape a group that includes Japan, Senegal and Poland, Olarte has a strong desire to remain in Russia but is not certain of the means.
“I think Colombia is going to pass the group stage,” Olarte said. “Then I’m going to try to stay, but it’s expensive. This is something you wait for a long time. This is a unique experience. I hope I can stay a little longer if they get through.”