The Influence of Soccer on Latin American Culture

A new Spanish class taught by visiting professor Ana Merino explores the cultural influence of soccer—right in time for the Women's World Cup.

As the Women's World Cup kicks off this month, several Dartmouth students will be discussing the games—in Spanish. 

Soccer in the Ibero-American World, a new undergraduate course from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, examines the cultural influence of soccer across literature, film, comics, and media in Spain and Latin America.

Visiting professor and author Ana Merino created and teaches the course, which also explores the history of soccer, including Argentine standouts Lionel Messi and the late Diego Maradona, and new opportunities for women to compete in Spain and Latin America. 

"It's a dynamic class with a broad range of content," Merino says. "We are reading poems by Rafael Alberti and stories by journalists Eduardo Galeano and Afredo Relaño, and we are watching movies—Rudo y Cursi by Carlos Cuaron and The Year My Parents Went on Vacation from Cao Hamburger—where soccer is part of the narrative story. We also discuss mascots, the evolution of stadiums, and the updated FIFA rules which were changed because of COVID." 


Visiting professor Ana Merino teaches Soccer in the Ibero-American World.
Visiting professor Ana Merino (left) teaches Soccer in the Ibero-American World. (Photos by Katie Lenhart)

Outside of class, Merino coordinates opportunities for students to watch games together and practice conversational Spanish. 

"My rule is when I am in front of students, they have to speak in Spanish," Merino says. "Explaining things in another language can be very instructive."

The course caught the attention of Trevor Gee '24, an economics major and Spanish minor who plays on the Dartmouth soccer team. "The class helps me think critically about how impactful soccer has been on the human experience," he says. 


Students conduct research in Berry Library
Brian Arruda '25 (left) and Dartmouth soccer player Trevor Gee '24 look for Spanish-language books in the stacks of Baker Berry Library.

Merino conceived of the course in 2008 when she led a spring break service trip to the Dominican Republic as a Dartmouth faculty fellow. During the trip, Merino and student volunteers brought the Grassroot Soccer program to their work with Haitian migrant families. Founded by Tommy Clark '92, Geisel '01, the program brings young people together through soccer.

"The seed of this course started with Dartmouth," Merino says. "I realized how positive soccer can be in motivating and building communities, so I started developing classes around soccer."

Originally from Madrid, Merino taught at Dartmouth from 2004 to 2009. She left Hanover to create and direct the Spanish MFA program at the University of Iowa, where she is now a professor of Spanish and Portuguese and collegiate scholar. Merino remains in touch with her Dartmouth colleagues, and when she is in Spain, she still conducts creative writing presentations for Dartmouth's foreign study students. 

Merino especially enjoys working with second-year students during their sophomore summer. "It's that moment of life when they are trying to figure themselves out and I love it," she says. "When I was here as a professor, I always volunteered to teach in the summer."

The author of 10 books of poems and three novels, Merino is writing a new novel set in an area like Hanover. 

"It's a very inspiring place," she says. "The students are fantastic. And there is no better place to write, sit, and be creative than Dartmouth in the summer. I've been in Iowa, I've been in Madrid, I've been in many places, but my heart is with Hanover."