Beyond El Barrio: A student’s response

Alyshia Gálvez, Assistant Professor of Latin American and Puerto Rican Studies at Lehman College, wrote to us recently to share a fascinating essay written by one of her students during her summer course, “Latinos in the US.” After assigning the edited volume Beyond El Barrio: Everyday Life in Latina/o America, Professor Gálvez received an extraordinary response to the fourth chapter from student, Ivan Waldo, who agreed to let us share it on our blog…

“Becoming Suspect in Usual Places: Latinos, Baseball, 81 and Belonging in El Barrio del Bronx” by Adrian Burgos, Jr. and Frank A. Guridy asserts a position that racial perceptions of a little league baseball team comprised of Latino players ultimately fueled the backlash and investigation into their pasts, that surrounded the team. Burgos, Jr. and Guridy also assert that the racial historical context of the New York Yankees from the Bronx, where the little league team was also based from, are connected. Their work is littered with “examples” of supporting “evidence”. I disagree with certain assertions made by the two authors, and of the overall assertion of their paper.

I was raised in a family culture of Yankee fanatics, my paternal and maternal grandmothers, mother, various aunts and uncles all were lifelong die-hard Yankee fans, to the degree that my mother won a tri-state Daily News contest for the biggest die-hard Yankee fan, and was awarded tickets to the 2003 World Series between the Yankees and the Florida Marlins for her real life tale of how she was 9 months pregnant (with me), and going into labor, but refused to leave her seat at Yankee Stadium until the final out. I knew the Yankees’ roster like I knew my name. It was only natural that I pursue playing baseball, playing in little leagues until my parents couldn’t afford to keep up with equipment costs and registration fees. To satisfy my yearning for baseball, I became a little league coach, and taught youngsters everything I had learned, and learned the administrative, and political, aspects of little league baseball. Using my experiences and knowledge for a frame of reference, I can not conclude that racial perceptions of the little league team comprised of Latinos fueled the resentment directed at them.

“Such narratives gloss over the Yankees organization’s long history of racial exclusion, not just African American players but also Latinos… Latino and African American Yankees have either been completely excluded from histories of the Bronx Bombers or have been relegated to the background…(pg 87).” “It was not until… the 1990’s that the Bronx Bombers faithful fully embraced a Puerto Rican or Latino star.” This is untrue. There are several players of color that have long been celebrated by Yankee faithful and their on the field achievements acknowledged by the organization, such as Chris Chambliss in the 1976 ALCS, Reggie Jackson (too many achievements to recount here) had his own candy bar and a Reggie Bar day, Willie Randolph 6 time All Star and Yankee captain, Luis Tiant a Cuban born player and centerpiece of the film “The Lost Son of Havana”, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey… There were a number of notable players of color who were warmly embraced by the Yankee faithful. It is unfortunate that their embracement did not coincide with winning seasons, the Yankees languished at the bottom of their division for the 1980’s and half of the 1990’s. Their inability to win did not detract the fans from their support of their players, including those of color. The absence of recognition of their achievements coincides with their losing seasons, players on major sport teams are recognized for winning championships, something that escaped the Yankees during that period, and escaped Burgos and Guridy’s research.

“Investigative searches to establish Danny Almonte’s ‘official’ age retraced the transnational paths that tens of thousands of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans travel annually.” This is irresponsible journalism. There is a distinct difference between the governmental records and their recognition of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico’s administrative records comply with U.S. Congress’ bureaucratic oversight, which essentially is an extension of U.S. government. The Dominican Republic operates outside of U.S. governmental jurisdiction, therefore requiring confirmation from the Republic’s governmental administrators. By including Puerto Ricans in their statement, they are attempting to widen the scope of any launched investigations to verify information outside the availability of little league officials’ verification methods, and to blur the scope of the Latino image by making it inclusive of other Latinos. It is notable that that statement is the only mention of Puerto Ricans and investigations in their work, they are never mentioned again.

“Well-trained and well-equipped teams should not suffer defeat at the hands of inner city teams comprising Dominican and Puerto Rican boys from working-class and impoverished backgrounds. This is what was partly at stake in the matchups between the Paulino All Stars and suburban teams-the ability of social class privilege to translate into competitive advantage and success.” The authors are over extending their perceived racial perceptions with that statement. The competitive advantage being sought was by the Paulino All Stars and their usage of ineligible overage players. As a player and a coach, certain players exhibited attributes and mannerisms of a person above a certain age bracket. The Little League World Series is limited to the 11 – 12-year-old age bracket. Danny Almonte stood at 5’8” during the tournament, an extraordinary height for someone of that age. He also exhibited skills above that age bracket, an indicator he may be overage. There were his interactions with his teammates and fans that should a maturity level beyond that of a 12-year-old, flirting and taking pictures with female fans. As an opposing coach, I would have immediately called for Little League officials to verify his pedigree information, not once considering what his background may be. Many teams seek competitive advantages due to the economic benefits that come with the exposure and invitation to the Little League World Series, and using overage players is a common one. In my opinion, opposing teams’ scrutinizing of Danny Almonte, and subsequently possibly other teammates, wasn’t necessarily rooted in racism.

“The signing bonuses paid to players selected through the amateur draft and Latinos signed as undrafted amateur free agents are telling.” The authors proceed to recount 1975 draft averages of $60,000 for players selected in the amateur draft and $5,000 for Latinos signed as undrafted free agents. “The inequity created by the process of initial inclusion unveils an economic toll that foreign-born Latinos pay for their foreigness.” Here is another example of irresponsible journalism combined with an all inclusive statement regarding Latinos. In 1975, Major League Baseball teams had not yet expanded to other countries, and set up workshops and camps to train potential ball players. There was no way of accurately assessing a players talent level because there wasn’t a standard of competition established by which to judge them by. Conversely, collegiate athletes had, and have, an established competition level from which to gain a perspective on a prospects potential. This accounts for the larger investment in state bound collegiate athletes as opposed to foreign players who may not possess the skill level to compete in the Major Leagues and won’t be able to prove themselves until they actually compete at a higher established level. The authors also imply that Latinos were being persecuted by Major League Baseball’s policy when in fact the initial pay disparity was for all foreign born players, not just Latinos.

There are other instances where the evidence presented is spun to conveniently accommodate the authors conclusions, however the facts surrounding their presented “evidence” simply does not support their conclusions and perspectives regarding the racially motivated actions of opposing teams. One instance where they were correct was the chanting of “U.S.A., U.S.A.” to an American team to deliberately highlight their differences and allegiances to their countries of origin. Outside of that, I fail to see the racial implications implied by the authors. Are there underlying motivations for the opposing teams actions that I am unaware, or oblivious of?

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