- More Than Just Peloteros: Sports and US Latino Communities ed. by Jorge Iber
Latinos have a longer history in U.S. sports than many assume, especially given the media’s persistent coverage of Latinos as a recently arrived and as a primarily first-generation community. Edited by historian Jorge Iber, More Than Just Peloteros unsettles that perception with ten chapters that delve into the meaning and place of sports for individual Latino/as and for Latino communities. In so doing, the volume illuminates a longer history of Latino involvement in U.S. sports that illustrates the role of sports as a space of identity, leisure and entertainment, and, of course, recreation and athletic competition. [End Page 425]
More Than Just Peloteros takes us beyond professional sports to the amateur courts and fields where Latinos competed. Readers learn about the breakthroughs of pioneering Tejano football players E. C. Lerma and Bobby Cavazos, the athletic culture that emerged within Mexican South Chicago, the feats of the Miami (AZ) basketball squad, and the controversies over the naming of the Houston Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise, among other topics. Each chapter allows us to appreciate the longer history of Latino participation in U.S. sports, along with the efforts by Latinos to claim sporting spaces, literally and figuratively.
The anthology’s introduction, “The Perils and Possibilities of ‘Quarterbacking While Mexican,’” signals some of the enduring tensions surrounding the participation of Latino/a athletes. Open acknowledgment of Latino/a identity and heritage disrupts the veil that often enshrouds the presence of Latino/as in U.S. sports. Mexican American quarterback Mark Sánchez learned this lesson after he wore a mouth guard sporting the colors of el tri (Mexican flag) while playing for the University of Southern California in a nationally televised contest against Notre Dame. Sánchez’s public display of pride in his Mexican ethnic identity riled numerous observers. In a certain sense, this collection of essays, much like Sánchez’s mouth guard, strikes at the invisibility often imposed on Latino/a sporting bodies while also unsettling one of the assumed purposes of organized athletics in the United States, assimilation. After all, many Americans persist in the belief that participation in sports aids newcomers in learning American culture and in even becoming American.
The volume’s chapters attend to the multiple meanings as well as the tensions that the Latino/a presence in U.S. sports aroused; some unevenness does arise, however, from the aim to provide a cursory survey of the place of sport in the lives of Latino/as and their U.S. communities. The chapter on sporting culture in early San Antonio explores the town’s recreational activities (dancing, gambling, cockfights, and horseback riding) but still leaves one wondering whether these activities rise to the level of being considered sport. Conversely, José Alamillo’s chapter on Richard “Pancho” González provides a sophisticated analysis of the complex layers of racial, ethnic, and gender identity involved in the English-language media’s construction of the Los Angeles–born tennis ace. Alamillo astutely examines the evolution of the media’s portrayal of González, from a “bad boy” during World War II (when white Los Angelenos feared Mexican pachucos) to his ascendancy as an international tennis star whose success was deployed by the press and U.S. officials as proof of the working of color-blind democracy. A different set of tensions are explored in Enver Casimir’s chapter on Kid Chocolate (Eligio Sardiñas), which dissects coverage in the Spanish-language media and black newspapers. Casimir’s exploration of the Afro-Cuban boxer’s rise to international prominence after migrating to New York City provides insights into being black and Latino in mid-twentieth century U.S. society. More recent topics are also examined, such as chapter 10’s analysis of the initial naming of Houston’s MLS franchise as Houston 1836. A misguided effort to transport a European soccer tradition of naming their clubs after prominent historical...