- Sports Culture in Latin American History ed. by David Sheinin
Sports Culture in Latin American History, edited by David M. K. Sheinin, presents eight well-researched and engaging chapters of much interest not only to historians but to an overall Latin American and Caribbean studies audience. An introduction by Laura Podalsky provides a clear and thoughtful overview of the major themes in the book and places them in the context of the broader field of Latin American sport studies. The chapters expand our understanding of the diversity of sport and athletic practices in Latin America. I wholeheartedly agree with this observation. Going beyond soccer, but not leaving it behind, chapters address topics from Colombian and Panamanian boxing to Bolivian women’s wrestling, Argentinean bolas, and Brazilian capoeira. Moreover, challenging notions that equate sport with the “modern,” many of the chapters also center the analysis on sport and indigeneity or marginalized groups. Another contribution lies in the eloquent bridge between rigorous historical analyses with poignant cultural reflections. That is, more than unraveling deeper issues that challenge our conceptualization of each sport, authors make us reflect on larger problems of Latin American societies, including regionalism, national identities, gender, class, ethnic minorities, and first-peoples’ cultural and political struggles. Bringing diverse chapters together, Podalsky traces three “significant lines of inquiry with broader implications”: the exploration into the relationship among sport, the state, and national identity; the intersections between athletic activities, material bodies, and the triad of race, class, and gender; and sports as spatialized ritual. Podalsky states that, although not all chapters deal with all three areas at the same time, together they “form a notable theoretical substrate” (5). The introduction provides a clear and insightful roadmap to an unusual collection of essays, adding at the end some useful suggestions for further research.
Overall, the chapters are well written and researched. I also think that the value of the anthology is the systematic examination of the ways in which indigenous/first peoples or subaltern groups partake in the (re)definition of the nation. Be it from the tough Chorrillo barrio of Panama City, Bolivian cholita wrestlers, Patagonian Tehuelches, elderly Japanese-Brazilian men, Jews from Villa Crespo, Mexican campesinas’ bodies, Afro-Colombians from Palenque, or Afro-Brazilians, the lives of Latin America’s marginalized are highlighted and successfully shown to be integral in the understanding of identities and national discourses. [End Page 139] The study of sport has indeed been done through a lens that privileges European models of athleticism. This anthology shows us how the Eurocentric notion is problematic in Latin America because, as Peter Bakewell argues in A History of Latin America: c.1450 to the Present (2004), these societies emerge from five centuries of mestizaje from different cultures from all over the planet. I also appreciate the variety of sport/athletic activity studied by the different authors. Many times sport in Latin America is equated with soccer/fútbol/futebol/balompié. Although Raanan Rein’s chapter on the Club Atlanta is significant, equally important are boxing, professional wrestling, ideas of physical fitness, bolas, and capoeira for each country/region/community as presented in this book. Indeed, the chapter by Ageeth Sluis on athletic aesthetics in postrevolutionary Mexico does not look at a particular sport, but instead explores how changing views of women’s bodies were the center of a quest of modernity and mexicanidad during the 1920s and 1930s.
There are a few issues that, while they do not take away the merits of the anthology, might leave some readers unsatisfied. First, there is no concluding chapter. I would have appreciated another good chapter addressing incomplete lines of inquiry in the anthology and expanding Podalsky’s suggestion for further research. The anthology covers uncommon sport/athletic questions, but much more is needed. This leads me to another observation: there is no chapter on baseball or on the Caribbean islands. While baseball is the other stereotype in Latin America sport, it is still a crucial element of this line of research, as much as the Caribbean islands are within Latin America.