By Mauricio Rubio

“People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they’re African American. They’re not us. They’re impostors”
-TORII HUNTER

It’s pretty clear that people just don’t know what to do with Latinos. In the Trayvon Martin case, Zimmerman was labeled a minority by some because he has Spanish roots, thus making him Mexican or something. The Ozzie Guillen story provided an interesting chance for Latinos to have a serious conversation about race and hate within the community, instead we got an overreaction to the suspension with no real discussion on why what he said stung so much. One of the more surprising aspects of this controversy was the lack of cultural awareness when it comes to Hispanics. People genuinely did not know that Castro is seen as a tyrannical despot on the level of Hitler with the Cuban community. The caricature was the only impression people had of him and were shocked that Ozzie’s comments cut so deep.

The inspiration from this commentary, however, came from a nugget of information that Dan Bernstein gave us 2 weeks ago. The Chicago Cubs are currently shopping most of their big league roster, and it’s been speculated for months that Marlon Byrd will be traded. A caller brought up the name Alex Rios, who was born in Alabama and is considered Puerto-Rican-American.

And that’s what really got me thinking about what Jackie Robinson day means. For the purposes of his point, I can somewhat see where Mr. Bernstein was coming from: he dismissed Rios as a Latin born player and not African American in the typical sense of the term. However, I think this is a classic example of the media, and the world in general, having no idea what to do with Afro-Latinos. Torii Hunter’s quote above illustrates that point as well. Afro-Latinos are not properly represented nor are they accounted for in America.

The implication that Mr. Bernstein was making is that Afro-Latinos shouldn’t count as proper representatives for Jackie Robinson Day. That’s a dangerous implication to make and I think it’s one that a lot of people make. The inverse of this is also dangerous however, to consider Alex Rios as simply black without considering what his heritage and his lineage is. The point of Jackie Robinson day is to celebrate the tearing down of the color barrier. That’s a broad term, color, and it’s one that’s classically been assigned to African-Americans throughout history, with a good reason. It was the label that an oppressive white society put on blacks to strip away their sense of worth. But color is defined differently today as it applies to a broader population.

The truth is that the gentleman’s agreement about “colored” players extended beyond just the African-American players. If you sent Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro, Marlon Byrd, Alex Rios, Carlos Marmol, Dayan Viciedo, Alexei Ramirez, Hector Santiago, and even Geo Soto back into a time machine set for the ‘30s, not a one is playing in the Majors. They would all be New York Cubans.

The history of the New York Cubans is muddled, which is common for a Negro League team. For the purposes of this column, understand that they were a Negro League team comprised of mostly Afro-Latinos, but occasionally they took on lighter skinned Latinos because MLB didn’t want anything to do with people of color. They began in 1899 as the All Cubans, became the Cuban Stars in 1907, folded in the late ‘20s and were recreated by a former member of the Cuban Stars, Alex Pompez, in 1930. If that name rings a bell White Sox fans, it’s because he scouted Minnie Minoso and brought him over from Cuba to play ball in the US.

The New York Cubans employed players of color that were not allowed to play in the Majors. These were not strictly African American players that fit neatly into a small category. The NY Cubans took on all that were of color and shunned by MLB, until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and opened the door to all people of color, not just American born Blacks. The Negro Leagues were where Minnie Minoso got his start in professional baseball.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson was 0/3 with a RS, but on that day he began the process that cemented himself as arguably the most important player in baseball history. In the wake of integration, we had Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Minnie Minoso. That’s a lot of talent that MLB was ignoring before Jackie. A date that should be similarly remembered is May 1, 1951.
The “Cuban Comet” paved the way for Latino players, but is remembered by the White Sox as being their first black player in the post Jackie Robinson era. On May 1, Minnie paved the way for Latino players to enter the Majors, which of course came at the price of discrimination, racism, and untold stress and heartache. Reporters rather famously phonetically spelled his quotes in print, he was called all sorts of names everywhere he went, and he had to use the “Coloreds Only” stalls as well.

It’s irresponsible to dismiss Afro Latinos because they aren’t the “right kind of black.” I think it’s about time to have a serious discussion about race in America, one that centers around Hispanics. The race issue is alive and well in America. It’s disguised as other things and somewhat hidden, but we Hispanics have a lot of issues to resolve with ourselves. There’s an alarming trend of self hate and lost identity within our community. Ozzie’s insensitive comments confront us with an uncomfortable reality that we aren’t as unified as we’d like to think sometimes. We’ve come a long way since Minnie, but we still have a long way to go. Our story is frequently misunderstood in America, so let’s work on that.

For more sports insight and wisdom, check Mo and The Gang @: 99sportsproblems.com

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