SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2004        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Pauline Valenzuela

The Challenge

photoThe day this incident took place was a warm sunny summer afternoon in the 1970’s, with a beautiful yellow sun setting.  As a 10-year-old child, I remember an incident where a single game of softball became part of who and what I am today.  Being an only child, my parents were able to take time out of their lives to expose me to different activities and sports.  My parents placed me in a softball league.  The coach knew my parents and he lived in our same neighborhood as well.  I grew up and still live in a small barrio in Phoenix where everyone knows one another and his or her families and relatives.  My coach’s name was Alejandro.  He had two daughters Anne and Julie, with whom I grew up with as well, and we are all of the same ethnic background.  We are Chicanos.

The one particular softball game that made an impact on me occurred when our team thephoto Angels, played against the Honey Bees.  The coach for the Honey Bees was a black man by the name of Mr. Bugsby, whom I will never forget.  The majority of the girls who played for the Honey Bee team were young competitive black girls.  This was no ordinary seasonal game, it was a post-season game.  The score was close throughout the entire game.  We would make a couple runs and in turn, they would do the same as well.  In a game like this, it was customary for parents to cheer on their girls, as any parent would of children of any race or ethnicity.  Nevertheless, what I remember most was when Mr. Bugsby told his girls that we were only little spics that couldn’t play ball, and that they were better than we were.  It was hurtful at our young age to hear this man not only label us as a team that couldn’t play ball, which we could, but to use a hurtful name to describe our ethnicity.  A few parents, not mine, got thrown out of the ballpark, along with Mr. Bugsby, because of the racial slurs that they began throwing back and forth at us.  It was a very competitive game, and we eventually won.  The final score was 8-6. 

As a result of what I observed from this incident during this game, I not only learned to be
photo competitive, but to be competitive explicitly against other races.  I don’t believe this event lead me to be prejudiced against other races, however I see the even led me to believe a person of color has more struggles to overcome.  I feel I have to do well to stand up for my people and prove to others that being Chicano/Latino/Hispano is being just as good as anyone else if not better.  I believe that if I can succeed anyone can, and given a little motivation anyone can accomplish all that they want.  My motivation throughout my life has been to prove to people that I am not a “little Spic” and that I can accomplish anything that I want.   
As I think about this event I wonder what it may have looked like through the eyes of an innocent bystander.  Consider the poor umpire what must he have of thought of the whole situation and the environment he was surrounded in?  I imagine this is what he must have been thinking on that warm summer day.

    It was a hot summer day, and I had a part-time job as an umpire for a girls’ recreational softball league.  It is great being around children during the summer, I have opportunity to mentor and to watch them learn about competition.  One thing about umpiring, it is amusing to see how much parents get involved, and how engrossed they get about the competition of the game. 
I knew this game would be one of the summer’s rowdiest because it was going to be a tournament.  These types of games are always the most difficult to umpire, not because the girls get rowdy, but because of the parents.  The parents become very protective of their children and place them under a lot of pressure to do their best.  I did not know what to expect at this game, but it was going to be held in the barrio, which everyone knew was home to the Hispanics and African-Americans.  I wondered to myself "is this gringo going to be up for today’s challenge?"

photoAs I arrived at the ballpark, sure enough it was a game between the Angels and the Honey Bees.  At this point, I knew the game was going to be the Mexicans vs. the Blacks, no doubt about it.  The game started as every other game, the girls having a good time, being rowdy, and cheering each other on.  It was a competitive game, both teams were very good, and I was afraid of making a bad call.  If I made a bad call I knew, I would get a mouthful from the coaches and parents.  

It must have been in the bottom of the sixth inning, a young Mexican girl from the Angels came sliding home, it was a close call, and I called her safe only because the Honey Bees’ catcher dropped the ball during the play of the game.  At that moment, the name-calling began.  As an umpire we encounter this all the time, but what was difficult is having the girls put up with the derogatory comments.  I had no choice but to stop the game momentarily and throw out the coach for the Honey Bees and put up with the slander from the parents. 

Umpires are taught to tolerate name-calling among parents to a certain extent.   I sometimes wonder why they subject themselves to this type of part time job during the hot summers umpiring girls’ softball.  I wonder if it is because they care about kids so much that class and race don’t measure up to keeping them out of trouble and off the streets.

    Race, gender, ethnicity, class, and sexuality are something I never thought out as a little girl.  Whether I was playing with Barbie dolls or playing softball, I never thought that I could be racist, or competitive, or considered a minority.  As I reflect as to why I chose this incident to write about, I think about what really happened that day and wonder why does this day stand out so much in my memory.  Is it because for the first time I realized what racism is?  Was it the first time I saw my parents along with other parents be aggressive with other parents?  Was this incident when I first realized that competition goes along with over coming obstacles of racism in my life?  During this particular event I could hear the support from the cheering parents including my own, I could feel their pulses rising along with ours, and feel the tension in the air.  I remember this day because I realize how much of an influence family is.  On this team, we were one another’s influence, but all of us learn from our families.  I realize now that competition does not mean racism as I had thought when I was younger.  I realize that this type of competition was a challenge against racism; it was a struggle for justice and equality, a way to be noticed and respected.

photo The time period when this incident took place has a lot to do with changing my memory of this event.  It was the late 70’s, just when struggles for justice by farm worker’s occurred and Cesar Chavez stood up for Mexicans’ rights and the whole Latino movement began to take place.  I wonder if my parents acted the way they did at this game because of the civil rights struggle, survival for the “movimiento de la raza” were taking place during this
photo era.  I wonder if this ballgame conflict was less a racism thing between Blacks and Hispanics but more a matter of self-pride and speaking out and not being a timid culture.  The more I read about my Latino culture and learn about the experiences of what other cultures have felt under the measures of racism and discrimination, it was part of the Latino culture to be quiet and patient.  This is why I wonder if my parents’ example and the example of other parents speaking out were remnants of the equal rights movement that people were fighting for during this time period.

Now I challenge myself, to transform this memory of aggressive racism into what I believe to be ethnic pride.  What I thought was racial tension between Blacks and Hispanics was only a symbol of the struggles of both minority cultures struggling in a white society.  I no longer find myself in racial competition as I did when I was a young girl, however I can now identify situations that can be misconstrued as racial conflict.  I know now that one voice can make a difference, I am empowered to make change and I take can be proud of my ethnicity.

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