The Latino Baseball History Project
Although the Mexican American community of East Los Angeles produced talented baseball players and managers and numerous teams, leagues, and tournaments that instilled a sense of community pride and achievement for more than 80 years, American society, especially the sports media and academia, paid little attention. This historical neglect has been exacerbated by the focus of historians on African American baseball. Since the birth of our nation, race relations have traditionally been socially framed as solely between white and black. Moreover, the Mexican American community has been often viewed in simplistic terms of where workers and their families live, without thorough investigation of its vibrant social institutions and established infrastructures.
The reality is that the Mexican American community has had and continues to have a rich history of participation in the national pastime. As the following time line shows, the Latino Baseball History Project, a partnership between scholars and former players, has begun to reclaim that history through library exhibits, college courses, oral history interviews, documentaries, and scholarly and popular publications.
Fall 2004: For a library technology class assignment at Pasadena City College, Terry Cannon, the founder and executive director of the Baseball Reliquary, arranges an interview with Maggie Lu, a staff member at the John F. Kennedy Library at California State University Los Angeles (CSULA), where he notices empty display cases in the lobby. Cannon contacts David Sigler, in charge of Special Collections and coordinator of exhibits, with the idea to present an exhibition with the working title “Chicano Baseball: From the Barrios to the Big Leagues.” Cannon follows up with César Caballero, acting university librarian at CSULA, who enthusiastically endorses a larger-scale exhibition on campus and enlists the support of Francisco E. Balderrama, a Professor of Chicano Studies and History at CSULA. Cannon establishes an advisory committee for the exhibition project, contacting historians and academicians who have done research on aspects of Mexican American baseball history in the Los Angeles area as well as other regions around the country. Out of their efforts come several significant developments and events as follows:
Fall 2005, Fall 2006: The Chicano Studies and History course, “Mexican American Baseball: An Oral History Approach,” is taught by Professor Balderrama. The students collect photos and artifacts and interview dozens of former ballplayers and family members. The students’ research uncovers evidence that baseball was an important means for Mexican Americans to celebrate ethnic identity, instill community pride, and promote socio-political awareness and activism.
March 2006: Drawing from the oral histories and artifacts from Balderrama’s course, Terry Cannon presents “Mexican American Baseball in Los Angeles: From the Barrios to the Big Leagues” at CSULA. The exhibits attract hundreds of people, result in several media stories, and introduce the former ballplayers to a new generation of Mexican American baseball fans. It is one of the first Mexican American baseball exhibits at a major university in the U.S.1
November 2006: Former Mexican American ballplayers, including Los Chorizeros, serve as grand marshals of the 2nd Annual Boyle Heights Multicultural Parade.2
2007: The Project receives the Federation of State Humanities Councils’ Schwartz Prize as the outstanding public funded humanities program in the United States.3 Upon the recommendation of council member José Huizar, the Los Angeles City Council declares a special tribute in honor of the Mexican American ballplayers who contributed so much to the rich history of Los Angeles.4
May 2009: The John M. Pfau Library at California State University, San Bernardino is designated the official collection site for the Project, renamed the Latino Baseball History Project. For the first time, a major university partners with the Mexican American community to establish a repository for Mexican American baseball history in Southern California. (The second stage of the project will broaden its scope to include Mexican American baseball throughout the United States and, eventually, other U.S. Latino groups.)
The Project continues to receive awards, grants, and public recognition from diverse organizations: the California Council for the Humanities; Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, Institute for Socio-Economic Justice, Brawley, California; Southwest Oral History Annual Conference; Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County; Pasadena Central Library; Pasadena City College; and the Pomona Public Library.
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- 1. Los Angeles Times, 7 April 2006, 10 April 2006; University Times, 17 April 2006; Daily News, 23 April 2006; The Press Enterprise, 6 May 2006: KCAL Television News, 29 April 2006.
- 2. “YouTube, Boyle Heights Parade,” 19 November 2006, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvmZoUGViDA&feature (Accessed 25 August 2010).
- 3. Helen and Martin Schwartz Prize 2007, Federation of State Humanities Councils Program, http://www.statehumanities.org/programs/pastschwartz.htm. (Accessed 25 August 2010).
- 4. Los Angeles Daily News, 21 September 2007.