March 30, 2013

Yucatec Mayas crazy about baseball

Maya Bring Baseball Passions to U.S.

By Jonah HarrisIn Mexico, the Mayas are a people apart. Half a millennium since Spanish conquistadors set foot in Mesoamerica, their numbers stand in the millions and they remain racially, linguistically and culturally distinct from their non-indigenous countrymen. While most Mexicans are bursting with national pride, Mayas are Yucatecos first (the greatest concentration of Maya are in the Mexican state of Yucatán) and Mexicans second. Most Mexicans speak only Spanish, while most Mayas can speak both Spanish and Maya. And while soccer is practically akin to religion across much of Mexico, for Yucatec Mayas, baseball is life.

Baseball is so popular among Yucatec Mayas (almost all Mayas in Yucatán are either players or fans) and their love of the sport so unique in their country, that it has become a self-identifier, a point of pride and an integral part of what it means to be Maya--right up there with poc-chuc (traditional grilled pork), jarana yucateca (traditional dance) and colorful huipiles (traditional clothing).

"Baseball is an important element of Mayan culture," says Alberto Perez, director of Asociación MAYAB, a Bay Area Yucatec Maya organization. It’s a culture that is becoming increasingly visible in the United States, where hundreds of thousands of Mayas now live. Baseball, says Perez, provides a way for Maya immigrants in the U.S. to stay connected with community, display cultural pride and establish their unique place within the Latino Diaspora. “It is almost like an underground movement.” Today, a growing but untold number of Yucateco baseball teams are scattered across the state of California - there are even whole leagues here whose rosters are mostly made up of Yucatecos.

The sport came to Yucatan from baseball-mad Cuba, a mere 128 miles away. "Mérida (the capital of Yucatán) had more cultural and political exchange with Cuba than with Mexico City," explains Perez. “That's how we got this special love of baseball." Today, Yucatec Mayas, or Yucatecos, may love baseball even more than the Cubans who introduced them to the sport. "They say a Sunday in Oxkutzcab without baseball is not a Sunday," says Alberto Gómez, a 42-year old Yucateco who once played there professionally. Oxkutzcab is a municipality in Yucatan.
Comment:  Another report contradicts the popular notions that the Maya are 1) extinct and 2) fanatical cultists eager to sacrifice people to satiate their blood lust.

For more on the Maya, see Guatemalan Strongman Charged with Genocide and NMAI Launches Maya Website.

Below:  "San Francisco-based Club Yucatan’s bench. At the game, players on the same team wear the various uniforms of their other teams in both Mexico and the United States." (Jonah Harris)

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