Culture Not Color Unites Latin Ball Players

By Rod Coffee
Updated: February 21, 2008

WASHINGTON DC — When the game, that is Elian Gonzalez ‘s life, made its way to the sports pages around the world, it provided athletes with an opportunity to show unity, regardless of the color of their skin.

Major League Baseball players of Cuban descent and other Latin American players staged a work stoppage, which was initiated in Miami and reverberated around the Big Leagues. More than a dozen players chose to recognize the volatile situation surrounding the 6-year-old Cuban boy by not playing ball. Many believe he is being used as a political pawn by both the US and Cuba.

In all, players and coaches from five Major League teams took part in the protest.

The statement showed not only compassion for the little boy embroiled in a situation no child should endure, but also how players who come from different backgrounds share the bond of their Latin heritage in spite of shades of skin tone.

It’s interesting to watch Afro-Cubans, like El Duque, interacting with a lighter skinned Cubano, like Jose Canseco, and seeing the bond that exists through (Spanish) language, music, life philosophies and other unifying factors that seem to keep their focus away from race issues.

Last year, I spoke with Cleveland Indians all-star second baseman Roberto Alomar about race in baseball, a conversation which evolved into one about race and culture in Latin America versus the (not so) United States.

Alomar expressed confusion and dismay over the way color is such a big issue. Americ is a country that touts its melting pot reputation, and then creates negative racial divisions among its own people. He says he grew up thinking culture was more important that color.

“My mom, she is white…my dad is black…I am mulatto — but we are all Puerto Ricans,” he said.

Race doesn’t define Hispanics as easily. Culture and nationality are unifying forces for Latinos.

“In Puerto Rico, everybody is the same — white, black, mulattos — everybody is the same in Puerto Rico,” Alomar insisted, reminding me that his father is dark, his mother is light, and he is a mixture of both.

That’s not to say color is a non-issue in the world, but it seems to be less a problem where people focus on the commonality of their cultures, rather than their complexions.

So with that underlying attitude, Latino ballplayers stepped up to the plate and taught those who were paying attention a subtle lesson in race relations