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The Spanglish of Los Suns

Posted May 10th, 2010 in Uncategorized by steve

Last week the Phoenix Suns wore jerseys with a Spanish word on them and everybody got excited because the team was making a political statement, as seen here, and here, and here, and even here.

But wait, didn’t those jerseys exist because of an NBA marketing scheme called Noche Latina? Didn’t the Suns wear them on March 21 and 26? Yes and yes.

Noche Latina, which this year lasted a couple of semanas, is an outreach program to Hispanic fans, and features Spanglish uniforms (more on that later) and other Latino-themed entertainment, as well as basketball analysts breaking out their high school Spanish phrasebooks. It was a token gesture to the 15% of NBA fans who have Hispanic heritage, and nobody took it seriously.

Which is why the Suns’ decision to use the uniforms a second time, in protest of Arizona’s new immigration enforcement law, is even more interesting than most columnists have given it credit for. The uniforms were a marketing gimmick–in fact, the NBA didn’t even fully translate the team names. Los Suns? That’s about as Hispanic as Taco Bell.

The fact that the team names were left in a weird Spanglish version–a version that would still be recognizable to the English-speaking majority of NBA fans–tells me that the league wanted to reach out to their Latino viewers with as little effort as possible. It was the equivalent of putting a stripe down the side of a car and calling it a performance package.

The Los Suns uniforms meant nothing. Back in March they had no power. They were cute. But those same uniforms worn in protest on May 5 meant something because there were no mariachi bands, no joking on TNT and ESPN about bad accents, and no chihuahua-themed t-shirts shot into the stands. On May 5, the Los Suns shirts meant something because the team made the decision to wear the shirts by themselves, rather than doing it as part of a league mandate.

However, as powerful a statement as the Los Suns shirts were in the playoffs, the subtext of the shirts–the half English and half Spanish team names of the Suns and the other teams that participated in Noche Latina–unknowingly says volumes about our country today. Without even meaning to, the Noche Latina uniforms captured the essence of Hispanic-American assimilation, and went unnoticed because we are all so used to it. We’re used to seeing Spanglish. We’re used to half-assed efforts by teams to get more Latino viewers. We are so used to these things that we have internalized them.

Anti-immigrant protesters complain that Latinos are not assimilating into mainstream (ie, white) American culture. And yet all around us, every day, we see evidence to the contrary. Hispanic players are in the NBA, MLB, and NFL, Hispanic performers are on TV shows, movies, and singing on our iPods. Hispanic governors run our states. Taco carts have replaced Chinese noodle shops as the most common ethnic restaurants in America.

What the NBA has taught us, not through the Los Suns protest, but through our unconscious acceptance of the Noche Latina shirts, is that the U.S. is not waiting for Hispanic assimilation to happen at some point in the future. It’s already here.  We just get so excited about seeing a sports team stand for something that we forget that all of us already speak Spanglish.

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Immigrants don’t help the Red, White, and Blue

Posted May 3rd, 2010 in Uncategorized by steve

I recently came across this commentary (yes, moving slowly as I do) on the Center for Immigration Studieshttp://cis.org/seminara/soccer

The author, David Seminara, states that the U.S. national soccer team is made up of a bunch of middle class white guys. Well, what he actually says is, “If soccer is the world’s sport, and America is the world’s leading beacon for immigrants around the globe, why aren’t immigrants making a bigger impact playing soccer for the Stars and Stripes?”

(The construction of this sentence, btw, is an example of a logical fallacy, as I recall from my days teaching beginning composition. But damned if I can recall which one…)

Anyway, Mr. Seminara states that almost all of the athletes on the U.S. national team were born in the U.S. and that many immigrant soccer players who grew up in the U.S. play in other countries instead of here. He asks why we have so many soccer loving immigrants but so few playing for the national team?

It’s a fair question to ask. But the answer is not–as Mr. Seminara hints in his essay–that the good immigrant players aren’t assimilating and chose to play elsewhere. It is also not, as suggested herebecause of FIFA rules. And it is also not, as mentioned in the LA Progressive, because of immigration rules.

The U.S. national team does not have many immigrants on its roster because the path to soccer success in this country is through paid club teams. Unlike many other countries, the U.S. does not have a soccer farm system where professional clubs groom future stars in U-14 teams far away from school and family. The route to professional soccer player here begins with money and access to the high quality coaches and year-round games that come with joining a top-notch club team.

Immigrants have much higher rates of poverty than native-born Americans, are far less likely to have health insurance, and typically come from families without much education. So, while the desire to play soccer is there, as we have seen in the growth and popularity of soccer in high schools across the country, the ability to pay for club dues, and the control over one’s own time (can mom skip work to ferry you to practice?), are not.

Young Latino immigrant soccer players, who might flourish with a good coach in an organized club team, end up playing in amateur men’s league games after the high school season is over. Unlike club tournaments, the men’s league competitions are not crawling with professional and college scouts. So the boys don’t get the help they need, don’t get noticed, and either leave the U.S. for futbol opportunities elsewhere, or quit playing.

Either way, our national team is what it is not because of poor assimilation, but because of money.

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