SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- I've spent three of the past five days walking the grounds and moving among the crowd at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. I saw Danny Almonte's perfect game on Aug. 18 and 12 more games before the semifinal game between the boys from the Bronx, N.Y. and Oceanside, Calif.
Bronx fans wave the Puerto Rican flag to show their pride.
The overwhelming majority of what occurs here is joyful, passionate and fun. But the rumors and gossip have turned into a full-blown story that has diminished the Little League World Series for everyone involved.
Instead of simply grumbling under their breath about "those foreigners" from the Bronx, spectators and fans are casually saying in full voice, "If that kid's 12, then I'm Randy Johnson." And, "If they can't speak English then they should go back to where they came from." The ignorance of people making such comments extends even so far as calling the Puerto Rican flag "that communist Cuban flag!"
All of this overt racism springs from the continued amazing success of the Baby Bronx Bombers, their star pitcher, Danny Almonte, and the fact that they are all brown-skinned children. Never mind that nine of them were born in the Bronx and have lived here all their lives. The problem is that they just don't look like "us."
Lance Van Auken, media relations director for Little League Baseball, has repeatedly addressed the issue over the past week about the alleged violations by the Rolando Paulino Little League. He even went on ESPN's radio show Friday morning to discuss the matter.
Van Auken continues to assert that the records of this particular Little League teams may be the most heavily scrutinized in Little League's history. He has even reported that Little League has received many emails from around the country that, in his words, are nothing more than "thinly veiled racism."
Nevertheless, the rumors keep flying.
The Orlando Sentinel reported Friday that among the Apopka contingent at Williamsport, "parents and other supporters say they want Little League to provide all of the other teams an official answer to their concerns." Well, Little League has.
The children are instilled with a closeness to their roots, as this boy, holding a Dominican flag, demonstrates. As someone whose job is to observe human behavior and pay attention to the seemingly insignificant things, the scene at Williamsport is troubling in other, more subtle ways.
Thursday night in the fog, as the New York faithful marched out of Lamade Stadium with whistles and drums blaring, flags waving and joyful signing, I saw two children with their flags bravely displayed, looking down on the field as ESPN interviewed the managers and players. In the quiet of the night, it was clear just how much being of Dominican heritage matters to them.
The photographs I took of them also show how tired they are of the whole thing.
Most Latino immigrants living in the United States would rather be back home; but in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Guatemala and Haiti, poverty rules the lives of generations. So they make their way to the land of opportunity -- legally or not. These immigrants are the ones who pick our vegetables, clean our houses, work in the garment factories and in fast food restaurants, struggling just to get by and send some money back to the families left behind.
These immigrants are the ones who are routinely subjected to racial profiling by the police. These immigrants are the ones who are ridiculed in the public schools because they need a little extra help in English as a Second Language programs that are intended to help them assimilate into "our" society. When they get confused and speak to each other in Spanish or Creole, they are labeled as troublemakers.
These are the people who cram together in the Bronx and Washington Heights. And they struggle to rise from desperate circumstances in the valleys of central California and in the farmland of Texas. And, yes, these are the migrant farm workers of Apopka and Belle Glade Florida.
Fans of the Bronx team know what has happened in Williamsport is about more than playing baseball.
The Latinos from the Bronx have their roots in two neighboring Caribbean island nations that have a history of some of the worst examples of United States imperialism. The U. S. military's long-standing use of the island of Vieques for bombing runs has been on the front pages for the last year and a half. The United States' history of military occupation in the Dominican Republic and its support of Trujillo dictatorship, one of the most brutal of the 20th century, has left permanent marks on the Dominican psyche.
The Little League World Series is always about baseball and kids and fun and celebration. But for some it is also a rare chance to stand up and proclaim their identities to the world.
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