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Striking Out in Phoenix

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Segil recently struck out, big time, by stubbornly refusing to relocate the 82nd All-Star Game from Phoenix, Arizona, to another city due to the desert state’s racist immigration law, SB 1070.  Although the core of this draconian law remains under a federal court injunction, if Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has her way, it can go all the way to the conservative-dominated Supreme Court and set a devastating legal precedent against 50 million Latinos in the U.S..

Petitioned by numerous civil rights and immigrant advocate groups to take a moral and financial position against a law that promotes racial profiling against all Latinos, especially since SB 1070 allows for police officers and other government officials to demand legal documents against individuals under the guise of “reasonable suspicion.”  The fundamental problem here is that those most likely to be targeted will be brown-skinned individuals and those with Spanish-surnames.  Despite this fact, Segil and the owners of the major league baseball teams don’t care that almost 30% of the MLB baseball players?those of Latin American decent with Spanish surnames like Gonzalez, Mariano and Rodriguez?will be directly impacted by this racist law that has spread like wildfire to other states, such as Utah, Indiana, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

Taking the so-called apolitical position that America’s greatest pastime will not get involved in a law that should be settled through the political process, Segil conveniently ignores the fact that locating the All-Star Game in Phoenix in the first place represents a political act.  It’s no secret that major U.S. cities compete against each other to secure the next major sports event like the MLB World Series, National Football League Super Bowl or National Basketball Association World Championship.  Not only do governors and mayors get involved in this competitive process on behalf of their states and cities to capture the financial and publicity benefits of major professional games, but also key business interests that benefit directly from those individuals and families who purchase tickets, consume food, drink alcohol, rent hotels, attend tourist attractions and buy memorabilia.

This is not the first time that the Latino community has been taken for granted by major league baseball.  In the mid-1900s, for example, then-Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley and his friends had no problem in displacing an entire Latino community, Chavez Ravine, to make room for the new tenants: the Los Angeles Dodgers.  By labeling the barrio as “blighted,” the Housing Authority of Los Angeles in cahoots with the federal government utilized eminent domain?the legal practice of taking private property from individuals for the common good?to forcefully clear the land of its longtime residents.  While originally intended for public housing projects, O’Malley and his power friends in City Hall eventually prevailed by locating a professional baseball team in a major market like Los Angeles.  To the present, living family members who lost their homes vividly remember this tragic American story.

Despite this dark history, Latino fans continue to wear Dodger blue, spend their hard-earned money on tickets, parking, over-priced beer and Dodger Dogs.  And what do the Latino baseball fans get in return for their loyalty?  A dysfunctional owner, Frank McCourt, and an insensitive commissioner who refuses to meet one simple demand from Latino and Latina leaders: to relocate a major league baseball game to another state on the basic premise that we, as a society, can’t reward racist and inhospitable states against Latinos.

Is this too much to ask?  Didn’t the NFL relocate the Super Bowl in 1993 from Phoenix to Pasadena, California, since this same desert state refused to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a paid holiday?

How can the MLB continue to boast about being a leader in the civil rights movement with the historic case of Jackie Robinson?the first great African American baseball ball player in 1947 to break the dehumanizing color line?when it ignores Arizona’s institutional racism against Latinos in general and immigrants in particular?

While it’s too late for the MLB to reverse its course on the recently played All-Star Game at Chased Field on July 12, 2011, it’s not too late for the millions of Latino baseball fans in this country to sit on the bench, permanently, when the next baseball game takes place in any field.  Instead of pleading for change, Latinos need to learn from the brave African American men and woman who refused to take the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1, 1955, until they received the dignity and respect that they deserved.

Alvaro Huerta is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Dept. of City & Regional Planning (UC Berkeley) and a Visiting Scholar at the Chicano Studies Research Center (UCLA). He can be reached at: ahuerta@berkeley.edu.

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Dr. Alvaro Huerta is an assistant professor of urban and regional planning and ethnic and women’s studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is the author of “Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Towards a Humanistic Paradigm,” published by San Diego State University Press (2013).

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