Sunday, May 4, 2008

El Beisbol: Anticipando 5/5/08

This commentary was in my inbox. I thought I'd pass it along:

Keeping It Real

by Alex Montoya

My apologies to Nylce Myers, to whom I promised this commentary forever ago, pero no te precupes, amiga - it's not football related.

It was a year ago that I was fortunate enough to speak at the inaugural - and in that vein, historic - all-class reunion for Latino alumni at the University of Notre Dame.

Just a few weeks before doing so, my employer, the San Diego Padres, held our annual celebration of Mexico at beautiful PETCO Park - a fan promotion entitled ''Mexico Opening Night.'' It was my experiences from that night, which were repeated just last week, that shaped my talk then and my blog now.

In short, Mexico Opening Night (MON) is a welcome back to fans from south of the border each new baseball season. It's my job to liven up the ballpark with mariachis, folklorico dancers, food, and entertainment befitting of this festive occasion.

Padres fans, especially those from the South Bay and Tijuana parts of the region, love it. But not everyone shares their enthusiasm.

The mere thought that we would celebrate the Mexican culture, and in so doing raise the Mexican flag alongside the United States one for a night, drew the ire of some. I won't say many because although they were loud they were certainly a minority.

Still, the vocal minority had some lungs. Chief among them was a local conservative radio talk show host who urged baseball fans to boycott the game. The Padres, he seethed, were being unpatriotic and encouraging illegal immigration. He also encouraged listeners to protest outside the ballpark during that April evening's game.

The picketers never materialized but the publicity sure did. City and state news media caught wind of this burgeoning ''controversy'' and before long, everyone had heard that Padres-Dodgers was Mexico Opening Night and PETCO would be festooned in red, white, and green.

Some say any publicity is good publicity. You can draw your own conclusions. All I know is that night there were 41,000 attendees. PETCO Park holds just under 42,000.

Fast forward to a year later and again MON was held with the usual lively and proud atmosphere. There was no talking head espousing boycotts - maybe he grew weary of serving as an unpaid advertiser for us? - but there were definitely complaints from scores of patrons.

The Padres, as is their custom, patiently explained that Mexico is our neighbor and an important fan base. Baja Californians especially are passionate about beisbol and are loyal ballpark customers. To that end, U.S. military protocol dictates that it is acceptable to fly another country's flag alongside Old Glory as long as they are equal in height and length.

Most complainers did not want to hear these facts but they were indeed true. So was my point to the alumni gathered at Notre Dame: we must not be afraid to celebrate our culture and heritage.

For the Padres, it meant allowing the Mexican national anthem to be sung before the Star Spangled Banner. For you it might mean posting a picture of Cesar Chavez on your cubicle or saying some words in Spanish on your outgoing voicemail.

Where we raised the tri-colors on our flag court you might do so in your front yard or work desk. It's not the act that matters it's the spirit within.

Don't be afraid to express pride in your heritage, ancestry, and traditions. Celebrate the accomplishments and vigor that is your legacy.

These days, where anti-immigration sentiment is spread by hourly talk show hosts and Minutemen, we need to keep our culture alive.

That is our mission as Domers and Latinos.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo.

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