Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Colin Kaepernick, & The National Anthem



Recently Colin Kaepernick, who is the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the singing of the National Anthem.  Kaepernick gave the following reason for his protest:   

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.  To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.  There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

“I am not looking for approval.  I have to stand up for people that are oppressed.  .  .If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Clearly, Kaepernick’s protest has struck a cord with the many people who have been protesting police brutality.  His protest has also shed light on the history of why Francis Scott Key wrote his Star-Spangled Banner.

Francis Scott Key was a slave-owner who lived in Maryland.  He wrote his Star Spangled Banner about the United States defense of Fort McHenry during the war of 1812. 

Before going into the motivations for the national anthem, I believe it is useful to look at a bit of history.

The first of many revolutions in the Americas

During the American Revolution, the British promised about 3,000 slaves their freedom because they joined the British army and fought against the revolution.  For this reason, most Black people in this country fought for the British against the revolution. 

During the negotiations after the British defeat, representatives of the United States demanded the return of the 3,000 Black British soldiers to slavery.  At that time the most valuable commodities in the world were slaves, and the United States government desperately wanted ownership of the British soldiers who had a dark skin color.

The British government agreed to this demand and betrayed the promise they made to the Black soldiers.  However, the Irish Commander of the British forces, Sir Guy Carleton, countermanded the order to return Black soldiers to slavery.  He ordered these soldiers to Nova Scotia and fulfilled the promise the British had made.

After the revolution, the United States government was made up of two factions.  They were called the federalists and the anti-federalists.  The federalists favored a strong federal government and supported the commercial interests in the northern states.  These federalists succeeded in abolishing slavery in several northern states.

The anti-federalists were in favor of a weak federal government and supported slavery.  The anti-federalists became the same Democratic Party that President Barack Obama represents.  With the election of Thomas Jefferson, the federal government became dominated by these pro-slavery interests.

The war of 1812 and it’s aftermath

During the war of 1812, the British again promised freedom to escaped slaves who joined their army.  As a result, thousands of slaves joined with the British.  These former slaves fought with arms in hand against a government that was dominated by slave owners.      

In the original version of the Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key wrote about how he was horrified that former slaves had escaped and fought against the slave-owning republic.  The following words were written by Francis Scott Key in the original version of the Star Spangled Banner.  These words are never recited today for obvious reasons.

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Here Francis Scott Key made it clear that the United States government had no intention of supporting the interests of the slaves.  He clearly felt that escaped slaves deserved, “the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”  When he wrote about “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” he clearly was not talking about human beings who happened to be slaves.  We should be clear that these were not the words of an isolated individual, but reflected the position of the United States government at that time.  In fact, the entire economy of the United States was based on slavery.

Frederick Douglass escaped slavery when he was nineteen years old.  He became a leader of the abolitionist movement.  On July 4, 1852 Douglass spoke on the meaning of the Fourth of July for the millions of slaves who lived in this country.  He concluded his speech with the following words:

“Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms­ of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without rival.”  

Thinking about the reality these words represented, we might conclude that nothing had been gained from the American Revolution.  The British rule of the thirteen colonies was tyrannical, and the conditions slaves experienced represented, “revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy.”

Were there any gains made because of the American Revolution?

My opinion is that in order to see all the ramifications of the first revolution in the Americas, we need to take a closer look at the events of those times.

During the British rule of the thirteen colonies a person’s status in life was determined upon their birth.  There were the gentlemen and everyone else.  The so-called gentleman had the power, lived off of the labor of the people, and never worked.  The majority of the population lived at the mercy of these gentlemen.

The words of the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal” were indeed revolutionary.  Initially, the affluent people who supported the revolution attempted to dominate the government.  However, with Shay’s Rebellion and other initiatives by working people, the Constitution was amended to include the Bill of Rights.  The idea that everyday people would have rights with the new government was another clearly revolutionary idea.

Reading these words, one might ask: So how did all of this affect the slaves who never had any rights?  Answering this question requires looking at a bit more history.

The slave owners of this country were obsessed with repressing slave rebellions and apprehending escaped slaves.  President Thomas Jefferson worked to isolate the revolutionary government of Haiti, where slavery had been abolished.  General Robert E. Lee was the commanding officer of the U.S. army that put down John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.  That raid had been about organizing and armed defense of slaves who wished to escape bondage.

However, what the slave owners didn’t see was the emerging class interests of northern capitalists, as well as the emerging class of workers and small farmers.  Growing numbers of people became convinced that a continuation of the slave system would be a roadblock to the development of this country.  These differences became so profound that millions of soldiers would be mobilized in the Union Army to militarily defeat the slaveocracy.

While the slave owners were obsessed with suppressing slave rebellions, the Union Army literally destroyed nearly every building in South Carolina.  This was a conscious move to convince the Confederacy that they had no chance of winning the Civil War.

As a direct consequence of the Civil War, the government adopted the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.  These Amendments abolished slavery, gave all men full citizenship rights, as well as voting rights.  When Black people learned of the defeat of the confederacy, there were immensely joyous celebrations.

My opinion is that this development would have been unlikely without the American Revolution freeing this country of British rule.  We should recall, that under the rule of the British, the vast majority of the population never had rights that government ministers needed to respect.

We will also notice that after the Civil War reconstruction governments emerged in the former confederate states.  These governments attempted to create a real democracy.  Many Blacks and Caucasians learned to read for the first time.

However, the same government that defeated the confederacy, effectively gave power to forces that became the Ku Klux Klan.  In the year 1877, the Union Army ended their occupation of the South, and the Ku Klux Klan militarily defeated the reconstruction governments.

The Ku Klux Klan then stripped Black people of their citizenship rights with a series of apartheid-like laws known as Jim Crow.  It wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that the civil rights movement erupted and forced the government to defend the rights that had been gained after the Civil War.  The rebellions of 1966–1968 also forced the government to change some of their institutionalized discriminatory practices.

So, what does all of this have to do with Colin Kaepernick?  My point is, that while this might be difficult to see, gains have been made because of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement.  Saying this, we might also consider that Frederick Douglass’ words on the Fourth of July reflected a real reality, as do Colin Kaepernick’s words today.

My point is that real progress has been made with respect to working people since the American Revolution.  Today working people and farmers are in a stronger position to advance our demands than workers and farmers of the past.  We have these advantages because of the many struggles that erupted before us. 

The problem has been that when the American Revolution did away with British rule, a government emerged that expanded chattel slavery.  When the Union Army defeated the confederacy, the U.S. government would eventually support Jim Crow segregation.  When the government outlawed Jim Crow, that same government advanced a course of mass-incarceration.

The problem is not to dismiss those who made real advances in the past.  The problem has been that when these advances were put forward, the government reacted with an iron heal of repression.  

So, when we think of the slavery and the genocide against the Indians, I do not believe that there are good reasons for celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July.  When we think of the reality that surrounded the Star Spangled Banner, as well as the reality we experience today, we can only cheer on Colin Kaepernick for his courageous stance.

For those interested in continuing the tradition of struggle that started with the American Revolution, this country has an amazing history that we can draw from.

For those interested in the origin of the Pledge of Allegiance, you can see my review of the Pledge at this link.     




             

Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance?



A review of:

Looking Backward
by Edward Bellemy, 1888
Penguin Classics

The Pledge of Allegiance
by Francis Bellamy,
Sept. 8, 1892
The Youth Companion

Equality
by Edward Bellamy 1898
Fredonia Books

Every school day millions of students stand up, place their hands on their hearts, and recite the following words:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God,  indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The literal meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance is that everyone who resides in the United States experiences liberty and justice at all times.  There aren’t too many people who would defend this point of view and conscious workers understand that this argument is absurd.

One reason why many people feel that liberty and justice is not experienced by everyone in this country stems from the fact that residents of United States have a better chance of going to prison than residents living in any other nation in the world.  One out of every four prisoners in the world resides in U.S. jails.

The original Pledge 

So, a question might be asked: Why was the Pledge of Allegiance written?  Francis Bellamy, who was a Baptist minister and a Christian socialist wrote The Pledge in the year 1892.  Bellamy’s original idea for his Pledge contained the following words:

“I pledge allegiance to my flag, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty, justice, and equality for all.”

Bellamy wanted to use the word equality because of the phrase “Liberty, equality, and fraternity” that was used in the French Revolution.  He decided not to use equality in his Pledge because the discrimination against women and African Americans made this word too controversial.  In 1892 women did not have the right to vote, and African Americans were legally discriminated against because of the Jim Crow laws. 

The reason why Bellamy decided to use the phrase I pledge allegiance to my flag is a bit more involved.  Francis Bellamy’s first cousin was Edward Bellamy who wrote the novel Looking Backward in the year 1888.  Looking Backward is the story of someone from the year 1887 who was transported into a world of the future.  In this future world poverty did not exist, women experienced full equality, corporations were nationalized by the government, and society was organized on the basis of genuine solidarity. 

When Francis Bellamy wrote the words I pledge allegiance to my flag he imagined that he was pledging allegiance to a socialist world of the future that was envisioned by his cousin Edward Bellamy in the novel Looking Backward.  In this future world Francis Bellamy imagined that there would be liberty, justice, and equality for all.

When we understand why the Pledge was written, we can also understand why Francis Bellamy objected in 1924 when his pledge was changed from “my flag” to “the flag of the United States of America.”  Francis Bellamy’s granddaughter also objected in 1954 when the words “under God” were added.  The reasoning for this objection stemmed from the fact that Francis Bellamy was pressured to leave the Church because of his socialist sermons.

Equality

Apparently Edward Bellamy was intrigued by the fact that the word equality was not included in the Pledge because the title of his final novel written in 1898 is Equality.  In Equality, Edward Bellamy continued the story of Looking Backward but refined many of his views.  The following passage illustrates what Edward Bellamy’s feelings were about the main obstacle humanity faced in the year 1898.  When Bellamy uses the term “our political system” he is writing from the point of view of his main character, Julian West, who was transported into the future and is identifying with the past.

“Undoubtedly the confusion of terms in our political system is rather calculated to puzzle one at first, but if you only grasp firmly the vital point that the rule of the rich, the supremacy of capital and its interests, as against those of the people at large, was the central principle of our system, to which every other interest was made subservient, you will have the key that clears up every mystery.” P. 13 

While Bellamy understood that the abolition of slavery was an advance in human history, he also showed how there were numerous similarities between the system of slavery and the system of wage labor.  He even went so far as to say that in a sense a slave had one advantage over a worker.  Slaves were compelled to work while workers need to ask, or apply for employment.  For this reason, Bellamy argued that the slave was, in a sense, more honorable than the worker because slaves didn’t ask to be exploited.

Bellamy also explained how the capitalist system works in his Parable of the Water Tank.  He imagined a water tank which was owned by a small percentage of the people.  In order to drink water the people needed to pay for the water in the water tank.  In order to obtain the money to purchase the water, the people needed to bring buckets of water to fill the tank.  However, the people were paid less for a bucket of water than they needed to pay for that same amount of water.  Eventually the inevitable happened and the water tank overflowed.  At this point the owners said they didn’t need any more water and the people had no way to satisfy their thirst.  The owners hired all kinds of people to convince the populace to accept this arrangement, but eventually the people saw the light and confiscated the water tank from those who owned it.

Bellamy also questioned what was the difference between war and peace in the capitalist economic system.  He argued that when thousands of people die as a result of job related accidents, that this is not an example of living in peace.  He also showed that in the later half of the 19th century tens of thousands of troops were mobilized to crush strikes of workers.  Bellamy argued that the number of soldiers mobilized in these armies exceeded the number of soldiers headed by George Washington in the American Revolution.  Yet the government argued that the nation was not at war.

Bellamy also made a number of arguments that today we would find reprehensible.  He believed that human achievement was congenital.  In other words, he felt that people were born with a certain potential that they could not surpass in their lives.  He argued that the initial immigrants who came to the US came from the best Europeans, while those who came to this country during his generation came from the worst.  He felt that in his future world there would be a separation of the races.  Less objectionable was his opinion that he didn’t view himself as a socialist, but a nationalist because he wanted all major enterprises to be confiscated by the government.  However, all these ideas were made in the context that humanity had the potential to make profound improvements in the world.

While these opinions are clearly reprehensible, we also need to look at the times when Bellamy wrote his novels.  The birth of the Niagara Movement which culminated in the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) occurred in the year 1905 several years after Edward Bellamy passed away.  In other words, Bellamy did not have the knowledge of the civil rights movement, or the Russian Revolution, or the Cuban Revolution, or all the other movements that erupted in the twentieth century.  This is not an attempt to excuse Bellamy’s unfortunate remarks, but to place them in a historical context.

Finally, Edward Bellamy gives his own version of the kind of pledge to a new flag that the citizens of a future socialist world might recite. “The American, as he lifts his eyes to the ensign of the nation, is not reminded of its military prowess compared with other nations, of its past triumphs in battle and possible future victories.  To him the waving of the folds convey no such suggestions.  They recall rather the compact of brotherhood in which he stands pledged with all his countrymen mutually to safeguard the equal dignity and welfare of each by the might of all.”  I believe that this kind of pledge is the kind that people all over the world might support.


Steve Halpern is the author of Looking Back From 2101.  This novel uses a similar format as Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward.         

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Big Papi and a History of Immigration in Baseball



The other day I was looking at the sports page and noticed the name David Ortiz (David Américo Ortiz Arias).  I learned that Ortiz was second in the American League in batting average as well as second in runs batted in.  He was a star player on Boston Red Sox teams that won three World Series Championships.  He is having one of his best years, but he has announced that he will be retiring at the end of the season.  I should also say that Ortiz was born in the Dominican Republic and came to this country as an immigrant.

A mentor to Ortiz has been the ace pitcher Pedro Martinez.  It was Martinez who convinced the Red Sox to recruit Ortiz.  Pedro Martinez also was born in the Dominican Republic.

President Obama has been deporting about one thousand immigrants for every day he has been in office.  Thousands of these deported immigrants have children who were born in this country.  When their parents are deported, the children are sent into foster care with no effort made to unite them with their parents. 

Donald Trump isn’t satisfied with that number of deportations and says he will deport millions of immigrants if he is elected.  However, the idea of preventing David Ortiz from ever coming to this nation, or deporting him after he arrived, would be tantamount to fighting words for the baseball fans of Boston, Massachusetts.

Aside from the fact that Ortiz is an outstanding player, he always appears to have a positive attitude.  His positive attitude has helped to unite the Red Sox, and he has always been popular with his teammates.  This is one reason why he is affectionately known as the Big Papi.

The press has made a big deal of the fact that in Ortiz first World Series Championship, he helped to break the so-called “Curse of the Bambino.”  This refers to the idea that the Boston Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series championship since the team traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.

Well, there was a much more relevant reason why the Red Sox were not able to win a championship.  The team was the last to hire a Black ball player.  In fact, the Red Sox had the opportunity to recruit Willie Mays, but declined.

There has been a lot written about the difficulties Black players have had in breaking into the so-called Major Leagues.  However, very little has been written about the history of immigrants in baseball.  So, this column will give just a few facts attempting to uncover this truly inspiring history.  I will begin this narrative with someone who was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919.  His name was Jack (Jackie) Roosevelt Robinson and he wore the number 42.



Jackie Robinson

Why would I begin a history of immigration in baseball with Jackie Robinson who was born in this country?  In order to answer that question, first I will point to a few facts.

Jackie Robinson was a college educated young man who served in the United States military in Fort Hood, Texas.  After boarding a bus, someone ordered Robinson to vacate his seat and go to the back of the bus.  Years before Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, Jackie Robinson also refused to vacate his seat.  Both Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson were arrested for their acts of defiance.

Jackie Robinson was tried in a military court and forced to wear chains.  He wasn’t sent to prison for his defiance, but the military discharged him from the so-called service.  Had he been of a previous generation, the likelihood is that Robinson would have been lynched for his act of defiance.

Many of Robinson’s fans have seen the film 42 that is a biography of his life.  In the film, there is a scene where Robinson was practicing during spring training in Florida.  A racist approached the home where Robinson resided and threatened him with bodily harm if he remained in that city.

In another scene of the film, Robinson was playing a game in a state where Jim Crow segregation was the law.  A police officer, waving a nightstick, ordered Robinson off the field because he was in violation of the Jim Crow laws.  At that time, Jim Crow meant that it was illegal in some states for Black people to compete against Caucasians.  

I mention these facts to show that while Jackie Robinson was born in this country, he didn’t have citizenship rights here.  If he had citizenship rights he wouldn’t be asked to sit in the back of the bus.  If he was threatened, he could have gone to the police and demanded protection.  In those days, many police officers were members of the Ku Klux Klan.  If someone tried to prevent Robinson from playing baseball with Caucasian players, that person would be arrested.  This is how Robinson would have been treated if he had citizenship rights in this country.

Branch Rickey was the owner of the Dodgers team that recruited Jackie Robinson to the majors.  In the film 42 Rickey is portrayed as a heroic figure because of this gesture.  Well, there is another side to this story.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were the lowest paid team in baseball at that time.  Rickey wanted a championship team without having to pay a lot of money to the players.  His answer was to recruit some of the best players who happened to be Black.  This is the driving force behind racial discrimination.  When employers can pay Black people or women less, they can have more in terms of profits.

Isabel Wilkerson wrote her book The Warmth of other Suns.  Wilkerson’s family was a part of the Great Migration of Black people from the Jim Crow states to the states where Black people had some legal rights.  She got the idea for writing her book from living in Washington D.C. amongst immigrant children who’s families came here from other countries.  She found that many of her family’s stories of migration and adjustment to a new life were similar to the experiences of her immigrant friends.

This is why I begin my narrative of the history of immigration in baseball with Jackie Robinson.  Immigrants need to get citizenship rights in this country.  When Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball, he gained some of those citizenship rights.



Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants

I was raised in Newark, New Jersey.  Most of my friends were fans of the New York Yankees or the Mets, the teams closest to Newark.  I was a fan of the San Francisco Giants.  My hero was Willie Mays who was born in Westfield, Alabama.

Like David Ortiz, Willie Mays was an outstanding ball player.  He also usually appeared to have a positive attitude.  People associated Mays with the saying “Say hey.”  I’ve heard some analysts of the game argue that Willie Mays may have been the best all-round player of all time.

However, Willie Mays was joined by other Hall of Fame players on the Giants team.  These included Juan Marichal who was born in the Dominican Republic, Orlando Cepeda who was from Puerto Rico, and Willie McCovey who was born in Mobile, Alabama.  Among Marichal’s teammates were his childhood friends from the Dominican Republic, the Alou brothers, Felipe, Jesus, and Mattie.

While Jackie Robinson broke into the so-called Major Leagues in 1947, the Jim Crow laws remained until the mid 1960’s.  This was when the Civil Rights movement forced the government to adopt the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.  What did this mean?

This meant that all the players I’ve mentioned on the Giants team were not allowed to use the same facilities as their teammates in the Jim Crow states.  They needed to reside and eat their meals in the segregated Black areas of town, while their Caucasian teammates might be teeing off on a golf course.

So the story of Willie Mays’ San Francisco Giants is another story of people who gained some citizenship rights in this country because of struggle.



Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente has to be considered one of the best baseball players of all time.  He had 3,000 hits during his life, a milestone many great players never reached.  He was the best player on two Pittsburgh Pirates teams that won the World Series.  Both these teams were not favored to win.  However, he prided himself in his fielding abilities, and felt he could throw out any player from right field.

Pittsburgh used to be known as a steel city.  Black smoke poured out of furnaces that manufactured steel.  During those years it was difficult to see because of the thick smog of the city.  Someone wearing a white shirt would see it turn black from merely walking in the city.  When Roberto Clemente arrived in Pittsburgh there was no Latino community.  

Aside from his baseball record, Clemente felt the need to aid those who didn’t have his advantages.  He felt that if you have a chance to help people and don’t, you are wasting your life.

David Maraniss wrote a wonderful biography of Clemente and gave this appreciation of this aspect of his life:

“if something touched him, he reacted deeply, immediately, and took you in as part of his family.  It didn’t matter who you were to the rest of the world,­–Jewish accountant, Greek pie maker, black postman, shy teenager, barefoot Puerto Rican wonderer–if Clemente saw something, that was that.  Family was everything to him.”

When the Pirates toured the country, Clemente routinely visited children’s hospitals.  In Nicaragua, he visited Julio Parrales who had lost his legs in an accident.  Clemente appealed to the Puerto Rican and Cuban teems to contribute to a $700 fund so that Parrales could have artificial legs.  Clemente contributed half of that amount and told Parrales that he would see him as a batboy when he returned to Nicaragua.

It was this reputation that has made Roberto Clemente the second most popular ball player in history, next to Mickey Mantle.

Roberto Enrique Clemente was born in San Antón, in the state of Carolina in Puerto Rico.  His father did the unimaginably horrendous work of cutting sugar cane.  This meant bending down under the hot sun all day to cut the sugar cane.  We can get and idea of what this work was like by taking a look at the origin of the world zombie.

Before the Haitian Revolution that island nation was a French colony where slaves produced the most lucrative sugar crop in the world.  The conditions of the slaves were so horrendous, many committed suicide, while others lived a very short life.  The African word zombie was used to describe those slaves who committed suicide.  The belief was that those slaves would not enter an afterlife and have a status of the living dead.

Clemente’s father became a manager of the cane cutters and raised his large family on a salary of about eleven dollars per week.  The family had access to electricity, but relied on the rain for water.

Clemente’s mother cooked for the workers at their modest home.  She was a strong woman and was able to carry the carcass of a cow and butcher it.  Clemente felt that he inherited his strong right arm from his mother.

Roberto Clemente came to the mainland of the United States to play baseball in the 1950’s shortly after Jackie Robinson broke the color line.  Because Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States, Clemente was officially a U.S. citizen.  However, he like other Black players faced routine discrimination, and wasn’t allowed to use the same facilities as his Caucasian teammates.

Clemente also faced another type of discrimination because he was Latino and his first language was Spanish.  He was infuriated when sportswriters ridiculed his Spanish accent.  This is what Clemente had to say about the press in the United States:

“I attack it strongly, because since the first Latino arrived in the big leagues he was discriminated against without mercy,”  “It didn’t matter that the Latino player was good, but for the mere fact of him not being North American he was marginalized…They have an open preference for North Americans.  Mediocre players receive immense publicity while true stars are not highlighted as they deserve.”

Clemente gave the example of Juan Marichal to prove his point.  He argued that Marichal had a better overall record than Sandy Koufax, who many argue was the best.  This is what he had to say:

“Koufax was a five-year pitcher,”  “Marichal has a notable regularity, He was a pitcher forever.”

The United States government decided to modernize Puerto Rico and there was a large infusion of billions of dollars called Operation Bootstrap.  This infusion of money changed Puerto Rico from a largely sugar producing colony, to a manufacturing and tourist based economy.

However, this transition was not designed to meet the needs of all Puerto Ricans, and millions continued to move to the mainland to find work.  Today, Puerto Rico is in the midst of an economic crisis and there are cutbacks to workers in every area of their lives.  This is in spite of the fact that powerful investors have reaped enormous profits from Puerto Rico over the years.

This transition happened during the life of Roberto Clemente.  In his later years he became attracted to the nation of Nicaragua.  He felt that Nicaragua reminded him of what Puerto Rico was like before Operation Bootstrap.

After an earthquake in Nicaragua, the nation was in need of foreign aid.  Clemente became obsessed with gathering that aid.  However, the dictator of Nicaragua at that time was Anastasio Somoza.  Somoza had been confiscating aid given for hurricane relief, and using it for his own personal benefit.  Somoza had been supported by the United States government.

For this reason, Clemente felt the need to escort the aid to Nicaragua to ensure that it went to the people who needed it.  In a plane that never should have left the ground, Clemente died as a result of the plane crash at the age of 38.



Tony Oliva

Tony Oliva was the American League Rookie of the year in 1964.  He also led the American League in betting average for three years.  For eight years he was voted to play in the All-Star Game.  Despite having initial problems with his consistency in fielding, he also managed to win a Golden Glove award.

Tony Oliva was born Pedro Oliva in the Pinar Del Rio province of Cuba.  He changed his name because his brother Antonio had a birth certificate that enabled Pedro to get a passport.  I have visited the area of Pinar Del Rio and found it to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Pinar Del Rio is the tobacco-producing center of Cuba.  Oliva’s father grew tobacco as well as several other crops on his farm.  At that time, throughout Latin America, few rural small farmers had access to telephone service, electricity, or indoor plumbing.

While the family had food from the farm, obtaining manufactured goods was a challenge.  At times Oliva’s father would trade a cow for the things his family needed.

Oliva’s father played baseball and saw the potential of his son at an early age.  The young Oliva had a knack of hitting every ball that came across the plate.

However, most ball players from Cuba were in Havana about 100 miles away from Pinar Del Rio.  Tony Oliva managed to get into Havana and was recruited by a scout of the Minnesota Twins.

Initially Oliva joined a minor league team in Florida where he was cut after just a few days.  In what might have been one of the worst blunders in the history of baseball, someone argued that Oliva would never be able to hit major league pitching.  Oliva also experienced the vicious racial discrimination that he hadn’t known in Cuba.

Oliva managed to practice on another minor league team, but was not allowed to play in their games.  He was given a room and a three-dollar per day allowance for food.  Oliva didn’t want to pay for cab fare to the stadium, so he walked the five miles every day.

The Minnesota Twins were pioneers in recruiting Latin ball players.  Oliva had other Latin teammates that made his transition from Cuba easier.  These outstanding players included: Zoilo Versalles, Vic Power, and Rod Carew. 

Ironically Minneapolis is the coldest of the large cities in the United States.  Because the city didn’t have a Latin community at that time, there was no place to get the ingredients for the Caribbean food the Latin team members enjoyed.  So, Oliva would get in a car with his teammates, and ride more than 400 miles to Chicago where they could get the ingredients that reminded them of home.

Because of injuries, Tony Oliva needed to end his baseball playing career after fifteen seasons.  Although he was an all-star for most of those years, he hasn’t been voted into the Hall of Fame.  The only official reason for this jaded thinking is that Oliva didn’t play more years in baseball.

Yet, through all of this, Tony Oliva maintained his positive attitude and his fans remember his wonderful smile.

The Cuban Revolution

Tony Oliva had a problem that many other Latin players didn’t have.  Players from other Latin nations as well as Puerto Rico could live in their homeland during the off-season.  This was not the case with players born in Cuba.

The Cuban Revolution erupted in 1959.  The United States government had, and continues to have a policy of isolating governments of the world that it doesn’t like.  We know that some of the governments the U.S. has organized to overthrow include: the government of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, the government of Mosaddegh in Iran, and the government of Arbenz in Guatemala.  The U.S. government was confident that they could also overthrow the revolutionary Cuban government.  This didn’t turn out to be the case.

The U.S. government supported an invasion of Cuba called the “Bay of Pigs” or “Playa Giron.”  When this invasion was defeated, the United States threatened to use nuclear weapons against Cuba.  The excuse for this criminal act was that Cuba had accepted nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union.  The facts are that the United States has more nuclear weapons than any other nation in the world.

Because of the U.S. hostility to Cuba, relations with the United States government were a severe problem.  This meant that if Oliva returned to Cuba, merely to visit his family, he might never be able to return to a professional career in baseball.

The revolutionary government of Cuba also did away with professional baseball.  The government could not justify giving athletes high salaries, while the people lived in abject poverty.  This action, as well as many other actions, stemmed from the fact that Cuba has an underdeveloped economy.

Why did the U.S. government take such an aggressive stance against Cuba?  The Cuban government decided it was going to challenge the capitalist norms that continue to dominate the world.  In the First and Second Declarations of Havana this is what the Cuban revolutionary government had to say:

“The Submission of traitorous governments has made Our America a backyard of the Yankee empire.”

“We condemn the exploitation of man by man, and of the underdeveloped countries by finance capital.”

“The exploited of America have begun writing their history for themselves.”

We can see the accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution by the reality in Latin America today. 

Many of us viewed the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  In 2013 demonstrations erupted in Brazil.  That nation had experienced a cash windfall because of increased trade with China as well as the discovery of oil.  When that upturn in the economy reversed itself, working people were the ones to feel the consequences.  This is similar to what happened with the downturn of the Puerto Rican economy that I wrote about in this blog.

The Brazilians saw how most of the money that came into the economy went to Brazilian billionaires.  Two items these billionaires purchased with this money were the U.S. beer manufacturer, Anheuser Busch, and the ketchup manufacturer, Kraft’s Heinz Corporation.  Brazilian workers would have preferred that the fruits of their labor go into health care and education, rather than beer and ketchup.

The Cuban government has had to continuously struggle against an embargo put in place by the United States government.  However, even with this enormous obstacle, today Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than most other nations in the world.  Cuba is one of the world leaders in low infant mortality as well as a nearly 100% literacy rate.

However, Cuba also experienced a blow to their economy with the end of their favorable trade with the former Soviet Union.  While Cuba has recovered from that blow, Cubans continue to feel the effects of being an underdeveloped nation in the capitalist world.

To his credit, today Tony Oliva is in full support of improved relations between the United States and Cuba.  He visits Pinar del Rio every year.

The final story of this blog is about a little league game that I felt had a place in this history.               



The Perfect Game

William Winokur wrote a wonderful book about a seemingly impossible true story of how a little league baseball team won a world championship

Imagine yourself being a teenager in Monterrey, Mexico where the possibilities for a rewarding life appear to be remote at best.  The available jobs are in steel and glass where the work environment is excruciatingly hot, and the pay is barely enough to feed a family. 

However, children tend to have dreams that can be more powerful than the reality adults expose them to.  A few teenagers in Monterrey, Mexico in the year 1957 had dreams of being professional baseball players.  They identified with players like Sandy Koufax and Stan Musial.  But there was a problem.  They appeared to have no resources.

Then, they discovered Cesar Faz who once had a job cleaning locker rooms for the St Louis Cardinals.  Faz never had a chance at a coaching job in the majors because of his Mexican heritage. 

However, the young people from Monterrey wanted nothing more than Faz to be their coach.  The problem was that Cesar Faz had a grueling job in a glass factory and the young baseball players had no field to practice.  These were not insurmountable obstacles.

The young players from Monterrey cleared a field of rocks, weeds, and junk so they could practice.  Cesar Faz was inspired by the determination of these youngsters.  He agreed to coach the team and entered them in the little league championships that would take place in about four weeks. 

However, there were more obstacles.  The team would need funding in a town where workers barely had enough resources to eat.  The team would have four weeks to practice for a competition against the best teams in the little leagues. 

In order to play in their first game, the team would have to walk ten miles from the Mexican border to McAllen, Texas.  Norberto Villarreal cut his foot in Monterrey before the long walk.  He walked the entire distance with this injured foot because he didn’t want to be cut from the team.

Although Cesar Fax trained his team well, he didn’t think they had a chance to win  their first game.  He made arrangements with his girlfriend to meet her family after he expected his team to loose.  But they won that game.  The team continued to win in Texas.  The press in that state wanted their teams to get even with Mexico for the defeat of Texas in the fortress called the Alamo.

The little league team from Monterrey continued to surmount all the seemingly insurmountable challenges on and off the field.  They made it to the final game that they would play against the team from La Mesa, California.  La Mesa had been demolishing all their opponents by many runs.  La Mesa’s players were about five inches taller than the players from Monterrey. 

The workers of Monterrey had become inspired by the accomplishments of their little league team.  Hundreds of workers went on a candle light march to the owner of the steel mill.  They informed this owner that they would be taking an afternoon off in order to listen to the game between La Mesa and Monterrey.

La Mesa proved to be a worthy adversary and Monterrey was held scoreless for four innings.  However, Angel Macias was pitching a perfect a perfect game against the hard-hitting team from La Mesa.
 
Then, in the fifth inning Monterrey broke the game open and scored four runs.  On the final out of the game Angel Macias pitched three consecutive balls.  Cesar Faz walked to the mound and had a talk with his pitcher.  He complained that this was the first time he needed to wake up from his nap during the game. 

After this talk, Macias threw three strikes and the game was over.  This was the only perfect game in the history of the little leagues.  We should also mention that Enrique Suarez was the other pitcher who contributed to this championship.

The team then had meetings with the presidents of the United States and Mexico.  However, one of their most thrilling moments after their victory was when they viewed a Brooklyn Dodgers game and met with the players.

Back in Monterrey, the team was greeted by 500,000 fans in one of the most momentous events in the history of the city.  The Mexican government gave every member of the team lifetime scholarships to continue their education.  Unfortunately many players needed to care for their families and this made it impossible for these players to take advantage of their scholarships.

This story is particularly relevant today when the United States government has a wall aimed at preventing Mexican people from immigrating to the United States.  The story of The Perfect Game demonstrates that in a fair game young people from the United States and Mexico can not only compete, but they are capable of inspiring people throughout the world.

The Perfect Game, published by Kissena Park Press, Copyright 2008 by William Winokur.

This book was made into the 2010 film The Perfect Game directed by William Dear.

Conclusion

This blog isn’t just about The Big Papi, or merely about immigration.  This is a story about two worlds.  In one world, the people have very little and struggle to survive.  Then, there is the world of the so-called Major League Baseball.  This is the story about individuals who beat all the odds and went from one world into that very different world. 

We may have noticed that several of the athletes I’ve mentioned where known to have wonderful smiles as well as positive attitudes.  We might wonder why they had this positive attitude, when they faced so many obstacles in life.

Clearly, I haven’t interviewed any of these athletes.  However, I will offer my opinion of one possible answer to this question.  These athletes understood that while they experienced enormous problems, they managed to overcome these problems and gain recognition for their achievements.  Clearly, this is something to smile about.

For a moment, I would like people to step back and think about another issue.  While these are clearly stories of heroically overcoming obstacles, baseball is only a game.

We all depend on immigrants or people who live in other countries for literally everything we need and want.  I’m talking about the food we eat, prepared by farm workers, meat packers, and restaurant workers.  The clothes we wear, made by garment workers.  The homes we live in, made by construction workers.

For twenty-one years I worked for two auto parts manufacturing companies.  For the past ten years I’ve worked in health care.  During all those years I’ve had the real privilege to work with people who were born in virtually every part of the world.  This would include: Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.  All these immigrants have contributed to providing people with the goods and services people need and want.

The labor movement was built on the saying that, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”  When the government talks about the need to deport immigrants, I believe that we need to look at this story as well as many other stories in order to see how immigrants have made living in this country a much richer experience.

The struggle for immigrant rights is the same as the struggle against the discrimination of Native Americans, women, and Black people.  Most of the population of the world is made up of working people.  We all have the same ideal, that human needs are more important than profits.