World Series

Essay: What it Means to See Myself Reflected in the Astros

"It feels exhilarating to see so much of myself, in my city, take center stage."

By Jasminne Mendez October 27, 2021

Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez celebrates after their win against the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of baseball’s American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. 

GAME 1 of THIS YEAR'S WORLD SERIES opens with two Afro-Latinx players. Afro-Cuban player  Jorge Soler is first at bat for the Atlanta Braves and Afro-Dominican Framber Valdez is on the pitcher's mound for the Astros. 

Soler winds his bat like the loose hands of a clock, my husband lays back on the couch with a beer in his hand and grunts, “C’mon Astros!” 

The white lights of Minute Maid Park shined brightly. 

Valdez pitches. Strike one. 

Valdez pitches, again. Strike two. 

Valdez pitches one more time. Soler hits a home run into the Crawford boxes beyond left field. The stadium roars. My husband groans and throws his hands up in the air. 

Suddenly, I am taken back to the late 90’s, when I first moved to Texas. 

I lived in San Antonio then, and Papi, my father, had become obsessed (as most of the country had) with Sammy Sosa and his home run record chase. I remember Papi sitting down every night there was a Cubs game, with a green bottle of beer in one hand and the remote in the other. 

Papi was always there, watching Sammy and waiting for him to hit the next home run. While I never sat down with my father to watch a game, I do remember his enthusiasm and joy at seeing Sammy garner so much attention. I remember running into the living room every time Papi hooted and hollered, and asking him “did he hit another home run?” 

I remember it being the first time I actually cared about baseball. 

Back then, I assumed Papi's enthusiasm was brought on because Sammy was one of the first Dominican players to take such a huge spotlight. But as I look back on it now I realize it was more than that. Papi clung to Sammy and his success so fervently because Papi and Sammy looked the same. Papi and Sammy could have been brothers or at least cousins since they shared the same last name. But even more than that, what drew my father into the game was that he was a Black Dominican man just like Sammy was.  

Afro-Latinx Astros

As I cheer on my Houston Astros team along with millions of other fans, and remember Papi and Sammy and his fall from glory, I can’t help but feel that no matter how good or how visible Afro-Latinx players are in America’s favorite pastime, we never have and never will be “American enough,” “Black enough,” or “Latinx enough” for America. 

You see, as Black Dominicans, or Afro-Latinx we are not used to seeing ourselves or people who look like us, sound like us, and eat or dance like us on American television, on stage, or in any media. Except, sometimes we hear the sounds of our island on the radio in Bachata remixes and reggaeton beats. 

Growing up, I would watch telenovelas and the news on Univision and none of the actors, actresses or news anchors had my curly or kinky hair, or my melanin. American television shows with Latinx actors always cast fair-skinned Latin lovers or brown (but not too brown) “spicy” Latinas, like Sofia Vergara. 

Writer Jasminne Mendez.

The only Afro-Latina I knew growing up was Celia Cruz

I know ---even if I never watched---that baseball, America’s favorite pastime, was and still is dominated by Afro-Latinx (usually Dominican) players. 

I know this, because whenever I was asked “what are you” I would attribute my Blackness to my Dominican roots, and strangers would immediately comment on how good “my people” were at baseball.

One of the only places I have ever been visible is on the baseball field.

And, for a brief moment in time, before Sammy corked his bat and bleached his skin, being a Black Dominican was equated with greatness. For that one humid hot home run summer in 1998, being a Black Dominican was equated with being American. 

Today, on the Houston Astros team there are at least eight Afro-Latinx players. Of the eight, four are from the Dominican Republic. The others, like our beloved Yordan Alvarez, are from Cuba, Puerto Rico, or Venezuela. 

It feels exhilarating to see so much of myself, in my city, take center stage.

So often while living in Houston it seems as if people don’t understand the concept of Afro-Latinidad. People refuse to accept that Blackness and Latinidad are not mutually exclusive. I’ve spent the better part of two decades having to explain, and justify, my identity. 

And yet, I can see, right here, on the world stage that is Major League Baseball and the World Series that there are numerous examples of Afro-Latinidad. But usually, our identities as Afro-Latinx players, performers, writers, and artists, is relegated to a footnote. 

I am tired of having to explain myself. I am tired of people pretending  they don’t know Afro-Latinx people exist. We are here, and we are some of the best at the most American thing there is: baseball.

I hope the Astros win the World Series. 

And I hope people pay attention to the fact that Afro-Latinx players like Alvarez, Valdez, Maldonando, Siri, and others have and will continue to take us to victory. 

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