We Celebrate Sports Star Immigrants and Vilify the Rest

Sports coverage all too often ignores when successful athletes are part of groups targeted by right-wing fear-mongering.

San Francisco exploded last week like never before, celebrating the first World Series win for the city's baseball team.

During the National League Championship Series a couple weeks back, a roar would go up from bars and living rooms at the close of every winning game. You could hear it in all parts of the city. During the World Series the roar went up at every home run, accelerating in the last couple games for every Giants hit and then for the Texas Rangers' rapid accumulation of outs. At the close of that final inning, the roar reached a crescendo, carrying well across the bay as San Franciscans of all ages poured into the streets.

Possibly the most satisfying part of defeating this particular team, the Texas Rangers, is that George W. Bush used to own it. As presidents, Bush Jr. and Sr. made every effort to avoid setting foot in lefty San Francisco. The Rangers themselves are named after an armed force that originated in 1823 to facilitate the European-American occupation and colonization of what we now call Texas.

The symbolism of delivering a crushing defeat to the Rangers, with Bush Jr. slumped in the front row with his chin in his fist, inspired legions of San Franciscans. At the ceremony awarding the Giants the key to the city, Republican Governor Schwarzenegger spoke over hundreds of thousands of people booing for the duration of his remarks. When the moderate mayor spoke, the crowd cheered initially, but the booing far outlasted the cheers.

In the midst of all the vocal opposition to the right, there was one thing that almost no one was talking about: how much people categorized as immigrants had contributed to the unprecedented success. The players and coaches we showered with cheers and ticker tape hail from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Curaçao, France, Panama. Their families came from the Philippines, Mexico and Japan.

The omission was perhaps most stark when a bouncy television reporter from ABC picked out a fan in the barricaded crowd for a sound bite. The first person she spoke with didn't want to reply -- he said he didn't speak English. She quickly moved on to another fan, evading the obvious: that San Francisco is immigrants and families of immigrants, just like the rest of the state and much of the nation.

But the day before the parade celebrating the big win, a majority of the city's voters had denied undocumented parents the right to vote for the board members of their kids' schools. While San Francisco rained well-deserved praise on several super-achiever immigrants, a much larger number of people were denied a bit of agency over their children's educations.

Sports coverage all too often ignores when successful athletes are part of groups targeted by right-wing fear-mongering. In the rare moment that we get to hear what's actually being said on the field, you might hear the players get coached in Spanish. Legendary pitcher Tim Lincecum is adamant that he be described as Filipino American. He's not the only athlete with Asian or Latino pride; NFL player and board member Scott Fujita has joined voices with Representative Mike Honda calling for massive changes in U.S. immigration policy.

Last Tuesday, California set itself apart with widespread Democratic victories that have been attributed to an involved Latino base. Does keeping quiet and allowing anti-immigrant rhetoric to run unchallenged really help what San Francisco and progressives are working for?

San Francisco is faced with a choice: speak up and resist all parts of the old Ranger mentality, or stay quiet while the town becomes a sanctuary for only the privileged. As a city that many of the nation's Left looks to for leadership, we have a responsibility to do the former.

Nellie Nelson has written for various publications in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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