If you’re reading this, you’re probably a hockey fan. But hockey fandom can sometimes be a tough sell, given the culture of the NHL and North American hockey. It’s the sport where personalities like Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick make sexist comments. Where was Akim Aliu racial abuse by his head coach, Jordan Subban by an opposing player and Devante Smith-Pelly by four fans whom the Chicago Blackhawks later banned. The Blackhawks, of course, are the same organization that once employed Kyle Beach, whose career and life were damaged, perhaps irrevocably, when he was sexually assaulted by the team’s video coach and then looked at the head coach and the general manager of the organization. cover everything.
That’s why I approach any Hockey Is For Everyone gesture with a large dose of skepticism. Yet, as fate would have it, I witnessed one such gesture last week when the Stars played the Los Angeles Kings for “Noche Mexicana” at the American Airlines Center. I was there because it’s not the first event of its kind the Stars have orchestrated, it’s the first under Alvaro Montoya, the former goaltender who is now the director of action. Community of the Stars. I was there because he invited me, and since it coincided with my work stoppage, and since my immediate family lives in Dallas (I live in San Antonio), I couldn’t say no. Family, friends and hockey are the three things I grew up with and love the most.
I didn’t go to the game to write a story. I was there to talk to my dad about life in sweaty machine shops and when I can pull out his midnight blue 1970 Nova for a spin. I wasn’t there to admire the vibrant colors of Mexican aesthetics showcased on everything from swimwear to lucha libre masks. I was there to ask my mom about her new job in the city and enjoy her home cooking. I wasn’t there to listen to Selena’s greatest hits, which blared outside the arena as Tacos Insurgentes served traditional Mexican street food. Also, if I’m an obnoxious fussy person, quesadillas aren’t my thing. I’m a breakfast guy, so calves are my first choice when I crave “traditional Mexican”.
It was fun to see the fans treated to traditional folk dances from Jalisco. It was great to hear Spanish covers of “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Hotel California” (by the Gipsy Kings, of course). And it was even better to see the fan cam fixed on Latin American faces enjoying what turned out to be a brilliant performance by the Stars.
But none of this concerned me. At least not on the surface. I come from the northern suburbs of Texas. Of course I grew up with Blood in, blood out, and the Bamba, but they were just movies, not culture. I grew up with electric guitars and rollerblades. Pantera was my anthem, not Tejano. My streets were Gendy (where I went to rocket camp in grade school) and Exchange. My food was chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes, not Menudo. My parents had no interest in speaking Spanish to me growing up. The racism suffered by their parents ensured that he could never be a source of pride.
This requires some explaining, so there you go. My mother would often tell me a story from when her mother was in elementary school and needed to go to the bathroom. She asked her teacher for permission in Spanish, a language the teacher did not speak. This professor could have made an effort to understand what my grandmother meant. Rather than try, the woman let her urinate on the classroom chair.
I do not mention this story out of sympathy. It’s important, I think, that we don’t internalize the struggles of others. My grandmother lived her life as a Mexican woman at a time when the Federal Housing Administration’s first major housing economist ranked Mexicans as the racial group with the highest number of negative impact on land value. Meanwhile, I’m just a straight Chicano man with enough vanilla interests to fit in easily wherever I’ve been. To treat my grandmother’s burden as if it were my own would be nothing more than stolen bravery. But I get better by paying attention, that’s all you can do. And so I paid attention to “Noche Mexicana”.
That was, I think, the goal. Under Montoya’s direction, the event was all about paying attention. Like he said Lauren Merola“These kids will now see the performance because it’s really important. You don’t have to be a professional athlete, but you have to know that there’s room for you in this game, whether it’s on the ice or in the office.
If you are sincerely trying to reach a large Latino audience, language is your starting point. Learning several languages is not a test of ethics, but it does reflect sympathy for what a person has to say. The Stars have done a great job in this regard. Their Twitter account created comments and cheap but amusing puns in Spanish, in addition to blowing up one of the best goal calls I never heard in my life who came on Spanish television. Small gestures, sure, but powerful ones that helped “diversity” and “representation” feel bigger than buzzwords.
Because positive representation of underrepresented groups is important. They have the passive effect of helping us to understand people and cultures different from our own in a way that goes beyond stereotypes. And they have the active effect of helping to influence a person’s self-determination. I don’t know how much my approach to college would have changed if I hadn’t been the first to graduate from either side of my family tree, but that kind of achievement shouldn’t be bittersweet.
This is especially important for Latinos because there are so many bands within bands, which Montoya and I discussed in October. And it was a night that celebrated Mexican culture. The Mexican philosopher Emilio Uranga calls us “accidental” beings, defined by a lack of grounding and the need not to be forgotten, hence the fascination of death in our holidays. If you want a more accessible way to grasp its meaning, just watch this scene from Selena:
For most people – myself included – “Noche Mexicana” was just a one night game. But for one game that night, hockey paid attention. It may seem like a small thing, but that’s how progress begins.
When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Black Panther comics, they revealed exactly why: because they paid attention to the lack of black superheroes in comics. Now hockey is paying attention to the lack of Latinos representing the sport on and off the ice. Will stars celebrating Latin American pride bring back the disappearance Latinos from traffic logs or Latino neighborhoods who disappeared right here in Dallas? Will it get better health outcomes for Latinos who are notoriously missing? It would be a good trick, but no. It is to pay attention to what he can.
Of course, this is the optimist in me speaking. In truth, hockey hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt. The game still pays attention to Milbury, who recently double on his comments about women as “distractions” and even rescinded his initial apology. The game always pays attention to everyone involved in the Logan Mailloux controversial. Hockey is still paying attention to John Vanbiesbrouck, hired in 2018 as USA Hockey’s assistant director of hockey operations, who called former Stars defenseman Trevor Daley the n-word on several occasions, when he was a young prospect. Remember Blackhawks president Rocky Wirtz and his unbalanced response to Mark Lazarus’ very appropriate question? Does anyone doubt that hockey will pay attention to Joel Quenneville again in the near future?
I’m not interested in discussing these men’s second chances. I’m interested in qualified people who don’t have one. When I started watching hockey, it was everything I loved: fast, violent and skillful. But I fell in love with it because I reached out to find out. I played video games, even the the weird ones. I bought my own skates. I (foolishly) practiced the articulation washer. I bought expensive linen. I went to the Reunion Arena.
I’ve always been willing to pay attention to hockey. For one game, one night, hockey finally felt like it cared about people like me, my family — and not just Mexican-Americans, but Cuban-Americans like Montoya himself. , Puerto Rican Americans, Guatemalan Americans and host of Latin music. future American generations. It’s hard to give hockey the benefit of the doubt. But it’s not hard to pay attention. We’ll know they mean business when “Noche Mexicana”, as fun as it was and is, is no more. at be a celebration. Because you’ll see Latin American faces on the ice, in the stands and maybe even leading a professional hockey team. Diversity will be the reality of hockey. Just as it is on the outside.
David Castillo covers the Stars for StrongSide. He wrote for SB Nation and Wrong side of the red line,…