Q&A w/ Las Cafeteras: Chicanos, Beisbol & Politics

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Families and fans of all backgrounds came together Sunday, May 20th, not just to watch the Dodgers beat the Cardinals but also to spend some time at Viva Los Dodgers. The family-friendly event, which promotes L.A.’s Latino culture, featured games and activities for everyone as well as live music by East L.A.’s Las Cafeteras and Barcelona’s The Pinker Tones.

I spoke with Hector Flores of Las Cafeteras last week after the game. Flores, like his brother David, are Dodger fans since birth who grew up alongside the careers of Dodgers key members Fernando Valenzuela, Jaime Jarrin and Pepe Yñiguez. Hector knows all too well the impact the team and the sport has had on the local Latino community, on society at large and the undying controversy behind Chavez Ravine.

How long have you and your brother David been Dodger fans?

My dad was a big Dodgers fan. My dad’s a baseball fan more than anything. He loves watching ball. He’s from Sonora, and my mom’s from Morelia, Michoacán. I think, even now, northern Mexico is all baseball, and central and southern Mexico is hardcore soccer.

He brought us all up to play baseball since I was four years old. He’d take us to the park and hit us balls and that was it. Watching baseball on TV was a pretty big thing. He never actually played until he was older, like his late 40s. He started playing with the Sunday leagues. He grew up playing baseball in the streets but never organized ball.

I’m sure you grew up watching Fernando Valenzuela. How big was his impact on baseball and what did it mean for Latinos?

Being from L.A., being a Dodgers fan, Fernandomania did a lot. Fernandomania’s crazy because you had Latinos play in the past but you had this chunky, chubby pitcher who’s playing for one of the best teams in baseball striking fools out and that fool’s just raza. He’s got this big-ass Mexican mullet…and everybody loved him. Ever since the ’80s, it’s been like this whole explosion of Latinos really taking up the sport. Fernandomania brought a lot of folks, a lot of Latinos especially from L.A., into baseball. Whether you were a fan of baseball or not, you were watching because you saw someone who looked like you, who dressed like you, who rocked that big-ass Mexican hair like you did and was playing in a mainstream, dominant arena called baseball, America’s pastime. When you think about America’s pastime, a lot of it is about white culture and baseball, really being part of that white culture, and having Latinos come up and be part of that was like “we can be recognized for our talents too.”

With a lot of things going on in the ’80s like the immigration/naturalization of 1986, and this amnesty program which provided permanent residency and legalization, there was a lot of folks that came out of the shadows and became U.S. citizens, but still got the second-class citizen treatment. Then, through sports, it was like, “Wait, we’re part of your culture too. We can provide, we can work, we can go to school.” I think the ’80s was really ‘big time’ for the United States to recognize Latinos as a beautiful component and element of American culture or that it could be.


One of the things that really struck me about Sunday’s event (May 20th) was the juxtaposition of history and paradoxes. There’s Las Cafeteras, a group of Chicanos playing old-school Mexican music, sharing a stage with an electro-pop band from Spain (Mexico’s former colonizer) at an event celebrating L.A.’s Latino culture in a stadium built on Chavez Ravine, former home to a small community of Mexicans and Chicanos who were forcefully evicted from their homes, and for a baseball team that gave us icons such as Valenzuela and Ecuadorian Dodgers broadcaster, Jaime Jarrin.

The Pinker Tones
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It’s really crazy in that spectrum that you laid out. L.A.’s a world city. On the east coast, you have Ellis Island. On the west coast, you have Los Angeles. If you talk to folks in a Dodger stadium, you get stories like you just did right now. In just one game, you have all these Chicanos who were born in Los Angeles who play traditional music who meet up with Spanish cats playing techno, which is like this spectrum of colonizer and colonized, playing together. And we were in a $5,000 suite next to folks that we don’t live next to or will ever see again all together in this one space. If you pay to go see a game, all of us, no matter where you’re at, are going for one thing: to have a good time watching an American sport. No matter your socioeconomic status, all of us there all root for the same team in this world city of Los Angeles. For a second, all those barriers wash away. It’s the beauty of what sports can do.

I think what Viva Los Dodgers is trying to do is to bring different cultures and people together, it’s a marketing tool, which is great for them. Latinos like the game and we should market to them but, on the other chip too, it’s great for us that communities are being recognized for their talents, for their music, for their culture and folks can vibe together and we can dance together. If we can watch a baseball game together, maybe we can live together, maybe we can study together, maybe we can eat together and break bread together. I think music has that power…and I think sports can have that power.

There was a moment when your band was cheering in Spanish and the people in the next suite had no idea what you were saying but they wanted to join in.

And they joined in! [laughs] The first ones to join in were the kids. I totally forgot about that!

Where there’s baseball, there’s a beach ball.
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I take it not everyone in the band is as big a Dodger fan as you or your brother.

Leah [Gallegos], she couldn’t care less about the Dodgers. But it was dope for me and my brother because we grew up playing baseball and being big Dodger fans and my dad being a big baseball and Dodger fan, we invited him to come watch the show and then after the show we got invited to get these suite seats. We’ve never sat on the field before. Whenever we’d go with my dad, we’d sit on the top deck.

The closest we’d get was pavilion so to be able to invite my dad and take him to the suite, we might never do that shit again in our lifetime. That was a great experience to roll through with my pops and him seeing, his kids play at the Dodger stadium, and watching the game from the suite. And then that seventh inning homerun, you can’t beat that!

But you know what’s funny? When we first got the Viva Los Dodgers, some guy wrote to us on our facebook. He’s like, “Hey, congratulations, you sellouts. Don’t you know about Chavez Ravine? Don‘t you know about people getting kicked out of their homes?” and stuff like that. I asked Las Cafeteras if I could write him a message and, so, I did. It was like half a paragraph but I started off joking around like, “Hey dawg, you sound like an Angels fan,” right off the bat. Hopefully he took it cool. I said, “First of all, I hear what you’re saying but I want to share with you two things. One, just because we’re playing at Dodger stadium in no way means that we endorse, condone or were part of the gentrification and removal of people in the 1950s McCarthy era. There’s no way you can make that connection. And two, if you have a bank account, if you don’t make your own food, if you don’t make your own clothes and if you drive a car, you shouldn’t be pointing fingers at people because we’re all walking contradictions.” He never pushed it up again and he never wrote back.

I’m a pretty progressive cat. My politics are to the left, if you want to use those terms, but I have homies from the SGV [San Gabriel Valley] and they’re not conscious whatsoever and they always like to fuck around with me like, “Oh dawg, why do you want to go to Dodger stadium, huh? Don’t you know about Chavez Ravine?”

Did you ever see that play by Culture Clash about Chavez Ravine? That play is so amazing. They really took the story and really dug up a lot of the truth behind the scenes but then infused comedy and politics and really gave folks a general sense of the heartache that a lot of folks went through. At the same time, it also acknowledged that baseball, beyond the Dodgers, has been a way for Latinos to be recognized within American society. It’s one of those few things where race doesn’t really matter as long as you can show yourself on the field. The history of Chavez Ravine is a tragic story but…baseball in L.A. has allowed the marginalized and displaced in Los Angeles to be recognized and have a space within Los Angeles.

It gave us Valenzuela and he was a great advocate of and for the community.

Portraits of Pepe Yniguez and Fernando Valenzuela in Vin Scully Press Box
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Yeah, and Mike Brito was the catcher for Valenzuela. He never went big but he was the biggest guy in the barrio coming out of Los Angeles. All the Sunday leagues were funded by Mike Brito like the Brito league, the equipment, the fields, the gloves, and the bases. He basically funded baseball in the neighborhoods of Los Angeles especially in southeast, East Los Angeles and South L.A. in all these low-income communities of color. Even now, when Nomar Garciaparra was playing for the Dodgers, he was a kid from Montebello. He was a good player.

He wasn’t a great player but it didn’t matter. Going back to Chicanos playing baseball, he was the face of Chicanos. He was a good kid, a hard worker, a good player, he wasn’t involved in drugs or any shit like that. It was a great representation of this new Latino population that everybody’s afraid of but, at the same time, very excited about.

Photo courtesy of Afroxander
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