¡Pleibol! at the National Museum of American History shares the experiences of Latinas and Latinos whose love for the game and incredible talent have changed baseball and transformed American culture forever. See where their field of dreams was born.Less
For over a century in the United States and Latin America, baseball provided a way for Latinos to reach for better futures by making and seizing opportunities. Playing the sport in local leagues brought freedom from discrimination experienced off the field, opportunities to be recognized for talent on the field, and new energy to communities that provided support and shared language. In agriculture and industry, workers used the baseball field as a space to organize for rights and justice.
During the period when Major League Baseball’s segregation policy blocked them from participating—Latinos developed community, semipro, and professional baseball leagues of their own. Baseball provided a social network and a break from discrimination in the larger world. Wherever they lived, Latinas/os made the diamond a place to play and enjoy their freedoms. In the early 1900s in East Harlem, New York, Puerto Rican, African American, and Dominican communities created their own game: stickball.
Between the 1920s and 40s, sugar companies established over 100 segregated agricultural communities across the US in states like CO, WY, and NE. These “Spanish Colonies,” or colonias, were communities of primarily Spanish-speaking laborers and their families who came from the southwestern US and Mexico. Work in the sugar beet fields was arduous—long, sweltering days of backbreaking labor for little pay—but the men of the colonias found recreation and relief in baseball.
Throughout the last century, whether in urban barrios (Spanish-speaking enclaves), rural areas, or the big leagues, baseball and identity went hand in hand as the game became a place for Latinas/os to express cultural traditions. Today, players, owners, fans, and teams continue to simultaneously change the game and express their identities. Women played significant roles throughout this history—they formed their own leagues and cheered on family members, supporting and transforming the game.
Fans celebrate Roberto Clemente as “The Great One.” Family members called him “Momen.” His accomplishments in the sport, hard work, fierce pride, and resilience in the face of racism and discrimination won the admiration of countless fans in the US and Latin America. Clemente’s death in a plane crash, while carrying supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on Dec. 31, 1972, shocked fans across the globe. His death added mythology to the legacy he had built as a player and philanthropist.
Philip K. Wrigley began the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) at the onset of WWII. With most able men away at war, professional baseball was reimagined as a woman’s domain. Eleven Latinas played in the AAGPBL, including Mexican American Marge Villa from Montebello, CA. Fair-skinned Latinas who passed as white in an era of segregation became some of the few women to play professional baseball in the US. As a teenager, Villa played for the Orange Lionettes and Garvey Stars.
Linda Alvarado made Major League Baseball history in the 1990s as the first woman to win a bid on an MLB team when she bought the Colorado Rockies, becoming the first Hispanic team owner. She is also part of an often-unrecognized tradition of Latinas in baseball. Latinas have tirelessly given their time and talents in support of the game and their communities. Women formed their own teams and leagues, sewed patches onto uniforms, cared for children during games, and cooked and sold concessions.
The land on which the Dodgers built their new Los Angeles stadium was once the home of the Latino neighborhoods of Chavez Ravine. In the 1950s, LA officials seized the property of Latino homeowners, forcibly removing them from their residences using eminent domain. For this baseball-loving community, the game came to represent physical displacement: families forced to make way for Dodger Stadium. Uprooted residents will never forget this complicated, dark chapter in LA history.
Throughout the 1900s, immigrants from the Caribbean—Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico—as well as from Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil, knew the sights and sounds of baseball before coming to the United States. Baseball was already a vibrant part of their home communities. In Florida, the Minor League Tampa Smokers, named for the prolific cigar industry in the region, played across Florida, the southern US, and Cuba, becoming known for developing Cuban Major League players.
In the late 1800s, Cubans became the “apostles of baseball,” spreading the game across the Caribbean. The first Cubans to learn the game were children of the Cuban elite sent to study in the US during the 1860s. They came home with baseball equipment, knowledge of how to play the game, and enthusiasm for sharing what they acquired. They spread baseball across the island, teaching others and forming clubs that are the foundation for baseball’s central place in Cuban national identity and culture.