“Ice Hockey a la mexicana” by Joseph M. Towle
In April 2016 Akashic Books launched the Edge of Sports imprint, curated by Dave Zirin, a sportswriter who has never shied away from criticizing that which die-hard sports fans hold dear. The Edge of Sports titles will address social justice issues across many different sports, and at both the professional and nonprofessional/collegiate levels. Parallel to this exciting new imprint, Akashic will be running a “Sports & Justice” series on our website featuring short original essays (750 words or less) paying homage to athletes who have demonstrated heroism outside of their field of play.
This week, Joseph M. Towle teaches us about a surprisingly popular Latin American sport.
Ice Hockey a la mexicana
by Joseph M. Towle
I am a professor of Latin American Literatures and Cultures and a die-hard hockey fan. I am interested in cultural productions and representations from across Latin America. At the same time, I identify most closely with a piece of my local culture: playing a pickup hockey game outside, shoveling snow off the playing surface—often a flooded playground or baseball field—under the floodlights, in seven-degree weather. I grew up playing hockey, as did many members of my family. I was born in North Dakota, but now live in Minnesota, a northern state known as the great “State of Hockey.” In Canada, our neighbor to the north, hockey’s popularity is unmatched; it is played and beloved by many and the country is well-known for the sport—it produces more professional hockey players than the next seven countries combined—yet it shares its official, national sport designation with lacrosse.
In my professional life, my teaching and scholarship focuses on our neighbor to the south, Mexico. Unlike Canada—and to a certain extent, the USA—Mexico is known for its warm-weather sports. Baseball in particular is immensely popular, especially in the north. Most recently, Mexico won the 2016 Caribbean Series, an annual baseball tournament held during the first week of February that showcases the best national team from a handful of countries throughout the region. This year’s championship gave Mexico its fourth title in the last six years, all four teams representing northern states. What about soccer? Well, much of Mexico’s sports pride is found in its national soccer team, or what is often referred to as the selección nacional, or simply la sele. Soccer is hands down the most popular sport throughout Latin America, but with much of the county’s hopes and dreams poured into the national team, it continues to let them down. It is often difficult to find a sense of pride and national identity in a team that has never made it further than the quarterfinals at the World Cup (the team won the gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London).
In Mexico, almost half of the population suffers from poverty. The majority of citizens live in fear of constant violence and are seeing their freedoms of speech and protest diminished. The future looks bleak in a country where 98 percent of murder cases go unsolved. So, outside of regional baseball and a mediocre national soccer team, where can the country find a sense of national pride? You guessed it—Mexico is at the top of its game in men’s ice hockey.
This winter, Mexico experienced snowfall in parts of the country that see it rarely, if ever. Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, received its first measurable snowfall in more than twenty years, rare for a city that sits at a latitude lower than Miami, Havana, and Cancún. The state of Chihuahua, Mexico’s largest, which borders Texas and New Mexico, is known for its mountain ranges but also for its deserts. Photos of cacti covered in snow and cars sliding off icy roads are common newsreel images in a place we don’t usually associate with cold winter weather. So, perhaps it makes sense that after a winter of ice and snow experienced by our sunny neighbor to the south, Mexico captured the U-20 gold medal at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship (Division III).
Hockey fans are most familiar with the annual tournament that involves hockey powerhouses such as Canada, the USA, Sweden, and Russia. The third-tier tournament held in Mexico City this past January flew under the radar for many hockey fans. Let’s be honest: who is waiting to see matchups on the ice between Turkey and Bulgaria, or New Zealand and Israel? Certainly the championship game between two countries known for their sandy beaches and surf destinations, South Africa (RSA) and Mexico, was not to be missed. On Sunday, January 24, 2016, in Mexico City, Mexico defeated RSA 9–2; Mexico never looked back from the opening face-off. That Sunday, Mexico celebrated its third ice hockey championship (2005, 2011, and 2016), all three won on their home ice at the Mexico City Ice Dome. These hockey players deserve recognition for providing the world with a positive story that comes from a country that desperately needs one. Let us cheer for these young heroes who are fostering new spaces and opportunities for local communities and generating an alternative source of national pride.
JOSEPH M. TOWLE is an assistant professor in the Department of Languages and Cross-Cultural Studies at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN. He loves everything Latin America and everything hockey, even Latin American hockey.
Do you have an essay you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Sports & Justice series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your essay should focus on a specific athlete (or, in some cases, multiple athletes) who has committed her or himself to some form of social justice or otherwise heroic endeavors off the playing field.
—Your essay should not exceed 750 words, and must be previously unpublished.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Sports & Justice are typically posted 1–3 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jun 29, 2016
Featured: Music/Popular Culture/Art
- Simon’s Cat vs. the World
- Infinity Blues
- A Fictional History of the United States with Huge Chunks Missing
- Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group
- Of Grunge and Government: Let’s Fix this Broken Democracy!
- Go de Rass to Sleep
- The Worst Breakfast
- Demons in the Spring
- You Have to Fucking Eat
- Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith