I finally got a chance to see “42” recently at a special screening of the movie at the Festival de Cine Global Dominicano and was even more honored to moderate a panel discussion on racism and Latino athletes prior to the screening.
Jackie Robinson knocked down the door of segregation, breaking the color line and opening the game of baseball to all. And through that door stepped the Dominican pioneers of baseball – Ozzie Virgil, Juan Marichal, The Rojas Alou brothers, Cesar Geronimo, Rudy Hernandez, Julian Javier, Manuel Jimenez, and Manny Mota – players who paved the way for the Dominicans who now dominate the game of baseball, but whose contributions are often unsung. Robinson broke the color line, but the Dominicans who followed helped to further break down racial and cultural barriers and establish the Dominican Republic as a hotbed for baseball.
On hand for the panel discussion was Marichal, a true legend and the only Dominican in the baseball Hall of Fame. He was joined by Felix Sanchez, a two time Olympic gold medalist in the 400 meter hurdles, and Pedro Leondro Rodriguez, one of the major forces in the development of basketball in the Dominican Republic as a member of the National Team in the 1970s and president of the LIDOBA, the Dominican professional basketball league during its first three years, 2005-2007.
All gave very poignant accounts of the racism they encountered in the U.S., none more insightful than Marichal who described both the racial and cultural discrimination he encountered in the career that began in the 1960s and spanned 16 years.
I grew up in the U.S. with racism. It was very simple; white people discriminated against black people. But understanding race in the Dominican Republic can be difficult. The composition of Dominican society is influenced by a mixture of race, culture, history, and politics which has created an interesting mosaic of people. That mosaic makes it more difficult for Latino athletes to understand American racism and discrimination, because it is not simple, it is not just black and white.
That is why I found the recounting of experiences by Marichal, Sanchez (who was actually born in the U.S. to Dominican parents) and Rodriguez so interesting, and their pain so genuine. Racism hurts, no matter the recipient.The movie “42” put the punctuation point on the evening. The story of Jackie Robinson is both disturbing and uplifting. Disturbing that we are not that far removed from his struggles; uplifting that one man stood so tall for all of us.