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L.A. Oaxacans Are Super Serious About Basketball

Impulso, News Feature, Mireya Olivera Posted: Mar 15, 2009

Basketball tournaments are more than sport for the Oaxacan immigrant community in Los Angeles they're also a way to help hometowns in Mexico raise money for projects ranging from a new chapel for the local church to improvements in the municipal water system.

Oaxacans tend to be short compared to average heights in the U.S. and even other states of Mexico. But their history with basketball streteches a long way back. Tournaments have been a big part of life in Oaxacan towns since the 1930s. The popularity of the sport stems from the rugged, mountainous terrain of the region, which has few of the wide-open spaces needed for soccer and baseball fields. So Oaxacans took an interest in basketball, a sport that can be accommodated by a simple hoop and a relatively small bit of space. Many of the hoops can be found in front of municipal buildings throughout the Mexican state, and the love of the sport has traveled with Oaxacan immigrants to urban centers in the U.S., where basketball became popular for similar reasons a lack of space in big cities for the larger playing fields of other sports.

In Los Angeles, Oaxacan immigrant sports clubs and community groups organize the basketball tournaments as a show. They raise money during the games by selling food and drinks contributed by community members.

Miguel Isaac, president of the Comit Promejoramiento de Soledad Teitilan, a support group for a small town in Oaxaca, recently helped the group organize a series of three basketball tournaments that included 50 teams at Toberman Park in the densely populated Pico-Union district of Los Angeles. The games were a reason to get together and raise money for a church back in Soledad Teitilian, the Oaxacan hometown of the players and fans.

"We need 3 million pesos to repair the adobe church in our community, and this is what we are working toward."

Issac says that it's important for immigrants to remain connected to their old home towns in Mexico by participating in the various improvement projects there.

Basketball, Issacs says, offers a way to keep the connection alive.

"Our countrymen have stepped up to the plate," he says. "They help out with food and drinks because everything benefits our community," said Isaac.

Isaac estimates that 200 immigrants are participating in current the church-repair project. Other participants in the project include townspeople from Soledad Teititlan who have moved to Oaxaca City, the state capital, and the national capital of Mexico City.

Isaac's group estimates that most of the funds will be raised by immigrants in the U.S., and the little town of Soledad Teitilan counts a large contingent in Los Angeles. The town first began sending steady streams of residents to the north in the 1980s. By the late 1990s there were sufficient numbers in Los Angeles to begin organizing fundraisers to sponsor projects in their hometowns.

"Ten years ago we came together to build the Municipal Agency building, then we built a chapel in our old church, we secured potable drinking water, and then built the roof of the municipal basketball court," said Martn Jernimo, president of Club Deportivo de Soledad Teititlan, a Oaxacan sports club.

The group also helps pay for annual fiestas in honor of its patron saints Saint Anthony on June 13, and Virgen de la Soledad on December 18.

Members of Soledad Teititlan said they are appreciative of that their fundraising events have received the support of immigrants from other hometowns in Oaxaca, helping drive interest by ensuring matchups on the basketball court that will draw plenty of fans and funds.

Mireya Olivera is editor of Impulso.

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