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ON HISTORICAL GROUNDS

Breaking the Latino Barrier
By Peter Toot

The Reds have signed two players from the Connecticut league who have Spanish blood in their veins and are very dark skinned. As soon as the news spread that the Reds were negotiating for the Cubans a protest went up from the fans against introducing Cuban talent into the ranks of the major leagues.

— Cincinnati Tribune (June 23, 1911)

 

The train pulled slowly into the Cincinnati station at seven o'clock on the evening of Wednesday, June 28, 1911. Two young Cubans and their escort stepped down onto the platform amid the bustle of passengers and porters.

Rafael Almeida, twenty-three years old, weighed 164 pounds and stood five feet nine inches tall. He was a handsome man. A thin nose and fine lips accentuated his narrow face. He wore his hair parted just to the left of center, combed down on his forehead.

Armando Marsans, also twenty-three, was thinner than Almeida, though slightly taller. Light olive skin stretched over his high and prominent cheek bones. Under thick eyebrows, his eyes were so dark the pupils were not easily distinguished from the irises. There was determination in his eyes and they spoke of the promise of achievement.

As the two young men walked along the platform, one with a bat in his hand, the palpable athleticism of their bodies was evident. The Cubans were nattily dressed according to the custom of the time. Marsans wore a tan linen suit with a dark necktie, Almeida a dark suit and a wide floral pattern tie.

August Herrmann, the portly president and owner of the Cincinnati Reds, was at the station to meet them. After brief salutations, he handed the agreed upon sum to their escort. The man accepted the money, thanked Herrmann, and said goodbye. Herrmann was pleased by the politeness and humility of the Cubans, and relieved about their appearance. They were not, it was reported in the next day's paper, "small and swarthy in complexion," but showed, "practically no effects of the tropical heat and sun.1

It was clear from the beginning that bringing foreign-born Latinos into the National League was going to be difficult. The roots of the opposition were ignorance, racial prejudice, and nationalism. The United States was largely uninformed about Latin American culture at the beginning of the twentieth century. Though the Spanish-American War and the Mexican Revolution provided the American populace with some exposure to Latino customs, misconceptions and stereotypes flourished. In three telling months during 1911, the reaction of mainstream society to two young Cubans attempting to make the Cincinnati Reds roster reflected these perceptions.

To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Fall 2001 issue.

—EFQ

Notes
1. Citation missing.

PETER TOOT lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

© 2001 Peter Toot

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