Collecting, preserving, and sharing our history: The Latinos and Baseball: In the Barrios and Big Leagues Project

A group of young women in white, button up, short sleeved shirts stands and kneels for the photograph. In the middle of the back row there is a man with a serious expression. The young woman kneeling in the center is holding a baseball bat.
The San Bernardino Raiderettes were an all-female baseball team based in southern California. For women, baseball was not only a recreational activity, but also a means to create support networks. Here the group posed for a team photo in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of The Latino Baseball History Project at California State University–San Bernardino)

On February 20, 2016, former Smithsonian fellow Mark Ocegueda, currently a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of California, Irvine, led a walking tour of downtown San Bernardino, California. The tour brought participants from around the nation to this city experiencing a revitalization process. Now you may be asking yourself, why would a group of visitors to San Bernardino want to check out empty lots and fields in this California town? Well, these spaces hold the key to the community's rich history of Latinos and baseball. From old baseball diamonds to back lots, Mexican American baseball leagues gathered in these places for leisure and camaraderie.

The tour group was comprised of baseball enthusiasts, members of the community, and scholars attending a two-day collecting event organized by California State University–San Bernardino and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The tour was followed by a reception at the Mitla Café—a Mexican restaurant established in 1937 that became an important gathering space for the local Mexican community and a significant sponsor for local baseball teams. In addition, the program sponsored a series of activities in which attendees heard from several baseball experts about how baseball has contributed to community building, been a platform from which to celebrate identities, and opened up spaces of representation.

A group of adults dressed in business casual attire sit and stand for a portrait.
The Latinos and Baseball project team at California State University–San Bernardino. Photo courtesy of California State University–San Bernardino.

As part of the two-day event, participants were encouraged to bring objects that illustrate the rich histories of their families and communities through the lens of baseball. In one instance, a gentleman brought in photographs and a trophy that belonged to his father, who had been in the army and played baseball during his military service. This San Bernardino gathering was the first collecting event hosted by the Latinos and Baseball: In the Barrios and the Big Leagues project. These events seek to collect baseball objects, from team equipment and game memorabilia to objects owned by fans and community members, that can be used in the future to create exhibits and publications.

Latinos and Baseball is a new project at the museum in collaboration with the Smithsonian Latino Center. Spearheaded by curator Dr. Margaret Salazar-Porzio, the project is a multiyear collecting initiative seeking to document and preserve stories and objects that reflect the impact of the sport in Latino communities across the country. The project launched in October 2015 with a kick-off panel, set of workshops, and "objects out of storage," where the public had the opportunity to view an array of famous Latino baseball artifacts from the museum's national collection, including items that belonged to the legendary Puerto Rican player Roberto Clemente.

Six people sit on a stage in a wood-paneled auditorium. The Smithsonian sunburst and name of the museum on the back wall are visible. One man is holding a microphone and speaking into it while the others listen.
Latinos and Baseball kick-off panel event at our museum
A white, sleeveless Pirates jersey with the number 21 and yellow and black detailing
This Pirates jersey belonged to Puerto Rican baseball player Roberto Clemente. Division of Culture and the Arts, National Museum of American History.

"One of our goals is to preserve the history of these communities through the lens of baseball," said Steve Velasquez, a curator at the museum. "Photographs of baseball teams, equipment, jerseys . . . things that may not be in museums now, but they should be. That's essentially what we are doing. We hope in the future to create websites and exhibits, and we're going around the country participating with different institutions to do collecting around this area."

Latinos and Baseball has already partnered with ten different universities and institutions and plans to co-host multiple collecting events in 2016 and 2017, including: LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Los Angeles (held in July 2016), Kansas City Museum in Kansas City, Kansas (held in August 2016), La Casita Cultural Center at Syracuse University (held in September 2016), Adams State University, Colorado (held September 2016) and the Ybor City Museum in Tampa, Florida (early 2017). These are just a few of the collecting events reflecting new partnerships between the National Museum of American History and local institutions. In addition to expanding local and national archives, the goal of this project is to connect with local communities, the keepers and guardians of this rich history.

Preserving and sharing these stories with the public for years to come is what the Latinos and Baseball project is all about. The museum depends on your stories and artifact donations—gifts to the nation—to enrich our national collection for generations to come. Are you ready to share your stories?*

Lola Ramirez is a project coordinator for the Latinos and Baseball: In the Barrios and the Big Leagues project.