Cuban Baseball: A Pretext for Toxic Regionalism?

Dmitri Prieto

Cuban baseball fans. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — I don’t think of myself as being one of those people who want to live detached from their feelings. Rather, I think that the passion for the game of baseball is encoded in human DNA and is a healthy self-cure for homesickness.

However, every time the Cuban National Baseball Series comes to an end, it makes me wonder whether the downfall of regionalism will ever occur in my country.

Europeans have told me about their critical attitude (often in contrast with what we would expect here in Cuba) to the passion for the soccer that is played there, given that it’s a pretext for the public exercise of sexism, violence and xenophobia.

Yet I’m afraid that baseball in Cuba could be generating the same thing.

This time the losing team was the capital city’s “Industriales” — who are for many people the flagship team of Cuban baseball — as they went down to Ciego de Avila. The mascots for the two sides — a lion and a tiger, respectively — gave rise to of all sorts of jokes and puns.

In my town, Santa Cruz del Norte, it isn’t that the team from Ciego de Avila has that many fans, but many people supported them only because they’re against the “blue lions” of the capital.

This is because people in the provinces tend to look at capital city residents as bigheaded, arrogant and cocky.

What reinforces this is that in real life are legal regulations that give privileges to the inhabitants of Havana.

Their ration books entitle them to more products, while people from the provinces are effectively prohibited from settling in Havana due to the enormous numbers of conditions and procedures required for them to meet under the law.

In short, there are a whole series of privileges along with all that’s implied by the simple fact of living in the capital.

Among “ordinary” people, such privileges generate contempt.

There are also some people who criticize what might be called the “stage projection” of the Industrialists (on the part of players and fans alike). Sometimes they’re seen as cocky because of their coming from a privileged city.

In fact, I’ve seen graffiti that defending Industriales with absolutely xenophobic messages directed against people from other provinces. There are also humorous “requirements to meet to be on the Industriales ball club,” whose premises emphasize being a capitalino by birth, and not someone contaminated by the “countryside.”

The attitudes of some of the players are ones of absolute macho supremacy. We saw this on TV when during the last game of the 2012 championships, the lips of one of them articulated the phrase (they had cut off the sound): “Soy un Pingu!” (I’m a bad ass man!) That scene was repeated several times…mute.

It’s no wonder then that by mimesis or perhaps from just cultural conditioning, the conga line formed by the anti-industrialists fans in Santa Cruz snaked through the night to the chorus of “Roar now lion!” It was a complete spectacle that combined what elsewhere would be termed as an intersectional mixture of machismo (they stripped the lion of its male gender) and homophobia (their message was that it’s bad to be an “effeminate” man)…

Similarly, a few years ago in the archetypal capital city neighborhood of Marianao, one contented fan (possibly an immigrant “from the interior” of the country) painted some graffiti that read: “There’s a lion menstruating.”