Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hispanic girls face obstacles playing sports

Hispanic girls face many obstacles to playing sports
By CANDACE BUCKNER, The Kansas City Star

Rosa Mendez and her mother share the same first name. In Spanish, it means “pink,” which also happens to be Rosa’s favorite color. She certainly plays it up. She pierced both ears with pink diamonds, she drives around with a pink Rosary hanging from her rearview mirror and she color-coordinates pink Nikes with her school clothes.

But hidden underneath all that girly-ness, her favorite sport — soccer — often leaves her body black and blue with bruises.

She would get so lost in playing the game she loves during her spring season at East High School in Kansas City that sometimes she had no idea how she got so beat up.

Soccer is Rosa’s passion. Or futbol, as it is called in the Mendez living room. In her home, as is the case in many traditional Latino families, futbol isn’t a sport played by girls named after delicate flowers.

“It was my idea to go play,” Rosa says, “but (my parents) would say, ‘Stay here with the kids.’ Because girls shouldn’t be playing aggressive things.”

Rosa is the daughter of a Mexican father who works 12 hours a day and a Nicaraguan mother who works on an assembly line packing boxes with bottles of salad dressing and seasoning salt. She recently completed her junior season — her first high school soccer season — as a goalkeeper for the East Bears varsity team. Largely made up of Latinas (girls of Latin-American or Spanish-speaking descent), East’s roster is similar to those at several other inner-city schools, including Renaissance Academy, Alta Vista Charter High School, Northeast and Harmon, a Kansas City, Kan., high school with a Latino student population of 54 percent.

These are daughters of northern Mexican immigrants, the first or second generation that has come here to build new lives. But while adapting to old-age American traditions, like playing for the home team, these teenage girls sometimes struggle to navigate between their own desire to compete and their family’s cultural customs.

“In the Hispanic community, girls are more likely to do something that we call ‘girly’ or art stuff,” says Antonia Saenz, whose daughter Vanessa played soccer for the Alta Vista Lady Aztecs. “Sports are mostly seen for guys. It’s aggressive. Girls are not looked upon to be strong physically. They’re actually not encouraged to.”

This isn’t simply machismo. Many community leaders suggest there are practical reasons why Latina girls are expected to stay home. Their parents may often work long hours for little pay and live in some of the poorest communities in the city. When a daughter becomes old enough, she is asked to help with the younger siblings in the house or take on a part-time job. So who really has time to play soccer when the family needs the help?

“A couple of girls miss practices because they need to baby-sit,” East co-head coach Mike Somodi says. “It’s unbelievable the things that have priorities. It’s hard to get them in the mode of thinking that (soccer) is important. They want to play...but a lot of them work.”

Rosa gets more than her name from her mother. Her flowing brown hair and a smile that radiates her otherwise sad eyes, she believes, she gets from her mother as well.

“We really get along,” Rosa says. “She knows everything about me.”

But Mrs. Mendez doesn’t always understand this daughter of hers.

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