MEXICO: Oaxacan Hoops and the photographer Jorge Santiago

Tlahuitotepec's first female mayor, Sofia Robles, takes the opening shot at the basketball tournament.

Tlahuitotepec’s first female mayor, Sofia Robles, takes the opening shot at the basketball tournament.

Pittsburgh-based photographer Jorge Santiago has put up stunning images of Oaxacan village basketball tournaments at his website.

Santiago it appears spent much of 2012 wandering in the Sierra Juarez mountains from tournament to tournament and has grasped the essence of the basketball world up there — that basketball, the most urban hip-hop 21st Century sport, has become an integral part of Oaxacan Indian culture and tradition.

Check them out. They’re great!

My admiration for the photos, of course, is only enhanced by the fact that Santiago partly drew his inspiration for the project from the story on Oaxacan basketball in my first book (True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx).

But the images do make me envious. He’s traveled far into this culture and tradition and captured some beautiful shots. I’m looking forward to see what he can do with the Oaxacan basketball world here in Los Angeles, which is deep.

One thing I always found interesting about this topic: Though Oaxacan Indians are some of the most anthropologically studied of any group in Mexico, I could find no academic researcher who had even a superficial knowledge of basketball and its importance in the cultural, social, and traditional life of Oaxacan villages — or for that matter the enormous importance it plays in the lives of Oaxacan immigrants in Los Angeles, where my story (Zeus and the Oaxaca Hoops) took place.

How many dissertations have been written on pelota Mixteca — an almost extinct sport played 500 years ago? And nothing on basketball, a sport that tens of thousands of Oaxacan young men and women play with a passion bordering on obsession. I find that remarkable. Any thoughts as to why that would be? Please chime in…..


Filed under Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Photography

7 Responses to MEXICO: Oaxacan Hoops and the photographer Jorge Santiago

  1. Xochitl Chavez

    Bernardo Ramirez Rio, PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Ohio State wrote his dissertation on Oaxacan Basketball.
    See “Culture, Migration, and Sport: A Bi-National Investigation of Southern Mexican Migrant Communities in Oaxaca, Mexico and Los Angeles, California”

    Or his website

    • Xochitl Chavez


      Felicidades Jorge! Me da gusto ver como ha crecido tu trabajo! Saludame a Sara!

  2. Juan A. Sandoval

    Te felicito por lo que has hecho en haber captado la esencia de tu tierra mas hermosa. Me recuerda mucho de Teotitlan del Valle donde he visto muchos hombres jugando el deporte que no parecían estar en las mejores condiciones– temia que iban a tener infarto. Pero, participaban como locos y todo el pueblo se divertía. Me da mucho gusto que le he podido comprar zapatos Nike para un joven que tiene mucha pasión por el deporte. Que gusto que un Oaxaqueño esta documentando su cultura tan bella.
    Juan A. Sandoval

  3. Sujata Bhatt

    Thanks for posting on this topic. The pictures are wonderful! Is Jorge Santiago definitely working on the Los Angeles Oaxacan basketball scene? Many of my students play in the league in Mar Vista/Venice, and I think they would be thrilled to be part of the project.

  4. Alexis Rhone Fancher

    Extraordinary, beautiful photographs! Just sensational. I agree with Deborah. Thanks, Sam for sharing them. You continually enlarge my world.

  5. Deborah Kanter

    Thanks for sharing Sam. I wonder how common it is for a woman to serve as mayor in rural Oaxaca. Yes, lamentable scholarly silence on hoops. In my research and teaching, I see Americans assuming that all Latin Americans & Latinos come out of the womb playing soccer, desde tiempo inmemorial. There is a blindness to the passion for beisbol in many pockets of Mexico or the love of basketball in Argentina. In Chicago, Mexican futbol didn’t emerge until the 1940s. Instead the young folk were solidly into baseball in the 1930s & 40s.

    As for Argentina, I wonder if the Harlem Globetrotters visit in the era of Eva & Juan Peron explains the rise of hoops there . . .

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