World Champions

It’s past midnight. A fleeting moment of doubt becomes incredulity and moves on to joy. A steady stream of elated social media posts. Air crackling with exuberance and pyrotechnics. A collective roar heard from a mile away. And a song.

This was only a little over one week ago, on the night the Chicago Cubs became World Champions. I am not really a big baseball fan but I was raised by one, and I married one. I’m a little league mom. I’m from Chicago (the Northside, but my pop taught me to have love for both teams, and that energy was better spent in rooting for, not against). And I grew up on Steve Goodman songs. So last Wednesday, I was certainly awake and watching Game 7 on t.v., to bear witness to this winning moment.

Now, it’s about one in the morning. A swell of excitement suddenly deflates, pierced by a fine point of panic. An abrupt realization…

I remembered that in less than 8 hours I was scheduled to lead a professional development session with a group of teachers and it hit me that it was highly likely that a hefty percentage of my audience, after a night of rollercoastering emotions, staying up late, and perhaps a touch of over-celebration, would be less than fully engaged in our exploration of linguistic and cultural diversity.

So I scrambled to think of a better hook to open the morning and adjust my plan to be more immediately relevant—as teachers do. A lightning fast internet search and a few Google Slides later I felt hopeful once again and went to sleep. On Thursday morning, after taking a few minutes to talk about the game itself and let our coffee kick in, I prompted the initial conversation with the teachers with these ideas…and I’ve been thinking about them quite a bit since…

The Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908.

One hundred and eight years.

This span of time has been noted countless times by many people in the post season, usually framed by touching stories about what a long wait these last 108 years have been for generations of fans. My first inclination is also to situate it within my own personal reference points…the last time the Cubbies won, my grandmother was a girl in Tabasco, about to turn 6 and with no idea that she would one day move to Chicago and be a Cubs fan, or that she would one day be the first in our family to get cable specifically so she could watch Chicago baseball during her retirement in Jalisco. But last week, in the wee hours of Thursday morning, I started thinking about some of the broader reference points for our nation in 1908, for example:

One hundred and eight years ago,

  • The 19th Amendment had yet to be ratified—Women could not yet vote.

  • We were a nation of 46 states (still yet to join were New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii)—A large part of our current demographic, including a huge variety of indigenous peoples, was missing.

  • Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball was still a long way off—MLB teams had no players of color.

The contrast of our current world to that of the 1908 Chicago champion team is stark, and yet taking a look at just these three facts alone conjures a panoply of strikingly direct connections to today’s headlines…the practice of exclusion to which these three facts call our attention is not manifested in the same way as in 1908, but it is clearly not behind us. Recalibrating our culture and dismantling the structures that have perpetuated inequity, disrespect, mistreatment, and violence toward women, First Nations peoples, and people of color is absolutely work still to do.

So I, though not a big baseball fan, turn to the 2016 Cubbies for some perspective.

You don’t get to be a great team unless each individual is highly skilled in the sport—but that is not all you need. You need the synergy that comes from strong communication and collaboration across the whole group. This particular group, not unlike most MLB teams nowadays, includes individuals from a huge variety of races, ethnicities, backgrounds, geographies, languages, (and previous MLB affiliations!). This team has guys from every region of the United States as well as Puerto Rico, Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Japan, and Canada. They don’t all look alike and they don’t all sound alike. They don't all have the same experiences. But they came together to become World Champions.

These individuals did not become great athletes despite their cultures, languages, identities. The experiences that led them each to become the great athletes that they are happened fully in the context of each of their cultures, languages and identities. This team did not become World Champions despite their diversity—their diversity is simply an integral part of who they are collectively, and if collectively they are great, maybe diversity deserves some credit for it. Maybe it’s an opportunity to recognize that heterogeneity is an asset. Sure, it is their affinities—shared talent and a love of baseball—that prompted the opportunity to be on a team together. And these affinities were likely strong motivators to understand each other well, navigate any differences, find other affinities, and develop the level of rapport and camaraderie that it takes to become a championship team. But it is all the many ways that they are different, and and the spirit of working together in concert, that made them World Champions.

Maybe I’m projecting. Maybe I just need a hopeful metaphor, something that gives me a hint of how we will find a future harmony that right now feels distant.

I wrote much of this post in a hotel room while watching the 2016 election returns. An election that included the voices of American women who 108 years ago would have remained unheard. A hotel room in New Mexico, an enchanting part of our country that in 1908 was still 4 years away from statehood. I am here for a conference with hundreds of educators from all over our U.S. and 8 other countries who are dedicated to nurturing bilingualism and uplifting the status of our native cultures and languages. As I finish this piece, the election now decided, I recognize that either way it had gone, the root issues of dangerous divides in our country, remain. As does a need for hopeful metaphors that help us find our way to action and solutions.

One last thought for now:

We can only take the sports analogy so far. Competition, intrinsic to achieving Champion status in baseball, should not anchor our aspirations for national greatness. Our country’s true success will not be through the establishment of winners and losers, measured by the prosperity of some at the expense of that of others. We should reject the idea that there is some national (or global) bellcurve that requires some to fail so that others may achieve. Our aspirations should be rooted in the idea that everyone’s wellness and a collective harmony is possible.

That is how our country will become a World Champion—not through bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, homophobia, exploitation of the vulnerable, or hateful acts of any kind—but when we recognize that our diversity is our greatest asset, and we truly champion kindness and justice in the world.

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