Posts Tagged ‘Roberto Clemente’

I was 3 years old the night my hero died.

I don’t know if I was wearing my Pittsburgh Pirates shirt on that New Year’s Eve in 1972, and I couldn’t even begin to remember the details that swirled around Puerto Rico like bees around a hive. A child’s mind does not recall the facts, it just recalls the tears. The tears, I do remember.


But now the facts are far too familiar, and the Internet will forever enshrine them. As these excerpts from the January 1, 1973 edition of The New York Times say:

SAN JUAN, P. R., Jan. 1—Roberto Clemente, star outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, died late last night in the crash of a cargo plane carrying relief supplies to the victims of the earthquake in Managua.

Three days of national mourning for Mr. Clemente were proclaimed in his native Puerto Rico, where he was the most popular sports figure in the island’s history.


Mr. Clemente was the leader of Puerto Rican efforts to aid the Nicaraguan victims and was aboard the plane because he suspected that relief supplies were falling into the hands of profiteers.

The four-engined DC-7 piston-powered plane crashed moments after takeoff from San Juan International Airport at 9:22 P.M.

The plane, carrying a crew of three and one other passenger, came down in heavy seas a mile and a half from shore.

Coast Guard planes circled the area trying to locate the plane by the light of flares. The wreckage was not found until 5 P.M. today in about 100 feet of water. There was no sign of survivors.


Mr. Clemente had been asked to take part in the collection of funds by Luis Vigoraux, a television producer.

“He did not just lend his name to the fund-raising activities the way some famous personalities do,” said Mr. Vigoraux. “He took over the entire thing, arranging for collection points, publicity and the transportation to Nicaragua.”

Mr. Clemente’s relief organization had collected $150,000 in cash and tons of clothing and foodstuffs. More money and clothing are still being donated.

“We sent a ship loaded with supplies during the week,” said a member of the earthquake relief committee. “One of the reasons Roberto went on the plane was to get there before the ship arrived to see the supplies were distributed properly.”


News of Mr. Clemente’s death plunged Puerto Rico into mourning.

Gov. Louis A. Ferre decreed three days of mourning and Governor-elect Rafael Hernandez Colon, who will be sworn into office tomorrow, ordered the cancellation of an inaugural ball and all other social activities related to the inauguration.

Roberto Clemente was 38 years old when he died. 38 years old.

His baseball feats will forever be celebrated, but Clemente went beyond that. Not a day goes by where I think of how this son of Puerto Rico represented a different type of athlete, one that we rarely see today.

I often wonder: “what if Clemente were still alive today?” He would be baseball’s premiere Latino ambassador, sure, but he would be marching with the justice-seekers, speaking out against violence, and calling for a better world. As PBS’ American Experience says, “Clemente was an exceptional baseball player and humanitarian whose career sheds light on larger issues of immigration, civil rights and cultural change. He would die in a tragic plane crash.”

And that is why I struggle a bit every December 31. Clemente was so much more than a baseball player, but it was baseball that transcended him into places he would have never reached. I have friends from the Pittsburgh area who still consider Clemente the greatest Pirate ever. Everyone loved and admired Roberto (even those who called him “Bobby,” not knowing any better.) The Puerto Rican taking over Pittsburgh. That’s how it happens. That’s how we become a better world. When cultures blend, and we find commonalities and we celebrate achievements.

That is why I know that we can all be like Clemente. You can still stand for what you believe in,  you never have to settle, and still treat people with love, grace, and respect.

His son said it best when he told PBS the following:

I would like for people to see my father as an inspiration. To see him as a person who came from, you know, not a rich neighborhood or anything, but from a noble house in Puerto Rico. Probably with no hopes of knowing what he was going to become, but carrying himself in such a way that always had — you know, the values. That was always first. The caring and respect for the parents and siblings, and towards people. Zero tolerance against injustice. Not putting up with being put down. Becoming an activist and letting his message get across very strongly. That should be an inspiration to everyone… understanding how a single individual really truly makes a difference.
— Luis Clemente, son

This New Year’s Eve I still long for the possibilities of what the world COULD have been with Clemente here. Instead, the best I can do is just try and remember that each of us can truly make a difference. This is what Roberto means to me, and this is why I will be #21Forever.

Now I have a 10-year-old son who shares my love of Clemente. And when my son asks me about Roberto, I can show him game footage and tell him stories from my abuelo, my dad, and some Latino baseball legends I had the pleasure to meet in my lifetime (I will never ever forget when the great Mike Cuellar told me and my brothers about the Game 7 homerun Clemente hit off of him at the 1971 World Series). But even when my son and I talk baseball, I also tell him that Clemente was always larger that just baseball. He was a great human being who tried to make a difference. And he succeeded.

¡Que viva Roberto! #21Forever.

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Is there a written law somewhere in US Latinolandia that I am unaware that says the following: “Thou cannot celebrate your accomplishments or your identity, because if you do some high and mighty individual with a short-sighted agenda will lecture you about how you are just a brainwashed sellout that has ignored mestizos?” (For those who care to know: “Mestizo is a term traditionally used in Latin America and Spain for people of mixed European and Native American heritage or descent.”)

If so, then I am guilty as charged, but it leads me to this: why why why do we as a group of Latinos (50+ million strong) continue to divide and hurt each other?

This all started last night on the world’s new high school environment: Facebook. I had recently come across an AMAZING Life Magazine photo of the Great Clemente (see below) and I had uploaded the pic to my wall (which, in my mind, is my online house), saying that I thought this picture of Clemente was beautifully classic.

Now, a few things you should know about me. Clemente was my hero growing up. When I was three or four years old in Puerto Rico, my dad had gotten me a Pittsburgh Pirates shirt that I basically wore every day it seemed. My grandfather would tell me stories of Clemente’s feats. I loved every minute of it, so much so that every time I see the number 21, I think of Clemente. As I grew up, Clemente was always dear to me heart, not only because of his athletic feats, but how he handled himself when it came to speaking about injustice and how he made the ultimate sacrifice by trying to help others who had suffered a tragedy.

In Puerto Rico, Clemente is a god, and even though I have my issues when political parties on the island use Clemente’s legacy as a political tool (different blog, different story), there is no doubt that Clemente will always be one of the most historic and beloved Puerto Ricans ever.

Which is why I posted the picture on my Facebook wall, saying that I thought the Clemente photo was so classic, so beautiful.

And then Trollzilla arrived.

“He doesn’t look mestizo to me.”

My response: “Yes, he is a true boricua, a mixture of 500 years of history, both good history and bad history, but nonetheless, the best and the pride of PR.”

Trollzilla then continued with a lecture of how I was not a true Puerto Rican because I deny my own mestizo background and I am just a white Spaniard. (FYI, for the record this is me: a Moorish Spanish Corsican Italian boricua, whose ancestors came to the island in the late 19th century)

What the hell does that mean? Was Trollzilla saying that Clemente was not a true Latino because he was darker than others? Really? Well, after an interesting back and forth where I was lectured about how I am not a true Latino because I reject the mestizo (which, by the way, is 100% false, but what would Trollzilla actually use reason to have a discussion), I told Trollzilla to take his patronizing better than thou attitude off my wall. When it comes to issues of identity, I would never tell someone that their own identity is a false illusion and that they are wrong, and quite frankly, I allow for a lot of very heated discussion on my Facebook thread, but I have no tolerance for people who just want to judge someone’s own essence. Well, I tried to tell Trollzilla this, but he kept going He didn’t stop, so I blocked him. Thanks, but no thanks. You see, my Facebook wall is my home, and therefore, you are a guest in my home. I wouldn’t put up with someone acting like an elitist jerk in my home, and Facebook is no different.

One of my Facebook friends said it best: “That’s the problem. People are stuck on some ” I will drill you with my belief because until you believe it like it or not.” Puerto Ricans don’t roll like that.”

Just goes to prove that even when there is such a need for true Latino unity, there still exists a belief that the only true Latino is a mestizo and that if you celebrate anything else or discuss a Latino experience that is different from that, you are just a fake. And yeah, Trollzilla will probably tell me that I am just a product of the repressive culture that tells me that being Latino is just an illusion.

With beliefs like that, no wonder we will never advance as a people.

I mean, hating on Roberto Clemente? Whatever.

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Arizona has literally become the police state for Latino Americans in the United States and the vast majority of undocumented individuals who struggle each day to achieve the American dream.

With the All-Star Game being played this year in Phoenix, we are urging the Major League Baseball Players Association to send a visual and powerful message to show their opposition to SB1070, an anti-immigrant, anti-Latino law that is dividing Arizona and this country.

Latinos make up for 27% of all the players in MLB today. These players predominantly come from places such as the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, and Central America—the very same places where others risk their lives to achieve their dreams in the United States.


MLB Latino ballplayers are blessed: not only do they play a boy’s game and make millions, they are also not threatened by laws such as SB1070. Or are they? It’s time to TAKE A STAND AND SEND ARIZONA A MESSAGE. Follow the legacy of Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente. Stop injustice!


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