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A Game that Maintains Immigrants’ Ties to their Homeland

A new exhibition at the Fowler Museum at UCLA, Pelotas Oaxaqueñas/Oaxacan Ball Games: Photographs by Leopoldo Peña, features nearly 40 black and white images of traditional team sports played by Oaxacan ex-patriates living in California. Peña captures the players quick movements, pauses taken to gather strength, and friends and family watching from the sideline, “a testament to how the game creates and reinforces communal ties,” states the press release.

For the nearly 15,000 people of Oaxacan ancestry in California, playing traditional games is one way to maintain cultural ties to Mexico. The most popular game is the centuries old pelota mixteca. To protect their hands from the solid rubber ball, the players wear heavy leather mitts that are often embellished with Mesoamerican motifs, logos from modern sports, bright colors and metal studs.

Noted for its fast pace and dynamic movements, pelota mixteca is played on a narrow piece of terrain about the length of football field. The game is scored similarly to tennis.With a history and network in central and southern California going back to the 1980s, games are organized in San José, Monterey, Oxnard, Santa Barbara, San Diego and San Fernando by Associación de la Pelota Mexteca de California Central.

In the press release, Peña says that the exhibition, Pelotas Oaxaqueñas, “offers a look at the often invisible and humane side of immigration…people playing, improvising and sharing a cultural space.”

Peña was born in Michoacán, Mexico and has lived in Los Angeles since 1992. His photographic work centers on themes of immigration and the environment, and his long-term documentary projects often emphasize cultural performance.

Pelotas Oaxaqueñas/Oaxacan Ball Games: Photographs by Leopoldo Peña
January 28-July 15, 2018
Fowler Art Museum
Los Angeles, CA

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