Photo: Pelota Mixteca (Octavio Lopez)
Players of Mixtec and Tarascan pelota, modern versions of ballgames played in pre-Columbian times, are demanding in the capital that their customs be respected and that the land where they have played for the last 50 years be returned to them.
“It’s not just part of our cultural tradition, it’s that we players value it as a heritage that dates back 2,000 years, and that’s why we’ve preserved it,” Cornelio Perez, president of the sport of rubber-ball pelota, one of the varieties of Mixtec pelota, told Efe in an interview.
Like most of the players, he comes from a family that migrated more than 50 years ago to Mexico City from Oaxaca in the southern part of the country, one of the birthplaces of the sport.
Their ballcourts were built in the 1950s by migrants from Oaxaca and Michoacan, but starting in the 1980s there have been “attempts to do away with them,” since “with the growth of the city they began to form part of the historic downtown area.”
A year after the pre-Columbian ballgame was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mexico City in 2008, the capital city government ordered the players relocated in order to build a police station there for the city’s Public Safety Secretariat.
“Unfortunately these ballgames are becoming museum pieces - you go to the Anthropology Museum and there are ballcourts, but it’s a distorted version like something out of a library,” Perez said after criticizing the place where they have been moved as lacking the right conditions.
Mixtec pelota, which originated in Oaxaca, is divided into three types according to the material the ball is made of: either rubber, sponge or fabric, and is characterized by the use of a large, extremely heavy glove to hit the ball.
The Tarascan ballgame, for its part, comes from the region of western Mexico made up of Michoacan, Guerrero and Mexico State, and instead of using a glove, players hit the ball with their hand or a stick.
Compared with the 350 people who used to show up to watch the game every week for decades, now they’re lucky to get a few dozen - the others are no longer interested in the sport.
But Gregorio Ramos, president of the Mexican federation of native and traditional games, denies that the new ballcourts are different from the previous ones, since he says the Sports Institute visited the players to find out the measurements and conditions necessary to construct them according to tradition.