Home run against machismo: two teams of indigenous women change the rules of softball in Mexico

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HONDZONOT, Mexico – Barefoot and clad in huipiles, the traditional indigenous dresses, the Diablillas connect hits, catch low balls and roam the bases under the scorching heat of a town in the jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula.

The team recently overwhelmed their opponents, the Felinas, with a score of 22-2 in another win of the season that has made the Diablillas a national sensation, not only because of their style of play but also because of their origin: they are a A group of indigenous women from a traditional community where women’s participation in sports was often discouraged, a field that was seen as the domain of men.

And the Diablitas now have company: the Amazonas Yaxunah, who also play barefoot wearing their traditional clothing to disrupt the sports culture of Yucatán.

“Here a woman is from home, it is not from going out to play a sport,” said Fabiola May Chulim, captain and manager of the Diablillas. “When a woman marries, she is used to do the housework, take care of her husband and children. Years ago, we decided that this does not prevent us from doing the sport we want ”.

Four years ago, the women on the Hondzonot small community team began playing modified baseball in the afternoons. The idea was to exercise after finishing housework, but that initiative began to grow. The Imps had no gloves and only a homemade bat carved out of wood. They were playing with a tennis ball. The game followed the rules of baseball but, like kickball, the runner was out if he was hit with the ball.

A women’s team from a nearby town also played baseball with a tennis ball and challenged the Devils to a match. The Hondzonot women won, received 1,500 pesos (about $ 75), uniforms, and the local municipality assigned a coach to teach them the rules of softball.

Although they now had T-shirts, the women of Hondzonot liked to play as before: barefoot and in huipiles, which is the garment that they make themselves and that they usually wear in the community. This decision would be an important characteristic of the Imps and helped launch them to fame.

“We play with huipil because it is something that we wear with great pride and that represents us as Mayan women,” said May Chulim. “We are not used to wearing shoes either, and when we did, it gave us blisters. Why wear something that makes us feel uncomfortable?

As they played more games, all friendly because there is no softball league for them in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatán, the regional fame of the Diablillas began to grow.

Now, a few years after learning the rules of the sport, they have played in stadiums in front of thousands of fans. Their faces adorn a mural in Playa del Carmen. In the spring, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador invited May Chulim to appear at one of his morning conferences in Mexico City.

The team’s stardom has changed the perception among the men of the town. Team members say that before they used to ask permission for things as simple as leaving home, and now they feel more free and empowered.

“As we gradually improve in the game, my life is improving at the same time,” said Alicia Canul Dzib, pitcher and second baseman for the Devils. “Before, I only went out to help my husband with the cornfield. Now, thanks to this game, I have permission to leave the house, have fun with my friends and meet new towns. It motivates me to continue and be an example for my daughter ”.

The example of the Diablillas has given women in the Yucatan peninsula – and in the rest of the country – hope that there are more resources for a sport than, despite having achieved a fourth place for Mexico in the Tokyo Olympics , receives limited and intermittent support at the national level. Although for nearly a century Mexico has had a professional baseball league that sometimes features MLB players, women’s softball leagues only exist at the state and municipal level.

However, there is hope that the popularity of the Diablillas and the Amazonas will be a “watershed” for the growth of the sport in Mexico, said Abel Fernándes, president of the Quintana Roo State Baseball Association.

“It is not common for Mayan or indigenous women to get involved in sports in their communities and the Diablillas are breaking that stereotype,” Fernández said, adding that the Quintana Roo state softball association was recently created. “They have attracted a lot of attention and now we are seeing a boom in the interest of sports and softball among women and girls in the communities of the region.”

In a recent training session, the Amazons – 15 players between the ages of 15 and 64 – communicated in a mixture of Mayan and Spanish, laughed uproariously and threw the ball through the home run while some of their goats were tied to the trees in the play garden, they bleated.

As with Las Diablillas, the Amazons receive more and more proposals to play against women’s teams wearing typical uniforms and sports shoes. And in July, they were invited to perform at the field of the Lions of Yucatán, the professional baseball organization in Mérida, the state capital.

Team captain Fermina Dzid Dzul said that since its formation three years ago, the team had battled against gender paradigms on sports participation in Yaxunah.

“At home, when I started playing, my husband and my grandfather would say comments and make jokes like, ‘You’re just going to waste time playing softball,’” said Alvi Yajaira Díaz Poot, who plays for the Amazons in different positions. “Right now, when I get home after playing, they want to know how it went and even bring me refreshments.”

Although the Amazonas and Las Diablillas know each other and are aware of their similarities, neither team is promoting a meeting to determine which is the best Mayan women’s softball squad in the Yucatan Peninsula.

They understand that their success and participation in the sport means that both teams are already winners.

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Home run against machismo: two teams of indigenous women change the rules of softball in Mexico