A new project by artist Karen Campos Castillo pays homage to six Blue Jays players and their gift to Latinx visibility.
“Representation is important,” writes the graphic artist Karen Campos Castillo in her introduction to Mis Blue Jays, an illustration of the baseball team’s six Latinx—or, Latin American—players. It means “my Blue Jays” in Spanish, and the Salvadorean-Canadian artist can attest to the sense of ownership that snaps to attention when seeing the team’s Spanish-speaking athletes lauded on and off the field.
Campos Castillo, along with the artist Vivek Shraya, is one half of Heart-Beats.ca, a site that highlights clothing and bodies not typically given their due on magazine covers, runways, or in fashion spreads. The site, like the Blue Jays project, sets out to recast media’s supporting characters to be front and centre.
It’s worth pointing out that the six “Blu Yeis” that Campos Castillo singles out don’t share uniform backgrounds. Bautista and Encarnación are Dominican, Navarro and Carrera are Venezuelan, and Osuna and Estrada are from Mexico; culturally, these are three incredibly different countries of origin. But to be Latinx is to share a common sense of simultaneously straddling multiple worlds while also occupying the spaces between them. For many, it also means being conferred outsider status in a country that still sees a dichotomy of “old stock” and “other,” amplified by the reality that Canada’s Latin American immigrant population remains a minority group among minority groups.
“This is a bit of an ‘I SEE U’ to my Latinxs on the active Blue Jays’ roster,” Campos Castillo writes. “You make me proud and you make me care.”
We spoke with Campos Castillo about the project, her inspiration for making the drawing, and what it means to be Latinx in Toronto.
Torontoist: What made you decide to shout out the Jays’ Latinx players?
Mostly, racism. These playoffs have been happening right alongside this election where Harper ran an anti-Muslim campaign, which had a lot of support. It’s been 10 years of a government that was fundamentally anti-immigrant. I was lucky to grow up in a household with women who are so proud and never let me forget where I came from—[like] the language and customs. My sisters were always showing support for any Latinx representation in popular culture. Even simply seeing a movie with that one Mexican actor or director—it was a triumph for us all. Obviously, I can’t speak to being anything but a Salvadorean immigrant in this country, but this was a way to remind everyone that we are here, too.
You say in the description of your Mis Blue Jays project that, “It seems like we only like immigrants when they are winning our games, not when they come here trying to survive our wars.” Can you expand on that?
My family came to Canada as refugees in 1991. Watching the Syrian refugee crisis happen and the reluctance of many countries to help, including Canada, truly breaks my heart. It makes you see that there are is a hierarchy, a measure of acceptability—the “good type” of immigrant, which in this case means not Muslim. Tolerance for foreigners seems to magically appear when it aligns with those “old-stock” values. In this case, a baseball franchise. Whether it’s your country being bombed or living in poverty, Canada’s foreign policies and support of American wars are complicit in creating the conditions from which people are fleeing.
Toronto is a city of immigrants, but I don’t think a lot of people necessarily think of it as a city of Latinx immigrants. I think it can be harder for Latinx newcomers to find their place here than in American cities. Is this something that has crossed your mind?
Absolutely. I didn’t grow up in the States, so I can’t speak on the struggles of segregated racial communities, but I do see their richness. When I visit my father in East LA, I know that this is the neighbourhood where I will find pan dulce, pupusas, and cheap manicures. In East LA, you know exactly where to go to connect with people who really understand where you are from. In Toronto, there is no geographic centre, so these things can be harder to find. I’m still looking for the best pupusas, to be honest.
I immigrated to Toronto in 2004 and it seems like the Latinx presence in the downtown core has risen dramatically since then. I used to have to import fresh tortillas from my hometown because there was nothing here, for instance, and now we have tortillerias all around town. Have you noticed the shift? Do you think it has changed people’s understanding of the culture(s)?
There are definitely more white-people taco places in town but not sure there’s quite an understanding of the culture, besides that it’s delicious. There’s a whole industry of Latinx entertainment in the States that rarely crosses over to English speaking audiences, especially in Canada. It definitely goes beyond JLO (though I love you, JLO). Latinxs have spent way less time in Canada than our American counterparts. There’s still a ways to go, but the response to this project of mine makes me see that there’s definitely a hunger for more.
Where do you think we could do better, in a specifically Torontonian context, in showcasing Latinx culture?
I don’t think we’re as united as other cultural groups. It goes to show that when you speak of Latinxs, you speak about a very diverse bunch from many different countries who just happen to share the language of their colonizer. There are quite a few Latinx events and groups around town, but like my friend [the Colombian-Canadian musician and artist] Lido Pimienta says, “We’re the weirdos.” Latinx artists, feminists, and queers might not feel safe or comfortable all the time, even with our own people. We are also part of a generation that grew up with both cultures or in between cultures. It means we love Beyonce AND Selena, and we want to dance to both in one night. One of my future goals is to work on art and create events that speak to this experience.
I have to admit, I love listening to Anglo-Torontonians correctly pronounce incredibly Dominican names like Edwin Encarnación. Thoughts?
It’s one of my favourite things in the world.