Skip to content

The Railroad All Stars — Mayan women seek liberation through futbol

22 July 2007

If I type in “sports” in a google search” I get 756,000,000 hits. “Politics” gets me 237,000,000.

The huge majority of the political sites deal with their own country or local issues… not many of us are willing to take on another nation — from their own perspective, let alone the world’s many perspectives.

One reason I keep this site going is that there is a need for these “foreign” sites, even when the “foreign” country is the next-door neighbor (or, maybe because the foreign country is next-door). Unfortunately, without donations, the Mex Files won’t be able to continue unless immediate expenses are caught up.

The longer term financing is a chronic worry, and every donation now, above the immediate needs, goes to ensuring long-range survival

It’s understandable — most of us only look at the world from our own perspective, and miss not only how the rest of the world sees the same event, and ignore the “real life” that affects political decisions.

The only site I know of takes on sports AS international politics is “The Global Game“. They have their work cut out for them, but manage with elegance, style and amazing scholarship to explain the world situation through the one sport most countries share. Neo-liberal economics, and the effects on the U.S. economy a little too dry? Not if you consider what David Beckham is getting paid to play in the U.S.

Alas, in the U.S. we match our unilateral diplomatic and military policies with a unilateral sports fanship. Soccer fans in the U.S. are as eccentric as political writers on … oh… Mexico. No wonder our foreign policy is so out of synch with the rest of the world. Maybe the State Department should make Global Game required reading.

I’ve written before about the Mayans, about commercial sex workers, class issues, and human rights. ¡¡¡GOOOOOOOOL!!! — the Global Game’s combines all three in their learned essay on the “Railroad All Stars” of Guatemala:


Of football documentaries that favor the human element there is no shortage of late. One of the most recent is Estrellas de la Línea, screened at English-language film festivals as The Railroad All-Stars, about Guatemala City sex workers who in 2004 organized themselves as a football team.



Filmmakers and Las Estrellas themselves do not hide that their grab for attention began as just that. Frustrated at efforts to gain respect for their plight through the political process, the women seized on a suggestion to organize a team in a Saturday amateur women’s league, the domestic Campeonato Femenino (see 30 Nov 04). Las Estrellas’ first match in Sept ’04 came against the girls’ team from Colegio Americano, the elite American School of Guatemala, and almost immediately publicity flowed.



This background of male control and delineation of female space makes Las Estrellas’ choice of fútbol as their agent of self-expression all the more logical—and potentially volatile. Susy Sica—43, illiterate, Mayan, single mother of seven—identifies the game’s potential for self-actualization when she says, “When I’m on the field practicing, even though I’m only a few blocks away from the tracks, I forget I work there. I feel like I’m someone else” (Catherine Elton, “Prostitutes Win Respect with Soccer,” Miami Herald, 31 Oct 04).

Sica’s Mayan background also points directly to the heritage of ur-football among the Maya in the highlands to the west of Guatemala City and throughout Mesoamerica. Sica, whether consciously or not, taps these cosmic sources of identity preserved in the ancient ball courts, artifacts and literary relics of Mayan culture. More than 1,500 ball courts have been unearthed in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras as well as other evidence of ball playing among the Olmec, Maya and Aztec civilizations.

The Mayan ball games, writes Yale art historian Mary Miller, enacted foundational tales of life and death from the Popol Vuh, the Mayan creation narrative and anthology of etiological tales incorporating the first four human beings and their contests and other interactions with gods of the underworld. The four beings, hero twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque along with forefathers Hun Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu, play ball games with the gods. Through guile and artifice, the twins ultimately prevail and exhume their father’s and uncle’s bodies from the ball court of Xibalba; the corpses are placed in the sky to become sun and moon.

The fanciful tales were enacted on the ball courts of life, with the story of the life cycle of maize and the resurrection of the Maize God, who is identical to Hun Hunahpu, at the center of the ritual. The game as played by the Mayans employed hands only to put the ball in play. Otherwise, players propelled the rubber ball off surrounding walls using upper arms, hips and thighs, attempting to send the ball through elevated stone rings. Hips and knees were padded. Surviving artifacts show players wearing headdresses and long hipcloths. “[T]he balls themselves,” Miller writes, “were dangerous: heavy and sometimes moving at great speed, such a ball could break a bone, if not a neck, or damage internal organs” (81). At one point in the final encounter between the twins and the Xibalban lords, Xbalanque receives the ball, “the ball was stopped by his [waist] yoke, then he hit it hard and it took off, the ball passed straight out of the court, bouncing just once, just twice, and stopping among the ball bags.”

The ball court, now replaced by the fútbol field, was central to the Mesoamerican belief system and perhaps remains so. Presbyterian missionary Ellen Harris Dozier writes in correspondence of 2004 that women with whom she works in San Felipe, Guatemala, when asked to draw maps of their villages, customarily depict the soccer pitch at or near the center. Yet the ball game that “provided the physical and symbolic fulcrum of an entire continental culture” (10), in the words of David Goldblatt, has in its modern form been largely closed to women. Hence we imagine Las Estrellas boldly reclaiming this preserve in order to cast their own tales of death and renewal.

Here’s the film’s trailer:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 July 2007 2:29 pm

    Thanks very much for citing our entry on Estrellas de la Línea. In our most recent broadcast we treat Mexican soccer and Latino soccer cultures in the US: We hope it is of interest.


  1. SUPER Ligas! « The Mex Files

Leave a reply, but please stick to the topic

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: