In 1939, a team of short, scrappy kids from a vocational school established specifically for Mexican Americans became the high school basketball champions of San Antonio, Texas. Their win, and the ensuing riot it caused, took place against a backdrop of shifting and conflicted attitudes toward Mexican Americans and American nationalism in the WWII era. “Only when the Mexicans went from perennial runners-up to champs,” García writes, “did the emotions boil over.”
The first sports book to look at Mexican American basketball specifically, When Mexicans Could Play Ball is also a revealing study of racism and cultural identity formation in Texas. Using personal interviews, newspaper articles, and game statistics to create a compelling narrative, as well as drawing on his experience as a sports writer, García takes us into the world of San Antonio’s Sidney Lanier High School basketball team, the Voks, which became a two-time state championship team under head coach William Carson “Nemo” Herrera. An alumnus of the school himself, García investigates the school administrators’ project to Americanize the students, Herrera’s skillful coaching, and the team’s rise to victory despite discrimination and violence from other teams and the world outside of the school. Ultimately, García argues, through their participation and success in basketball at Lanier, the Voks players not only learned how to be American but also taught their white counterparts to question long-held assumptions about Mexican Americans.
Introduction: The Punch Heard ’round the Barrio
Chapter 1. A Coach Comes to Sidney Lanier
Chapter 2. Mexicans Can Play, but Not Everyone Is Pleased
Chapter 3. Lanier Makes Its Run at State and Finds Its First Stars
Chapter 4. Sidney Lanier: An American-Mexican Landscape
Chapter 5. War Comes to the West Side, and Lanierites Respond
Chapter 6. Adjusting to War and Getting Back to State
Chapter 7. The Voks Finally Make It to the Top
Chapter 8. On the Summit Looking Up
Chapter 9. The Rodríguez Boys Must Be Stopped
Chapter 10. An Era Comes to an End, but a School Remains
By Ignacio M. García
Ignacio M. García is the Lemuel Hardison Redd, Jr., Professor of Western and Latino History at Brigham Young University and the author of five books, including White But Not Equal, United We Win, and Chicanismo. His book Viva Kennedy: Mexican Americans in Search of Camelot won the Texas State Historical Association Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize for Best Book on Texas History.