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When Mexicans Could Play Ball

When Mexicans Could Play Ball
Basketball, Race, and Identity in San Antonio, 1928–1945

This inspiring story of a high school basketball team’s unlikely journey to victory in segregated WWII-era San Antonio sheds light on Mexican American cultural identity formation through sports and education and exposes stereotypes that are still held today.

January 2014
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292 pages | 6 x 9 | 13 B & W in section |

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.


2014 Al Lowman Memorial Prize for Best Book on Texas County or Local History



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





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.


““Garcia's ability to move between what amounts to great sports writing as he describes the basketball games and the milieu of high school sports, and a focused history of San Antonio based on ethnographic scholarship made this manuscript very attractive to me and the Press,” Faust said. “He walks the line between the personal and theoretical in a compelling way.””
UT Daily Herald

“This book is an excellent portrayal of the life and times of young Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Texas during World War II.”
El Paso Times

“Ignacio M. Garcia tells an immersive story of victory and defeat.”
Southwestern Historical Quarterly


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca
UPCC/Project Muse