Hockey (and at these latitudes, we can only mean ice hockey) has traditionally been a white, working class game–and is one of the few major North American sports to remain white, if not necessarily working class. There are a couple of African Canadians and African Americans, and a surge of interest at the junior level among Canadians of Asian descent, but there have never been many Latinos in the National Hockey League.
The first and perhaps still best-known Latino hockey player is the Montreal Canadiens’ Scott Gomez, who was brought up in Alaska by a Mexican-American father and Colombian-American mother. And the Cuban-American Al Montoya plays for the New York Islanders.
Vancouver is gripped by the Stanley Cup finals (in only their third appearance ever, and their first for seventeen years) and in game one against the Boston Bruins last night the score was still 0-0 with less than a minute of regular time to go. Despite the pressure, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas had stopped everything aimed at him. Until along came third-line player Raffi Torres, who connected with a pass from team-mate Jannik Hansen and slotted the puck in the net with only eighteen seconds left on the clock.
With his pale skin and bright red beard, Torres hardly looks Latin American; visually, he doesn’t break the mould of the game’s ethnic homogeneity. But Raffi is indeed short for Rafael, and his father (Juan Manuel) is a Mexican who emigrated to Canada in the early 1970s, to work on the assembly line in an Ontario GM plant. And his mother, Anna, is a Peruvian, albeit of of Serbian, Italian and Greek ancestry. She recalls that she “had someone once tell me that my son should be selling tacos.”
At 13, Raffi was unable to play in a high-profile pee-wee tournament in Quebec, because the other players’ parents refused to provide financial support so long as he remained on the team. As a Junior, he was nicknamed “the Mad Mexican.”
When Torres turned professional, one of the first things he did was to provide the money so his parents could go back to visit Mexico and Peru; Anna hadn’t been back in 35 years. And as a sign of his allegiances he has, apparently, a tattoo of the Mexican eagle on his left arm.
As Jon Stewart put it on the Daily Show, Torres is “the most feared kind of professional hockey player: Mexican.”