Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Spain is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your Spanish language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, the Spanish have a vibrant passion for sports and athletics.
Sports date back to pre-Columbian civilizations in Latin America and Spain. The famous “Popol Vuh,” a ritualized ball game (that incorporated human sacrifice), was played. Fortunately, athletics in Latin America and Spain have veered away from these violent roots.
Today, the most popular sport in Latin America is football or known to US citizens as soccer. However, other athletics are embraced as well. In fact, Julio Cesar Chavez, won six world titles as a featherweight, lightweight, and light welterweight. His career spanned over twenty-five years, thirteen of which he spent completely undefeated.
In Latin America, basketball is also particularly popular. In fact, the Argentinian men’s team took home an Olympic gold from the 2004 Summer Games. In 1994, their women’s team won the World Championship.
Brazilians love volleyball and they are good at it too! Both their men and women’s team have earned Olympic gold medals. The sport is also widely popular in Peru and continues to grow in Argentina and Venezuela. In addition, Argentina has won the world cup for rink hockey five times.
Sports that are on the rise in Latin America include tennis, golf, and Jai Al, a game that involves bouncing a ball off a wall at high speeds. Latin America has raised many talented tennis players, including four-time Grand Slam champion Guillermo Vilas and double Olympic Gold medalist Nicolás Massú. While cricket has a small presence in Latin American, it’s not widely played by natives. However, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile all have national teams.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Cornish silver miners brought their love of football (also known as soccer) to Real del Monte. The first team was formed around 1900 in Pachuca. Pachuca lives on as one of Latin America and Spain’s top teams, while football remains as Latin America’s most iconic sport.
Stadiums are filled to the brim on the weekends during football season. Locals are devout fans to their home teams. Those who can’t make it to the game, tune in on the radio to keep score, gather with friends around the TV, or head out to a sports bar to catch the action. And, if they’re not watching soccer then they are probably playing it!
El Tri has won the CONCACAF Gold Cup a total of seven times and qualified for fifteen World Cups. The game leaves fans on the edge of their seats, especially at matches like the 2016 Copa America. At this game, Mexico suffered a crippling defeat when Chile beat them 7-0.
Going to a game is about more than just the sport; it is also about partaking in the festive atmosphere. The stadiums are filled with all walks of life cloaked in their team’s colors. Fans keep a close eye on the game and respond with shouts of praise and disapproval.
Bullfighting’s history dates back to prehistoric bull worship in Mesopotamia. The first recorded bullfight can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Since then, bullfighting has grown into a professional sport. Spanish bullfighting, which is distinctive in Latin American culture, involves three stages. During the third stage, the fighter brings out the famous red cape, a color thought to anger the bull.
The sport itself is bloody and brutal, so much so that many have called for its ban. In fact, the sport is usually fatal for the bull. Severe injuries and death have also resulted in bullfighters. Over 534 professional bullfighters have lost their lives to the ring over the past three centuries. It is these statistics that cause harsh criticism of the bullfighting tradition. However, bullfighting is alive and well in both Spain and Latin America. In fact, Latin America hosts one of the largest bullrings in the world. The facility hosts 41,000 seats, which are mostly used for pop concerts today.
Bullfighting season runs from late October to May, which coincides with the recess in Spain allowing major names in bullfighting to fight in Latin America and Spain. US tourists also flock to the bullring, keeping the industry afloat. Interestingly, polls have shown that the majority of locals would support a nationwide ban. Statewide bans have already been issued in Sonora, Coahuila, and Guerrero. Animal activists have pushed for a nationwide ban since these state bans were instituted.
“Charreria,” the Spanish word for rodeo, is the official national sport of Latin America and Spain. The rodeo is a fusion of culture, tradition, costume, revolutionary history, horse riding, mariachi music, and mescal. The “charro,” Spanish word for cowboy, adheres to a traditional uniform that includes a sombrero and closely fitted suit. The costume is not only decorative but also practical. The tight fit of the clothing prevents the fabric from getting caught on the bull’s horns. Spurs, a small traditionally Spanish boot, are also worn to prevent the foot from slipping through the stirrups.
In 2016, UNESCO inscribed the sport into the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The first charrerias were ranch labor competitions, for this reason, the sport is considered “living history.” Charreria traditions were transferred from Spain to Latin America in the 16th century and have been evolving ever since. Today, charreria is a national icon of Latin American culture.
After the Mexican Revolution, charro traditions began to dissipate. However, a few old-fashioned families kept charreria alive in the modern world. Today, some families’ participation in the sport extends back at least five generations.
The charreria combines nine events for men, while only one event is offered for women. Events included are reining, heeling, steer tailing, bull riding, team roping, bareback on a wild mare, forefooting, and forefooting on horseback.
Each event involves horses and/or cattle. As with bullfighting, charreria has been criticized for being inhumane to animals.
Luchadores, Latin America and Spain’s professional wrestlers, resemble comic book superheroes more than they do professional wrestlers. Don’t be deceived by their theatrical appearance though, these wrestlers take their sport very seriously. Luchadores engage in a style of wrestling known as “Lucha Libre” or “freestyle wrestling.” The sport actually originates from nineteenth-century Greco-Roman wrestling. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s and ‘40s, the sport adopted masks and elaborate aerial maneuvers.
Luche Libre’s most famous wrestler El Santo, came to fame in the 1950s. He was so well established and admired that he even appeared in cartoon strips and movies. Viewed as a hero, El Santo saved the world from aliens and werewolves in these fictional stories. El Santo was so connected to his experiences as a luchador that he was buried in his wrestling mask.
The actual competition is drama infused, pitting heroes and villains against one another during the match. More than healthy competition, the matches are seen as a battle between good and evil.
Female Luchadores have a league of their own. In addition, exoticos are flamboyant gender non-conforming wrestlers. The first gay luchador stood strong against homosexuality and macho attitudes sometimes found in the ring.
There are traces of exploitation in this sport’s history. Super Barrio headed a campaign in the 1980s to expose and combat this issue. Hollywood also produced a film called Nacho Libre, which was based on a character who’d been exploited as a luchador.