The Eugene Emeralds, Class A Short Season affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, are one of 33 teams participating in Minor League Baseball's Copa de la Diversion program. Every Tuesday home game they suit up as "Las Monarcas de Eugene," and this Tuesday they incorporated the identity into special Independence Day
The Eugene Emeralds, Class A Short Season affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, are one of 33 teams participating in Minor League Baseball's Copa de la Diversion program. Every Tuesday home game they suit up as "Las Monarcas de Eugene," and this Tuesday they incorporated the identity into special Independence Day uniforms.
Why Las Monarcas? Because the monarch butterfly, in addition to having an inherent visual appeal, has become a powerful symbol of the migrant experience.
"We wanted something we could be prideful of, something welcoming," said Emeralds general manager Allan Benavides. "It's something that touches all of Latin America. [The monarch butterfly] migrates to the United States and Canada and back [to Mexico], a spectacular migrant journey and a beautiful symbol through which we can talk about these different cultures."
Benavides' parents both came to the United States from Nicaragua. His mother was adopted in the mid-1960s by an American family. (Benavides is named after the patriarch of that family, Allan Butler). His father arrived in the early 1970s, seeking to escape the civil war taking place amid the oppressive regime of Anastasio Somoza.
When Benavides heard about the Copa de la Diversion program, he had a strong desire to get involved.
"There are Latinos here [in Eugene], but you don't see them at the game. They're not reflected in our audience, even though our roster is predominantly Latino," he said. "We're missing the mark, and being Latino myself, I'd like to fix that. But I didn't know how to do it. Just because I'm Latino doesn't mean I have the answers.
"So I really immersed myself, putting together an advisory panel of local Latin American leaders who have a hand in what's happening within the Latinx community. [Oregon Department of Education deputy director] Carmen Urbina helped put together the panel. It was fantastic, shooting ideas off everyone from high school students to retired folks who'd been in the community for years."
The panel not only helped develop the "Monarcas" name, but it also played a role in creating a logo that is deep with symbolism. The 33 dots on the perimeter of the butterfly's wings represent the 33 Latin American countries as well as the fact that Oregon is the 33rd state in the union. There are also references to local landmarks, the Aztec Ollin ("All In") symbol and, of course, baseball.
"We wanted to honor what we believe America is: people coming here and chasing the American dream," Benavides said. "Our players are doing it, we have fans who are doing it. ... We wanted to put out what we believe is the real face of immigration: people seeking a better life for their families."
The Emeralds amplified this message for Tuesday's game, during which they wore special "4th of July" Las Monarcas jerseys. The front features the Statue of Liberty alongside a well-known excerpt from Emma Lazarus's "New Colossus," which is inscribed on the base of the statue itself. The back included the message "Todos Somos Monarcas" ("We are all monarchs"), as well the aforementioned Aztec Ollin symbol.
"We looked at each other as a staff and said, 'Why wouldn't we do this?' It's our biggest game of the year," Benavides said. "This is about understanding each other, about having a conversation and making our world a better place. ... I'm through-the-roof proud of the support our staff and fans have shown. It's hard not to get emotional because this isn't just a specialty jersey. There's a lot of meaning behind it. ... We're saying that this is what America's been and we want that to continue."
In addition to usual Independence Day activities such as fireworks, this evening at the ballpark included lowriders parked outside and a pregame rendition of the National Anthem backed by a mariachi band.
"Everyone's welcome here," said Benavides. "So we're staking our flag on that and saying that this is who we are and this is what we believe."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter