September 29, 2021 

‘The culture is special to me’: Hispanic Heritage Month around the WNBA

For Rebecca Lobo, Arella Guirantes and others, a chance to highlight their culture

New York Liberty trainer Theresa Acosta, the only Latinx head athletic trainer in the WNBA, brings her Hispanic culture with her everywhere, including into the training room.

As the 2021 WNBA playoffs began, Cuban music filled the training room, while the Liberty players danced during their treatment times. 

Hispanic heritage is a critical part of the league’s DNA. And in the view of original star and current women’s basketball broadcaster Rebecca Lobo, social media has increased the awareness of Hispanic Heritage Month around the league and among those who follow it.

“I think we’re all, because of the reach of social media, more aware of things as they’re happening,” Lobo told The Next in a phone interview. “So I think that’s probably the biggest way, at least for me, that it’s changed. It seems like it’s celebrated more, acknowledged more and I think that’s driven by the fact that just more [people] are aware of when it’s happening.”

Lobo’s appreciation for her Hispanic heritage has evolved over time, with her appreciation changing while she was playing in the WNBA after she was embraced by the Hispanic community more than she expected.

One memory from early in her career stands out above the rest.

“I don’t remember what year it was, but I do remember being out in LA, playing a game out there [and] after the game, going in the locker room, and when I came back out, there was a group of probably 30 young Hispanic kids and they were waiting for me. And they were Sparks fans, but they were excited to see me,” she said.

She added, “It was right when the WNBA started, more so than when I was in college. I just had this incredible amount of support arise from the Hispanic community once they became aware of my background and [the community showed] all kinds of love and I appreciated it so much. And it made me appreciate more too, my background as I was being acknowledged by, especially a group of young kids, [when] at the time I may have been the only person with a Hispanic background playing in the WNBA. It was important to them and it was important to me.”

On Sept. 9 the Los Angeles Sparks celebrated Hispanic heritage during their “Noche Latina” game. The celebration included a performance by a Mariachi band and the PA announcer introduced the starting lineups in Spanish.

“I think the Sparks did a good job this season with the Latin Day-centered game,” Sparks guard Arella Guirantes said. “I like how they had it set up and we had a great turnout within part of the Latin community. So more stuff like that and just bringing awareness to Hispanic athletes I think the WNBA can do.”

In the future, Guirantes hopes that other teams, and the league as a whole, begin to highlight Hispanic heritage, and believes continuing to do so will go a long way.

Lobo believes that one’s heritage is not only based on one’s background but also the people that were influential in raising someone.

“I think it’s your heritage, whether it’s from whichever grandparent or parent is woven in with how you live and what you believe in and what you do,” Lobo said. “It’s hard to say it’s this example, it’s that example, but certainly in everything we do and who we are. It all comes through the lessons we’ve learned from our parents and then our grandparents as well.”

For both Guirantes and Acosta, their Hispanic heritage has influenced who they are in and out of basketball.

“I’ve always highlighted my Puerto Rican culture. I’ve always been proud of it, to be Puerto Rican, especially because of how proud Puerto Ricans are within themselves and their communities. I’ve always been surrounded by Puerto Rican culture and embraced my culture, so it’s special to me, the culture is special to me,” Guirantes said.

Acosta, who was raised in a Mexican-American household in Texas, noted that how she was brought up has shaped who she is every day.

“In and out of basketball you see, I’m very proud of where I came from, and who I am and my parents instilled all of the culture and ethics and everything that comes with being brought up in a family with a lot of heritage in it as well,” she said.

She later added, “I’m true to who I am, people know who I am, things will come out when you’re around me, whether it’s part of my Hispanic culture or my Texas culture like in a lot of that stuff I meshed that together and they see that.”

Ten-time WNBA All-Star Diana Taurasi was born and raised in California by her Argentine mother and her Italian father. She told ESPN Deportes in 2016, “I am 90 percent Argentine and Italian and 10 percent American. At home, we ate Argentine food, spoke Spanish, watched soccer. I still have the Latino and Italian spirit.”

While Acosta has missed aspects of her culture she grew up with in San Antonio, she’s enjoyed bringing her culture with her as she’s moved across the country, including in Detroit, Manhattan and Los Angeles.

Lobo knows that the league embraces all of its fans regardless of background, though she is not sure how to increase the number of Hispanic players in the league. She did note that this should not just be limited to American-born players, but international players as well.

“I don’t know how to target that [more Hispanic WNBA players] exactly, other than to make girls from all groups feel like, ‘This is a league where, if I work really hard and have some breaks along the way, I will have an opportunity to play.’ And certainly, it’s a league when you look [at it], you don’t think, ‘I won’t have a chance to play in the WNBA because of X, Y or Z.’ I don’t think anyone looks at the league in that way because it’s cast such a broad net of inclusivity and excitement for people of varied backgrounds,” Lobo said.

She knows that while there are not a lot of Hispanic players in the WNBA, those who are there are important to children who recognize and relate to their backgrounds.

“You want to be able to relate in a real way to others who are doing what you might want to do someday and I think we’ve heard that a lot over the course of the past couple of years and how important it is to be able to just relate to somebody out there who has a similar background that you have. And I think that’s the case here as well when it comes to the Hispanic fanbase,” she said.

Acosta, who described herself as a lone ranger during parts of her career, reiterated the sentiment, saying, “In basketball, you don’t see many Hispanics over the course of the years. You just don’t, whether playing-wise or even in positions like I’m in right now. Now, well, we’re starting to catch up and you see a lot more Hispanic people within the sports realm.”

Acosta and Guirantes both hope to provide inspiration to Hispanic children, on and off the court.

“Hopefully, they’re inspired. I know a lot that are inspired … But, as far as the next generation of Hispanic athletes coming up, I think we’re doing a good job … more kids will be inspired,” Guirantes said.

Acosta hopes to be a voice and recently joined a new Latinx association at her alma mater, the University of North Texas.

“I’ve actually just joined that as one of their founding members, to try to get people within the community, one just to get into college, follow their dreams and pursue higher education so that way they can pursue the dreams that need higher education.

“And just being vocal. So being out in the community. I’ve done a couple events in Hispanic communities, LGBT communities. And basically, they say, if you see it, you can be it kind of thing. And so that’s one of the things, being out there, being vocal, being present for anybody that may need a figurehead to look at to say, ‘Hey, that person can do it. So can I.'”

In the future, Acosta looks forward to seeing more Hispanic representation in all fields, whether it’s on the basketball court or in marketing, finance or at the C-suite level, and hopes that as time passes Hispanics can see themselves in different roles.

Acosta’s advice to everyone is something her parents passed down to her: “You want to dream, you want to dream big, and you want to hold on to those dreams … Just persistence, be persistent with what your dreams are and hold true to them, and just give it your all,” she said. “There’s times where you may get thrown off course. But you just stay true to who you are and your dreams.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been covering women’s basketball since February 2019 and currently covers both the Atlantic 10 and the WNBA.

1 Comment

  1. Heather Kilbourn on October 1, 2021 at 5:18 am

    These women are an inspiration as are you Natalie Heavren!!

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