Leopoldo Peña, “San Fernando, CA” (2011), Pelota mixteca participants return the play during a match in San Fernando. (courtesy the artist and Fowler Museum)

Los Angeles is home to the largest Oaxacan population outside of Mexico, including large numbers of indigenous Zapotec and Mixtec people. It’s no wonder then that you can find myriad examples of traditional Oaxacan cuisine, music, and culture throughout LA’s various Oaxacan enclaves. (Oaxacan influence is not limited to LA, however, as the term “Oaxacalifornia” illustrates.)

One lesser-known tradition — at least to outsiders — that has flowed north, is pelota mixteca or Mixtec-style ball. Played on a long, narrow court with two teams of five players, it loosely resembles a net-less game of tennis. Instead of rackets, however, each player wears a padded, decoratively studded glove, with which they hit a large rubber ball towards the opposing team. Currently on view at the Fowler Museum, the exhibition Pelotas Oaxaqueñas / Oaxacan Ball Games features photographs by Leopoldo Peña, who has documented this phenomenon in Oaxacan expat communities across Southern and Central California.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum will be hosting a conversation this Saturday on “Oaxacan Ball Games and Mexican Indigenous Migration.” Joining Peña will be Dr. Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, UCLA Center for Labor Research; Fidel Salazar Rosales, president of AJDATEO (Asociación de Juegos y Deportes Autóctonos y Tradicionales del Estado de Oaxaca); and Chief Curator Matthew H. Robb to discuss the game’s origins and its role in maintaining cultural links across borders. Following the discussion, there will be a pelota mixteca demonstration on Wilson Plaza.

When: Saturday, April 21, 2–4pm
Where: The Fowler Museum at UCLA (308 Charles E Young Drive North, Westwood, Los Angeles)

More info at Fowler Museum at UCLA.

Matt Stromberg

Matt Stromberg is a freelance visual arts writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to Hyperallergic, he has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, CARLA, Apollo, ARTNews, and other publications.