#85 / Nobody Told Me Nada (new book)

Cover design by the great Alejandro Okif (IG: @aleokif).

My second book (and first in English) is out. It’s a collection of my personal favorite things I wrote in 1992-2021 (LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times, New Times, San Antonio Current, Dallas Observer, etc.).

You can buy it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For signed copies, please write me here and we’ll arrange.

#92 / Racism 2.0: France is French, stupid!


“The Africans” celebrating their World Cup victory in Russia ’18 (photo credit: French Football Federation)


Every four years the same bullshit: as soon as a European country with more than one black player in its national team starts winning games in the World Cup, the dormant racist shows his/her true colors.

“Well, yeah… They’re not really [insert “German,” “French,” “English” or any other supposedly “white” country], they’re all Africans.”

Nobody mentions the fact that, in the case of France, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has Catalonya roots and defender Lucas Hernández’s parents are from Spain. No. The only thing that matters for these idiotic, ignorant turds is the fact that Pogba, Mbappé, Dembele and other black players for the newly crowned World Champion are “African.” Never mind that all except one (Umtiti, born in Cameroon but in France since age 2) were fucking BORN in France. I could go on and on forever, team by team, pointing out evidence of the effect migration has had on those teams (even those without “Africans”), but better let Fernando Santullo speak.

Santullo is a Uruguayan rapper and journalist who, on June 21, published a must-read opinion piece in Búsqueda, a major Uruguayan weekly. With his permission, I translated the Spanish-language piece into English. It is, in my opinion, the text that better describes the problem with people saying France, for example, is “not really French” due to the presence of “naturalized Africans” in the team (another false statement).

Note to American (U.S.) readers: when I say “football” I’m obviously referring to what you call “soccer,” whatever that means.

Here Santullo’s story in Búsqueda (click here for the original link in Spanish):

The Ball’s Skin

by Fernando Santullo

One of the things that become clear during World Cups is that the issue of varieties of skin color, that topic of great interest to racists, is much more entrenched than they would like. Today, there are too many countries whose national teams show highly evident signs of how their societies have been transformed through recent and not-so-recent migratory flows.

This is also visible if you travel a little. It doesn’t have to be New York or Paris; I think of Buenos Aires, which is not so far or foreign to Uruguayans: in Argentina’s capital it is possible to find people from many places and, especially, those people’s children, already born in Argentina. Talking about children born in another country, if we get rid of the term “recent” when referring to the migration flows, you can see that almost all of us who live in Montevideo or Buenos Aires are the result of previous migration flows. And let’s not even talk about the children of the most recent immigrants we’re having the fortune to receive.

What a football World Cup allows us to see is how lots of people react before this new reality; how, for many people, a class vision persists which is concerned with pointing out a player’s ethnicity only when that player seems to come from a poorer country than the country he’s playing for.

I was asking myself on social networks, in a rather crude way: What is racism? Racism is to point out the origin of an English player when he is black and not when he is white. Or when he is a German of Turkish descent and not when his origins are, say, French. Or when you associate, probably unwittingly, citizenship and ethnicity. Moreover, racism appears when your little mental boxes point out ethnicity according to that person’s socioeconomic origin: ethnicity only matters if the player’s family comes from a poorer place. Let us not forget racism is always classist.

Besides being discriminatory, this vision is static and unhistorical. It is discriminatory because the comment about skin color, without fail, is always accompanied by a denigrating expression. It is static because it is not capable of accepting that these changes are taking place. So static that, oftentimes, those who spit out these types of things are people who, at one point in their lives, have migrated to other countries in search of a better future. But, of course, they’re white or, at least, that’s how they perceive themselves and, therefore, they don’t believe they’re part of this global mobility — that’s something people with less light skin do. And it is unhistorical because, almost without exception, that vision comes from people whose parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were migrants. Ignoring their own past, they don’t even try to understand that the present that surrounds them is a process that includes them and their great-grandparents. They barely look at it like a still photograph that slides in front of their eyes without any intelligible connection to their own personal past. Or collective, as it would be the case in cities like Montevideo or Buenos Aires.

At the same time, during a World Cup it is easy to see that these multi-ethnic national teams represent countries which, generally speaking, are usually richer. And we always come back to the same thing: it is the economy, stupid! People migrate in order to improve their material life, especially when their material life is practically nonexistent, mere survival. That’s why the negative pointing out of a player’s ethnicity (“These negroes can’t be French…” I heard 1,000 times when Uruguay lost against France in the U-20 World Cup final in 2013) only occurs when we’re talking about people who come from poorer countries — the poor is a migrant; the rich, regardless of ethnicity, is an investor or entrepreneur. It is a case of pure and almost always invisible classism. And many times, maybe out of the fashion of remembering the family origins of a player without realizing the bias I’m talking about, the sport journalists themselves are the ones who reproduce these nefarious habits.

This low-intensity classism-racism (its promoters don’t consider themselves one thing or the other, obviously) always necessitates the construction of an “other” to practice it upon. When it does not construct it in a clear and visible way, the ideology’s stench is barely noticeable: in Uruguay, almost no one has ever become scandalized by the fact that the proportion of poor blacks doubles that of poor whites; that’s part of the landscape and it is disguised as folklore: “They don’t want to progress, they just want to play the drums down on the corner.” And this is how they attempt to explain the fact that there are almost no citizens “of strange color” (as Rubén Blades said in “Plástico”) in the university system. Deep down, this vision mirrors the paternalism that characterized slavery in [Uruguay]: the blacks were “servants,” not slaves in a plantation. That closeness dilutes appearances and soothes hearts: The racist is always the other.

That is why it is interesting to see how that classism-racism blossoms, automatically and in HD but never admittedly, during World Cups. The ball reddens hearts and activates xenophobias that were, until then, dormant and without a clear objective. When the ball rolls and is touched by the opponents, the phobias find their objective and become explicit: “These guys are not English… Where have you seen a black Englishman?” Or French: “How can he be French if his parents were born in Réunion island?” The sad part of these questions thrown in the air by the Racist 2.0 is that the answer is simple and direct: You see plenty of black French and black English in France and in England, as it happens.

In a recent interview with Le Monde, Fernando Savater recalled something that is key in this issue: “Modern citizenship is not having the need to have blood from any particular place in order to be a citizen of a country.” That’s something hard to understand for the ethnicist, who believes citizenship rights must be associated to a particular skin color, origin or genetics.

Lastly, I have news for the xenophobic team: the world will never again be what your phobias and attractions thought they were. And I say “thought they were” because imaginary purities were never real: migration never stopped happening since we left the Horn of Africa and expanded ourselves throughout the world. And it will never stop happening: for as long as people understand it is worth moving and risking one’s life when it comes to look for a better life, migratory processes will continue happening and enriching us.

Thanks to that, we won’t stop enjoying Özil’s German technical skills, Pogba’s French power or Sánchez’s Uruguayan suede-shoe foot. Even if their skin color itches them, all the Racists 2.0 can do is learn how to scratch themselves.  

(Originally published in Spanish 0by Uruguay’s Búsqueda on June 21, 2018)

#98 / Meet San Antonio’s TOP Men

Jorge Alcoz (left) with 1963 U.S. National Spinning top Champion Rusty Steubing (photo by E.L.)

Jorge Alcoz (left) with 1963 U.S. National Spinning top Champion Rusty Steubing (photo by E.L.)

I knew my friend, countryman, electronic engineer and San Antonio resident Jorge Alcoz was into spinning tops, but you can’t imagine my surprise when, a few days ago, he called me to tell me he had won a big world championship in Japan, one of the countries with the longest and most sophisticated top tradition. This is how he did it:

On August 15, Jorge (who competes under the pseudonym Tao) beat Japanese Kazuhito Miki and Keita Watanabe in the Spintop Freestyle category of the 2015 World Yo-Yo Contest held in Tokyo on August 13-17. It was Jorge’s fourth championship, having won the South Central Regional Contest in 2006, the National Spintop Contest in 2008 and the World Spintop Contest in 2009 (he also has one national second place, a national third place and a world third place).

When I asked Jorge whether he knew any other local trompo practitioners, he told me about a guy named Russell “Rusty” Steubing, who had won the first Duncan top championship in 1963. About five years ago, a collector had given Jorge a Duncan business card with Rusty’s name and an old address on it. That’s all Jorge had as to Rusty’s whereabouts. Well, that, and this clip from the San Antonio Express (or was it the News? Rusty isn’t sure):


Fifty years after Rusty had won the tournament, Jorge called called the address on the card (which had the old format of EDison 3-0XXX) and asked to speak to “the person who won the top competition in 1963.” When Jorge finally contacted him, it took him five years to finally meet with him.

“After a while, I realized he was very low key and I didn’t want to impose,” said Jorge, who owns a collection of hundreds of tops from all over the world and whose living room is decorated with “Los Trompos,” a signed print of a painting by SA artist Joe Villarreal.

SA artist joe Villarreal (left) holding “Los Trompos” with proud owner Jorge Alcoz. (photo courtesy Jorge Alcoz)

I suggested he gave it another try before I’d try myself, and in a couple of days Rusty accepted to meet for a joint interview on September 7.

“It was like a dream,” said Jorge. “I couldn’t believe it when he accepted. He’s like a hero to me.”

So here it is: Rusty and Jorge, SA’s first and latest spintop champions of San Antonio meeting for the first time. Watch the videos and read part of their conversation.

Jorge, when did your passion for spinning tops start?

(In Spanish) I used to see older players spin tops on the floor. When I was old enough to play, nobody else was playing. I still have my dad’s spinning top. But no, I never played with spinning tops as a kid. Around 1998 I started collecting magnetic spinning tops because I’m into science toys. I once found a paper saying, “How to throw a spinning top onto your hand,” and I learned that.

So you learned through manuals?

Yes, but I used to do juggling since I was 18, with balls and clubs, so I had an idea about eye-hand coordination. In 1998 there was a great yo-yo boom or revival and, as they had done in the ’60s, yo-yo companies also started making spinning tops. With the advent of the internet, some spinning top forums started appearing and I was hooked, to the point I started my own forum. I was 39… (laughs) Now I’m 54.

After you won the National Championship in Orlando [in 2008] you retired and concentrated on judging, but now you decided to play in Japan. Why?

After Orlando I felt I didn’t need to do anything else and decided to let younger people play. I was a judge until last year and decided to compete as Uruguayan in Tokyo. I only want to compete in international competitions, to support the tournament so that there are more countries represented.

Rusty, I’m so happy to be sitting in front of SA’s first and latest spinning top champion players. Thanks for coming!

Rusty: I find it funny to hear the word “player,” because I prefer the word “top spinner.” That’s the older terminology that existed in 1963 and 1964. You didn’t “play” a top: you would spin a top. So “player” is an interesting new terminology.

Jorge: My wish is that it will eventually be considered a sport. But it’s really a hobby.

But it is also an art form, isn’t it?

Rusty: I think so. It’s a skill that requires hand-eye coordination, and although juggling is different, there are a lot of similarities.

Do you think top spinning should be included in the Olympics?

Rusty: I think it is an art form. Whether or not it should be included in the Olympics, I’d have to think about that. Jorge, how do they score points nowadays? Are points assigned for style?

Jorge: In Japan, 20 percent of points this year were assigned to style. It used to be 10 percent, 15 percent… Tricks are assigned 1 to six points depending on difficulty, but it is very subjective on the part of the judges.

You were also a judge. How hard it is to score this, given the fact that things happen very rapidly in top spinning?

Jorge: Yes, it’s hard to follow routines.

Rusty: For what I’ve observed online, competitions today are so much different than they were. In 1963, that was the very first time Duncan actually had a top-spinning competition. Up until then, the company was mainly known as a yo-yo manufacturer. “If it isn’t a Duncan, it isn’t a yo-yo,” was the slogan. My father competed in the 1940s with yo-yos, but it was a simple matter of one contest at a Downtown theater. In San Antonio, it was usually at the Majestic or the Old Texas Theatre. I don’t think they even had qualifiers. Everyone would just show up. If I’m not mistaken, it was similar to what I had to do when I competed [in 1963 with spinning tops]: you had to do tricks, and if you did it on the first try you got 10 points. With tops in 1963 was basically the same thing: you had to do 10 basic tricks and, if you did it on the first try, you were awarded 10 points. In California at Disneyland there were almost 50 kids, and the first trick was just to spin the top. The second, you had to spin it within a circle and make the top stay within the circle. And so on, with increasing difficulty, all the way to the twin spin, aerial tricks, etc. So if you missed it the first time, you would basically be out, unless other competitors also missed.

So you were 11 years old when you won the first national in Disneyland in 1963. How did you get there? Did you have to win some kind of regional?

Rusty: There were local, regional and statewide competitions. In 1962, Duncan was going nationwide with these campaigns for the yo-yo, because in ’62 was the first national yo-yo championship. In ’63 they sponsored not only yo-yos but tops. There was a demonstration in San Antonio done by Don Winters.

Jorge: Oh, really? He’s the one on the booklet showing all the tricks.

Winters-01 Don-Winters-04

Rusty: Right! He was in San Antonio for probably three or four weeks maximum. His responsibility was not only conducting the contest but coordinating local appearances on TV shows and local toy stores and grocery stores comparable to the Family Dollar nowadays. I won San Antonio on one Saturday morning with 40 or 50 kids competing. There was a grocery store called Handy Andy where they sold tops. Then they had what was billed as the “Southwest Regional Championship,” which technically was just Texas. They had kids from Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth… Maybe Waco.

What did you win in the Regional/State tournament?

Rusty: The price for the local was a bicycle and qualification to the State championship, and the prize for that was a trip for you and your parent or guardian to compete in California. This contest was in February 1963 in SA, and the National Championship was not until three or four months away. As it turned out, we didn’t fly out: My father decided to cash in the airline tickets and take the entire family on a trip out there. My recollection of that trip, frankly, is very similar to the Chevy Chase movie National Lampoon’s Vacation. (laughs) We were in a station wagon, very much like that one, we had trouble with it pretty much the entire way, but it made for a big adventure. I was the eldest child. I was 11, my sister had 9, a brother who was 7, and a brother who was 3.

Did you think you had a chance to win it?

Rusty: Well, I did, because of the influence my father had. I would not have gotten involved in this had it not been for my father. He saw the top ads on TV and told me, “OK, let’s learn how to do this.” I didn’t watch too much TV. In 1963 we spent our time outside playing. There were no computers, so we were either inside reading or outside playing. He was pretty good with the yo-yo and taught himself how to spin. He would take me to see the demonstrator and then we would go home and practice. There were horrible printed instructions, so the only way to really learn was to watch someone. We would practice for hours everyday. Sundays, everything was closed, even malls and grocery stores, but Monday through Saturday we would compete, sometimes twice a day.

OK, so you finally arrived in Disneyland. What happened there?

Rusty: They had a meet-and-greet and I just started doing tricks.

Jorge: And there were kids that were older than you, right?

Rusty: Yeah, most of them were 13 or 14. Then I started doing tricks with the twin spin, where you throw it and pull back and do the boomerang, and then catch one top in each hand. Most kids didn’t know that. On the very first day it became apparent to me I was one of the best there. Everyone was invited to a Dodgers baseball game, but we didn’t go. My father said, “That game is going to last late. We should stay here and relax… and practice!”

That did it! Your father was smart!

Rusty: I also wanted to see the Dodgers, I was a big fan, but it was a long drive (we were in Anaheim) and the game wouldn’t start until 7, so we decided to concentrate on the contest. My whole family was in the same room, you couldn’t even walk around in the room… (laughs) The next morning, everyone was asleep and we went to have breakfast at a coffee shop, and my dad says, “Son, you know, if it hadn’t been for you winning [in Texas], you mother would have never come to California. So this has been great. Don’t worry if you don’t win this thing.” And I said, “Dad, don’t worry! I’m going to win this thing!” So I went out there, did 10 tricks, and at the end three of us had a perfect score. So instead of going to advanced tricks, as was planned, they put the slinky out, which I had practiced a lot [instead of drawing a circle on the floor and make the top spin within it, players were supposed to place the top inside the slinky from above, which is more difficult]. So I thought, “This is a piece of cake!” One of the kids missed on the first try, so it was down to the two of us, and I won.

Jorge: I can’t imagine what the trip back was like…

Rusty: Well… We had to delay our return, because Duncan wanted to put the yo-yo champion and myself together. The yo-yo champion was four years older than me and he was from San Antonio as well! Jimmy Lukacs! I had beaten him in San Antonio in the top competition in 1963 and then he went to California to compete in yo-yos and he won [according to Jorge, Lukacs went to California in 1962 and came in second in the yo-yo national competition]. He was well-known by Duncan. Last I heard he was in Austin, and I think he owns a bar there.

What did you win? What was the main prize?

Rusty: A big trophy and a check for $5,000.

Jorge: I did the conversion, and it is $38,000 of today. For an 11-year-old!

Rusty: Their advertising said the winner would get “a $5,000 scholarship”and, to our surprise, they presented us with a check! I never had to use that money for my education, I was a good student and earned another scholarship, but after winning the contest, I don’t know if it was myself or my father, but somebody made a comment in front of Duncan’s management and advertisers. “Well… 11 years old, the limit is 14, we can win four more scholarships!” That was said in front of the wrong people, because the next year I was informed by Duncan I couldn’t compete. I don’t know if they thought I would win again or what, but I was denied the opportunity to compete again. I never competed again, I was a little discouraged. I did many exhibitions and appeared on TV, including I’ve Got a Secret in New York with Groucho Marx as the main guest, but that was it, no competitions. I felt somewhat slighted by them for not being asked to come back [Rusty’s segment starts at 14:45].

How did you two meet?

Jorge: The way I found him was incredible. A collector gave me a photocopy of a business card from Duncan with his name on it. It had the address of his parents’ house. Fifty years after that [card was made], I look in the White pages and I see his last name still listed there. I called the number listed, I talked to his parents and say, “I’m looking for the winner of the 1963 top championship…” (they both laugh) So the father gave the phone to the mother.

Rusty: My father had a hearing loss, he couldn’t hear much of anything…

Jorge: I couldn’t believe Rusty was still in San Antonio.

Do you guys think tops will make a big comeback and become mainstream again?

Rusty: I hope so.

Jorge: I’m absolutely convinced of that. It’s only a matter of time.

An ad for Duncan's 1964 tournament, one year after the one won by Rusty.

An ad for Duncan’s 1964 tournament, one year after the one won by Rusty.