With their stunning Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots, the New York Giants not only became NFL champions for the second time in a five-year span, they also extended their recent, but impressive, domination of the team that has been pro football’s standard of excellence for the past decade.
The Giants, in the phrase of the hour, “own” the Patriots. (One example among thousands: “It’s Official: The Giants Still Own the Patriots“.)
Think about that for a minute! Sports domination expressed in terms of ownership—the dominated rival as the “property” of the dominator.
People in the Spanish-speaking world have a different way of talking about this sort of dominance: the language of paternity. The dominant team, metaphorically, is the rival’s father: you’re ’Papá’… and the other team? Well, ’Los tenemos de hijos’ (They’re our sons). Thus, Spanish soccer is witness to ”la paternidad ‘cule’“, Barcelona’s ascendancy over Real Madrid. In Mexico, fans of Pumas boast of their team as “papá” of rivals Cruz Azul and Chivas. Of course, in all cases, the assertion of paternal status is disputed by fans of the supposed “hijos” or sons.
In Argentine soccer, the hinchada (fans) of San Lorenzo swagger verbally before los bosteros (fans of Boca Juniors) as “Papá Santo” and proudly calculate “Un siglo de paternidad“, a century of fatherhood, over Boca Juniors. (Boca fans protest that San Lorenzo’s superiority in head-to-head competition extends back only as far as the professional era, which began in 1930, and that when amateur-era records are figured in, Boca actually comes out with a slight advantage.)
Boca fanatics, for their part, love to lord it over River Plate as “Papá Boca”, crowing particularly loudly now that River has suffered the humiliation of descenso—relegation to a lower league. (The illustration above right brings alive this whole sense of River as “hijo”; the Boca fan also uses his left hand to make a visual joke around the insulting nickname rivals use for River, gallinas, meaning ‘chickens’ or ‘hens’.) Indeed, there is a Facebook page entitled“Para Mi Hijo River, De Su Papá Boca” (For My Son River, From Your Daddy Boca).
While usually expressing sporting dominance as “ownership”, US culture is not completely alien to using the language of paternity. The phrase “Who’s your Daddy?” has made occasional appearances; the query became a catch-phrase of the Duke University men’s basketball team, and star player Shane Battier, around the year 2000.
The phrase really became notorious, though, during the 2003 baseball season. That year, the brilliant Dominican right-hander Pedro Martínez, one of the greatest pitchers of his generation, and at the time a member of the Boston Red Sox, was repeatedly frustrated by the New York Yankees. After a particularly galling defeat, he told reporters: “They beat me. They’re that good right now. They’re that hot. I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.”
Martínez was raked over the coals for this comment. The derision was relentless; Yankee Stadium, in particular, resounded with the chant, “Who’s your Daddy?” whenever he was pitching. Some of the glee in this mockery drew on the (at least vaguely sensed) sexual connotations of the phrase.
I am aware, though, of no one ever pointing out the sources in Hispanic/Latin American culture that were likely at play in Martínez’s unconscious mind, influencing him to express his frustration in that particular way. Martínez was also demonstrating a sense of underlying security, sportsmanship, and good humor with his remark. It’s conceivable, though, that calling the Yankees ‘Daddy’ was a mistake, actually compromising his ability to execute effectively against them. For this superlative performer and fierce competitor was, from then on, repeatedly stymied by the New Yorkers—most notably in the 2009 World Series, as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. Or maybe the word was simply the perfect expression of the Yankees’ sustained command over him.
Still, the framework of domination-as-ownership prevails in US culture, and the framework of paternal authority in the Spanish-speaking world. It’s no accident. Commercial relations and property rights have a salience in the English-speaking world, and particularly the United States, that Hispanic/Latin American culture lacks. It’s not that these things are absent in the latter culture, but rather that they are nowhere near as central to the popular imagination. There, instead, the family still retains much of its ancient symbolic power as the fundamental ordering unit of society, and the underlying metaphor for virtually every social relationship.
Pablo J. Davis, Ph.D., C.T. is Principal and Owner of Interfluency Translation+Culture (TM), which delivers Spanish and English translation solutions as well as interactive, inspiring cultural training.