By Rory Carroll
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – For Los Angeles Dodgers fan and illegal Mexican immigrant Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, the team’s first trip to the World Series in nearly three decades has been a rare bright spot in an otherwise difficult time.
The 49-year-old father of four was apprehended by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers after dropping his 12-year-old daughter off at her Los Angeles school in February.
The arrest got national attention after another one of his daughters filmed him being taken away in a video that went viral.
Avelica-Gonzalez, who was released on bond in late August after spending six months in custody, continues to fight deportation while working as a cook in the city.
He said the success of “Los Dodgers” has given those living in the Los Angeles area illegally something to rally around at a time when the Trump administration’s efforts to step up deportations has created deep uncertainty and fear.
“The Dodgers being in the World Series is helping us forget some of our problems,” Avelica-Gonzalez told Reuters through an interpreter while wearing a crisp white Dodgers jersey.
“The whole Mexican community is united to support them.”
Avelica-Gonzalez and his wife were in downtown L.A. to attend an oversight commission meeting looking into what extent the Los Angeles Sheriff was cooperating with ICE.
The heated affair included immigration advocates, who argued ICE was breaking families apart, and Trump supporters, who called the immigrants criminals and held signs saying “Illegals Don’t Have Rights” and “Respect President Trump.”
The tension was enough to make anyone yearn for the distraction of a good ball game.
More illegal immigrants live in Southern California than anywhere else in the country, according to the Pew Research Center study. There are about 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, according to Pew.
While beloved now, the Dodgers history with the city’s Mexican-American community is complicated.
Los Angeles County forced Mexican-American families out of their homes in the Chavez Ravine the late 1950s after a decade-long standoff to make way for Dodgers Stadium.
Despite that history, the team is embraced by the community.
DODGERS UNITE ANGELENOS
“The Dodgers have always been something that brings the immigrant community together,” said Tessie Borden, an organizer of Indivisible Highland Park, a group that advocates for illegal immigrants.
“Their success is important now because it’s something joyful and something everyone can agree on,” she said.
“You can be on any side of the immigration issue and still be a Dodgers fan.”
A native of Nayarit, Mexico, Avelica-Gonzalez was drawn to the Dodgers because of Mexican pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, the Dodgers ace who spent 17 seasons in the big leagues and who became a naturalized American citizen after he retired.
Valenzuela made a surprise appearance before Game Two of the World Series on Wednesday in Los Angeles to throw out the first pitch.
“He is a very dear to all Mexicans,” Avelica-Gonzalez said.
Before even coming to Los Angeles, Avelica-Gonzalez was a fan of the team.
He listened to the Dodgers win their last World Series in 1988 on the radio in Mexico and dreamed of seeing the team play live.
He remains a loyal fan, proudly displaying photos of his children with notable Dodgers including Rich Hill and Austin Barnes from public appearances they made last year.
He said that as much as he wants to see the Dodgers win the title, he knows the battle taking place off the field has even higher stakes.
“We have to be united and raise our voices to defend the immigrant community,” Avelica-Gonzalez said.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll, Editing by Gene Cherry)