If people are generally aware of the burgeoning Latin American Roller Derby world, it's through Argentina's 2x4 Roller Derby and Sailor City Rollers [both in A Coruña this weekend], and the national teams in Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil... But even these people may not be aware that there has also been Roller Derby in other countries in Latin America for almost a decade!
Image via CIA World Factbook, Wikipedia (Public Domain)
Uruguay, for example, sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, might be a place you'd expect to find Roller Derby. For the last 7 years, this has been true, with the capital Montevideo, not far from Buenos Aires across the Rio de la Plata (which becomes the eponymous Uruguay River upstream), hosting its own team. Pájaros Pintados Roller Derby - also named for the country and river, as "Uruguay" is Guarani for "River of (painted) birds" - has represented the sport for the country at many Latin-America-wide events over the last 7 years. Only recently, however, a second (as yet unnamed) league has split off from these originators, doubling the amount of Roller Derby in Uruguay at a stroke - and potentially changing everything for the sport here.
On this important time of change for Pájaros Pintados, and Uruguayan Roller Derby itself, we talked to Pájaros Pintados' The Game about her team, and the state of Roller Derby in the region:
Starting at the beginning, how did Pajaros Pintados start? Your choice of league name suggests that you started out wanting to represent all of Uruguay…
Río de los Pájaros Pintados is actually a “place”, named by Juan Díaz de Solís when he “discovered” Punta Gorda (which had been actually discovered a long time before by a group of indigenous people called Charrúas, but well, nice try).
But the name stuck as an Uruguayan symbol and appears in many songs and references as a manifestation of Uruguayan culture (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dP5Od1tSaRE , for example, might not be of your taste, is not completely my cup of tea either, but this is it).
Pájaros Pintados started (as with many leagues, especially the first ones in their countries) as a small group of people who liked each other, and liked skating, and also happened to like Roller Derby, but had absolutely no idea on how to pull that off. We started looking for advice, and many Argentinian teams helped us with the basics. We also started learning how to work together in terms of managing a Roller Derby team. This took many years and is still being revised, obviously. But it kinda worked. So here we are.
Since 2011, Pajaros Pintados Roller Derby have been the only roller derby league in Uruguay. Although Montevideo is not impossibly far from Buenos Aires in Argentina, it must have been pretty lonely, in a sense?
Oh yeah. Lonely as in splitting two teams (this usually left people tired as player rotation was not much of an option), naming them and pretending we were rivals. Like, almost wrestling rivals. To make it funnier. Every time we went to a tournament, it was like a birthday party.
We have been trying to encourage other groups to get together in other parts of the country with no success, to date. This is why this moment [the splitting of Pájaros Pintados] is so important in terms of Uruguayan Roller Derby history. It is huge. This is the first time we have two teams, as a result of the splitting with part of the competitive team. This splitting, which was merely to guarantee performance for a part of the team who felt the need to train in other conditions, was something refreshing, as we have a sort of "rival" for the first time. We are no longer training together, so we stop keeping track of what the others can do. We have different concepts on training and playing: huge for strategy. And, even though the break up was painful for both parts, in terms of not skating together anymore, I think I can say we all have our heads set up for roller derby, in general, and progressing as a country altogether. This will make us unstoppable!
In a lot of places where there's little skating, kit can be hard to come by. Has this been a problem for the league in Uruguay? What other issues have you had making Roller Derby happen in Montevideo?
This is one of the main problems for Pájaros Pintados. The equipment is really expensive and really hard to ship. I mean, it would not be so difficult if we only allowed young people who know a lot about buying on the web and also can afford them.
But we really want this to be a social change and that means to widen our attendance. We try and lend our own skates to beginners, but usually that gets complicated because to do that we require our skaters to attend a double shift (they bring the skates, stay for two hours, then train themselves). Most freshies leave when they have to make the choice whether buying the equipment or not, or postpone training till they got their own skates. That means we lose people all the time over equipment.
Also, the training spots. This is the biggest problem at the moment. We are not yet fully supported by our community, as no one knows the sport exists, and when they know, they don't want us to scratch the floors with our wheels, among many other problems. Thing is, there are not so many places that fulfil the needs of a derby track, and we recently lost one. We are doing our very best, and finding some quick solutions, but this is not a new problem for the league. We practice now at a venue which is significantly smaller than a (full size) derby track. So we focus on technique. We get by. We can get very creative. But it is a problem for our team, not being able to practice on at least 80% sized tracks.
Pajaros Pintados started out with their name in English (Painted Birds), and rebranded later on. Can we talk a bit about why you made this choice; do you feel that there's "Spanish-speaking" Roller Derby culture that needs to be represented?
I think that was originally for practical reasons. When we tried to explain our soon to be skaters or public in general what we did, which is by itself hard to understand, they asked “what was the name of your team, again?” And we ourselves did not pronounce it very well, not most of us. So after the fourth “what? Printerbers?” (yes, that is how a standard Uruguayan person would pronounce it) we decided to go with Pájaros Pintados. This was actually a success, but we secretly call our team “Las Printer” and encourage ourselves with “printer pride”. Of course, since we made this change, we have also felt more honest about our origins, and now every time we say “Pájaros Pintados” to non-derby Uruguayan people, we can notice the pride in their eyes. I mean, it’s not bad nationalism, being such a small country right? RIGHT? No, but seriously: it has given the team a new meaning, a more relatable meaning. Accessibility, my favourite word, is one of the things we always wanted the most and still fight for.
But, indeed, there is a Spanish derby culture. Names of techniques are being translated locally, and names of plays. People do scream “miren ese apex [jump]!” [Look at that apex jump!] but also “no te dejes agarrar de cabra!” [Don't let yourself get grabbed as a goat!]. Spanish-speaking culture, and more importantly, Latin American culture, has always been a thing, just due to history. Add Roller Derby to the mix, this powerful feminist, LGBTI rights supporting, sport, and we have the fight of all times. We are powerful, we are determined, we are proud.
Despite being alone in Uruguay, the Pájaros Pintados have been to a lot of big events - including several of 2x4 Roller Derby's Torneo Violentango, and Sailor City Rollers' Piratas En El Asfalto tournaments. What have been your high points as a team, competitively?
Well, we won our debut tournament in Cat C in the Piratas En El Asfalto tournament [in 2014?]! We sometimes think that, even with that exact same team, we wouldn’t have won it in 2018 as the level (luckily) is always getting higher and harder. But truth is, we did, and brought a Cup home. We did not expect to win. We were there for the fun. And we won.
This totally unexpected win gave us courage to sign up for Cat B, which we have since played and have never won a match on. We won a third place later with a C debutant team, which is also a nice thing to mention. But I think most of my partners will agree: the fun, every time we got a lead jammer, every time we played focused and together, every time we made the impossible… that’s the highlight. Being cheered by, best case scenario, 10 Uruguayan people who had managed to get there, and some friends we made along the way. The times we felt challenged. The people we met. Simply getting to a tournament in another country by sheer stubbornness. That’s the most rewarding feeling. Doing what you really love.
Let's talk about the very recent history: now there are two leagues in Uruguay. Do you expect this to change Roller Derby in the country, in terms of the possibility for more fixtures?
Well, we have the possibility of “a” fixture. Better than expected. That’s surely going to change things. For instance… it’s expansion. That may mean more attendance: people have at least two options. Also, twice as many people who know that Roller Derby exists.
And, what we desired the most, someone to play against, without travelling, spending money. We are pretty optimistic about the whole thing. We are still getting used to it. But change is good. And we needed to change.
How can people most help keep Roller Derby alive in Uruguay? What do you guys need?
Our main problem is to find a venue where we can host matches, and practicing with a real track. Unfortunately, that is in hands of fate and Uruguayan organisations.
So we would appreciate any donations and support. Our financial situation is still complicated due to the splitting (less skaters=less money). Any used or discarded but functional equipment might be lots of help, though we would have to check the customs laws first. And obviously any support, like sharing, or even just liking, our social media pages is extremely welcome.
Now that there are two Uruguayan leagues… what are the chances of a Team Uruguay at the next World Cup?
Wow... the question. Well, we have a lot of things to fix, but we also have time. With dedication, passion and some support, I like to think that’s a strong possibility. But we are still really naive about this thing in particular, even being this asked by many people we met on tournaments, on interviews... we are still kind of lost.
So any information, guidelines, experience-sharing, help or whatever are very welcome.
You can find out more about Las Printers of Pájaros Pintados Roller Derby on their Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/pajarospintados.derby/] and Instagram [https://www.instagram.com/pajarospintadosderby/] accounts.
In the event of a Team Uruguay, we will also make our readers aware of what's happening as soon as it becomes apparent!