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Racism kept these Mexican Americans from a Texas golf club. They won the state championship anyway.

The new movie "The Long Game" recounts the true story of the winning San Felipe High School golf team and the war veteran denied entry to a golf club who formed the team.
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Fans will recognize him from the reboot of “Magnum P.I.,” a crime action TV series about a former Navy SEAL who solves cases in Hawaii. Starting Friday, actor Jay Hernandez can be seen on the big screen in “The Long Game,” an underdog sports movie about a Mexican American golf team who wins the Texas high school championship in 1957.

In the film also starring Dennis Quaid and Cheech Marin, Hernandez plays J.B. Peña, a Mexican American war veteran and school district superintendent who's rejected from membership at the San Felipe Country Club in Del Rio, Texas, because of his ethnicity, but who goes on to form a high school golf team, the Mustangs, for the Mexican American teens who fell in love with the sport while caddying at the club.

The Mexican American golf team went on to win the high school championship.

The Long Game
Jay Hernandez plays J.B. Peña, a school district superintendent who formed a high school team that would beat the odds. Courtesy Anita Gallón M.

“For my character particularly, he feels that's (the golf club) his destination of acceptance. ... It’s an aspirational thing for him,” Hernandez said in an interview.

“He served in the military, that wasn’t enough. He’s essentially living the American dream, that’s still not enough,” Hernandez said about Peña. “He just feels like there’s this moving goal post.”

“The Long Game,” directed by Julio Quintana and adapted from Humberto G. Garcia’s novel “Mustang Miracle,” tells the true story of the five Mexican American golfers from San Felipe High School who became state champions in spite of segregation. 

“Mexican Americans in the 1950s occupied no better stature in American society than did African Americans,” Garcia wrote in the book. “We were not allowed in many restaurants, hotels, and other service establishments. In fact, we were not even allowed to enter the many buildings we helped build. Mexican Americans were certainly not allowed to join country clubs and partake of the game of golf as members.”

Hernandez, who's also one of the executive producers of “The Long Game,” said the story is important because it shows viewers that there are many types of Americans.

"We’re American and the American story is also an immigrant story. It’s also a Mexican American story. It’s also a Puerto Rican story. It’s also a Chinese American story. That’s the beauty of this country," he said.

The Long Game
The movie, also starring Dennis Quaid, puts a spotlight on "a whole other world of stories" about Latinos, Hernandez said. Courtesy Anita Gallón M.

Off camera, Hernandez, who was born in Los Angeles, says identity is something he is trying to understand.

“I have obviously a natural affinity to the United States. I love this country. I grew up with my dad flying the American flag on our porch since I was a young kid,” he said.

But, he added, part of his family’s cultural background — specifically on his father’s side — is also from Mexico. And this has shaped his roles in front of the camera.

‘They don’t get the acknowledgment’

“I played cops and soldiers and done so many of those types of characters. My personal connection is that my grandfather served in World War II. And he was probably one of those people whose stories don’t really get told,” Hernandez said. “They don’t get the acknowledgment that they deserve in terms of Mexican Americans serving the armed forces.”

Putting a spotlight on those overlooked stories motivated Hernandez to work on this movie.

The Long Game
The Long GameCourtesy Anita Gallón M.

“It’s not always border stories and criminals. There’s a whole other world of stories that need to be told, be it astronauts, or golfers, or just people transcending their environment,” he said.

Ultimately, Hernandez said, “The Long Game” is a story about trying to fit in.

He described a scene from the movie where the young golfers go to Mexico. As Mexican Americans they’re not recognized there as full Mexicans. But in the U.S., they are not seen as full Americans either.

"They’re not accepted as full people," Hernandez said. "They’re the other in the story."

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