Mi Vida Loka: How Fantasy Football Brought a Group of Mujeres Together to Form a Tight-Knit Community
Across the nation yesterday, Americans camped out in front of their televisions surrounded by salty snacks and cold beers, and watched the Patriots smash the Rams at the 53rd annual Superbowl. Widely considered the great American pastime (though Dodgers fans may beg to differ), football is a huge part of our country’s culture– I mean, even Cardi B made an appearance during the eagerly-anticipated commercial breaks. Still, as popular as football is, it has long been dominated by male fans– which makes sense, given that boys are offered plenty of opportunities to participate in the contact sport from a young age, while girls are stuck on the sidelines. It’s no secret that many men seize football as an opportunity to bond with their buddies– but one group of badass, brown women are shaking the stereotype that only bros can connect over the game: meet the Lokas, a radical crew of 14 mujeres who started their very own fantasy football league five years ago, which soon turned into so much more.
Atop a hill in Montecito Heights sits a beautiful house surrounded by fresh flowers and lemon trees.
This is the home of Veronica Gutierrez and Laura Genao, (or as the crew fondly calls them, Lauronica), and it’s the “adult clubhouse” for the Lokas to party and watch football together.Naomi Roochnik
Laura and Veronica were the original catalysts for the Lokas, and continue to be the “nucleus” of the group. They both have been football fans for years, and wanted to turn more women onto the game. “My wife, Laura– we call her The Commish, since she’s the league commissioner– started the fantasy football league because she wanted to learn more about football, and she wanted to learn it with people who wouldn’t be intimidated by it. That’s why she suggested it with all our friends,” says Veronica. Although some of the women knew very little about the game, they all came with an open mind. “We have different levels of knowledge of the game within the group. Some people came primarily for the cocktails but became football fans in the process, since it was a safe space to learn about football.” They even have a special name for the Superbowl. “We call it La Aguacateada because Laura’s mom, que en paz descanse, used to call it that since she knew we’d be eating guacamole that day. It just stuck.” Vero’s mom is also responsible for the origin of the Loka name. “Cuando vienen las Lokas? my mom would ask, because, you know, we’re a jovial group, and we have a lot of fun together. She started it, and we kind of embraced it with a K.” The Loka dedication to the game even spurred a renovation at the Lauronica house. “People like the cocktails. That’s why I put the bar in the back. I used to make the cocktails in the kitchen and we’d hear everybody cheering and we’d miss a big play so we ended up taking out our storage and moving the bar out there.”
The Lokas came together organically– it’s not as though all 14 grew up together– rather, it started out as a few women and grew as they brought like-minded friends.Naomi Roochnik
Longtime Loka Martha Rodriguez (Lauronica’s neighbor, and, coincidentally, former grade school classmate) recalls she knew little about the game when she first began attending: “I didn’t know enough about the game to really get into it at first…but then once they started the league, things got bigger, and there was always a winner…now, I’m the one who shows up with ten different football pools. I’m an LA girl, so I gotta support the LA team, but I just want to win the freaking pool! So if I gotta turn against the Rams to win a thousand dollars, I’m gonna turn against the Rams,” she laughs. The league even has sweatshirts, t-shirts, and a trophy for whomever wins big.
Member Laura Luna “didn’t know anything about football” when she first began watching the games at Lauronica’s.Naomi Roochnik
“I started going to the weekly games, and having such a good time. There was no judgement that I didn’t know much about football…It seemed like everyone else was an expert at that point; they knew all the plays, and everything about the players. And I wanted that community so bad, I ended up joining the fantasy football league,” she says. “I did horribly! I was literally just picking based on colors!” she laughs. The warm and welcoming energy of the group never made her feel bad, though. “If I had any questions, it was never, like oh that’s so dumb. It was never like that.” This response was a welcome change from the usual annoyance or condescending tone from football bros. Martha muses that she doesn’t care what the bros think, though. “In general, the macho Mexicanos, they laugh at this. The idea of a bunch of women getting together, calling themselves Lokas– but I don’t care what anybody thinks. It is such an awesome time to hang out with these women, so me vale madre.” Member Judee Fernandez actually looks forward to being tested by men. “I thrive off of those moments. I got into it with a guy about his team and I think it really shocked him that I knew that much about football. Most men don’t think you know. They think that you’re stupid and the minute you’re able to make the call, or talk about the coaches or the record, or review the games, they’re surprised.”
Though it started out as a fantasy football league, the Lokas grew into an impenetrable female friendship and a “safety net”, as many of them call it.Naomi Roochnik
Making friends in any big city is tough, but making friends in Los Angeles can often seem damn near impossible. But over the past five years, this group of women has become more than friends– they consider themselves family. “We’ve gone through marriages, divorce, deaths of parents, births; we’ve gone full circle and grown with each other,” says Martha. While the original intent behind the get-togethers was football, many viewed it more as an important opportunity to build community. “I just wanted to be around women who were cool, and, well, there’s not a lot of positive examples of queer women of color thriving,” Luna explains. “I was trying to find my own community of women of color who were successful, professional, and also into having fun. I’m not super close to my family of origin, so to me, having these women is so important. Yes, football for a lot of the women is very important, but what’s also important to all of us is community.”
In addition to the rules of football, Lauronica’s has also been a safe space for folks to share and learn about important topics, spanning from sexuality to race to finances.Naomi Roochnik
The age gap between the women (the youngest Loka is in her early 30s, the eldest in her mid 50s) provides frequent learning opportunities. “They accept me and I learn a lot from them,” says Martha. “Luna would often talk about being queer– and I’m 55. When I was growing up, queer was a bad word. You never called somebody queer. But, I learned a whole new world from her! Is it ever awkward? No! Lauronica’s door is open to anybody. We have black women too, and they’re más Mexicanas que la fregada! We got Barb, she’s the white girl of the group, but it doesn’t matter! And that’s a beautiful thing. I mean, the world could use a lot more of that.” Judee mentions the importance of diversity in the group, and that even though it’s mostly queer Latinas, all women have a place here. “We talk about everything. It’s diverse, inclusive, and equitable, and everybody has a voice. The way we engage in conversation about what it means to be a white ally, and a white woman in this space and how we all learn from each other– that’s really important. We call each other out and instead of isolating someone, we do it with the intention of making someone better, pushing you to think deeper about what you’re saying or doing and that’s unique.” Judee explains that the younger Lokas often look to the elder ones as mentors: “The older Lokas own homes, but there’s some of us that are younger and barely trying to understand how to complete our FAFSA or tax records, and they literally mentor us in how to do it. The level of expertise and legal advice and mentorship is awesome. It’s almost like a think tank for problem-solving life, and enjoying it while we’re at it, and doing it with a cocktail or a beer in our hand.”
One thing all the women share in common is a dedication to social justice, philanthropy, and giving back, with Laura and Veronica leading the charge.Naomi Roochnik
The couple actually started their own fundraising group, Mixology on a Mission. Veronica figured she could use her masterful bartending skills (“she’s a scientist!” gushes Martha about Vero) for good. They host events at their home where they prepare and teach others how to make craft cocktails, while raising money for causes they believe in, most of which are organizations other Lokas are involved in, including Las Fotos, East Yard Community for Environmental Justice, Mujeres de la Tierra, LA Center for Law and Justice, and, most recently, Dyke Day LA, of which Luna is a board member. Interestingly, Lauronica and the Lokas’ passion for equity and justice did create conflict with this season of football. While the group has still diligently watched games together and still had their annual Aguacateada, they actually forwent the fantasy league for the first time in years, in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. “The only time we didn’t do the league was this year, because we were kind of boycotting the NFL because of its position on, well, racism. We used to have season tickets to the Rams and we did not renew those. We told them we would not renew our tickets until Kaepernick was on the team, or until they rescinded the NFL policy where players could be punished for protesting racism.” The Lokas look up to Lauronica and see them as inspiration. “I call them my aunties, but the cool aunties that you go and tell them what’s up,” jokes Luna. “The relationship I have with Laura and Vero has really, to me, as a queer person of color, informed me how I show up for the younger queer folk in my life. They provided this really amazing blueprint on how to show up for folks. They taught me how to use the power and privilege that I have to support causes, community, and people whose work is making a change…Everyone has a different role in the revolution. Not everybody can, based on ability or mental health, be out in the streets, but those of us who have a little bit more privilege can fund the revolution or show up in this other way.”
So, who are the Lokas? Luna refers to them as her “chosen family.”Naomi Roochnik
“You know how they say your boo is supposed to send you a good morning text? I wake up and some of these women are early ass risers and starting at 6am it’s like good morning, good morning, good morning! And how amazing is that? Especially in this world where we’re taught that only romantic love is important,” she says. Martha takes the name a little more literally. “The name suits us because as serious and professional as we are, we all got that crazy loca in us. As I tell people, there’s always a chola waiting behind the screen door. Don’t make her knock on the door. You don’t want to see that girl. We’re crazy!” she cackles. Judee also brings up the inner chola, and something she calls “chola politics”. “So many of us in this group really come from neighborhoods where you had to be ultra resilient to survive and have this chola demeanor– we were badasses, we weren’t afraid, we got shit done, we went out, not in a gang or violent way, but we respected the politics of having each other’s backs, not being a hater, being transparent, being there for what’s right and not what’s easy, and having girl code. We’re not really crazy, but we’re wild. Wildly intelligent and down,” she says. Smiling, Judee explains how the passion for football within the group has begun spreading to other sports. “It’s not even just football anymore, a lot of us now know stats about golf, and baseball, and tennis,” she says. “We’re taking over and reclaiming a space that would usually have been just for men. A space that should have always been ours, too.”
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