Souls on ‘The Line’ | Guatemala City sex workers turn to fútbol for a sense of who they are

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Media fascination with Las Estrellas’ story is evident in the trailer from Estrellas de la Lí­nea. The ponytailed coach is Kimberly, a fashion designer for sex workers and transvestites.

Of football documentaries that favor the human element there is no shortage of late. One of the most recent is Estrellas de la Línea, screened at English-language film festivals as The Railroad All-Stars, about Guatemala City sex workers who in 2004 organized themselves as a football team.

Estrellas has made appearances at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and most recently the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York following a premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2006.

Filmmakers and Las Estrellas themselves do not hide that their grab for attention began as just that. Frustrated at efforts to gain respect for their plight through the political process, the women seized on a suggestion to organize a team in a Saturday amateur women’s league, the domestic Campeonato Femenino (see 30 Nov 04). Las Estrellas’ first match in Sept ’04 came against the girls’ team from Colegio Americano, the elite American School of Guatemala, and almost immediately publicity flowed. Much of the debate afterward was framed by this one match.

Las Estrellas arrived at the event bearing a 10-point manifesto, “Vindication of the Prostitutes of La Lí­nea.” “The prostitutes of La Línea,” the document begins, referring to the four-block downtown section alongside La Avenida del Ferrocarril (Railroad Avenue), “are women before prostitutes” (see Tim Kantz, “ ‘Prostitution Is a Job Like Any Other,’ ” EntreMundos, Jan–Feb 05). Akin in some way to the prototypical feminist treatise, Mary Wollstonecraft‘s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792), the document tipped off Las Estrellas’ opponents to the women’s identity. They had not made this clear to tournament organizers.

Journalist Andrés Cepeda, who was helping the film crew, states in an Associated Press interview that the women’s presence represented “an intentional, confrontational act to provoke two polar opposites within society, without violence, to experience and observe their reaction.”

With film cameras rolling, the legitimacy of Las Estrellas’ protest became clear. Kantz in his article in EntreMundos picks up the narrative:

The Colegio girls complained to the tournament’s administrators that they feared catching contagious diseases from the team of prostitutes. The administrators, claiming that the Stars and their followers used profanity in their cheers, kicked them out of the tournament and kept the Q1,000 fee [$125] the women had paid to enter the event.

Estrellas lost 5–2 to the Colegio team, but the game propelled Las Estrellas on a cross-country journey for friendly matches against journalists, policewomen and other sex workers. Among the 11 team members that Kantz names, all are mothers, with 39 children among them. Team members come from Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, an indication of Guatemala City’s long-standing lure, dating back to the 1870s, to the sex trade and to traffickers of women and girls.

Three days before their inaugural match with Colegio Americano, Estrellas players get fitted for kit at an abandoned city lot doubling as their practice field. As always, a cameraman chronicles the moment. (Rodrigo Abd | AP)

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