DREAMer Alejandro Jimenez fights Friday in Philly
There was Mom, Dad, him and four sisters and sometimes there wasn’t enough food to feed them all.
On Friday night, Alejandro Jimenez will be in a ring at 2300 Arena, in Philadelphia, looking out at a sold-out crowd, and hear the cheers of the rooters, who will stare at his trunks emblazoned with the motto “Give me liberty or give me death.”
And that isn’t an empty phrase, sounding important but devoid of meaning. For Jimenez, age 26, he means it. Eleven years ago, the decision was made, as a family, that Alejandro would make the trek from their town of Oaxaca, Mexico, into the United States.
But of course the teen was fearful and had massive reservations about going. However the prospects at home were not stellar nor improving. If he could make it to America, where jobs were more plentiful, where a hard-working person could rise up, on his or her merit, he could become perhaps a productive and law-abiding citizen, then send money back to help his family. So he set off with seven others, all strangers.
“I came here for a better opportunity,” Jimenez told me. “We came to Arizona; there was a fence in the desert. We went under the fence. Two people were waiting for us; a car picked us up. We went to a safe house.” They waited two days, overnight, to get to a promised land.
Of course, that was a different time. That was before the man currently holding the office of the United States Presidency had declared his candidacy and made a signature stance that he wanted to halt the influx of persons coming to America, seeking to become part of the fabric, from nations like Mexico: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs,” the divisive deal-maker now in the sight lines of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, said on June 16, 2015, announcing his intent to grab the White House. “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” he added, parenthetically.
“We walked for two days and one night,” Jimenez said to journalist and public relations specialist Emily Pandelakis. “Just the clothes on my back.” This after waiting three days at a hotel in Mexico, waiting for the “coyote” connection, with no food. “We had no water and, at one point, we had to cross a river. I couldn’t see how deep it was because the water was brown. I was afraid of being attacked by an animal and dying in the desert.”
Let’s pause and ponder here. Some of you reading might get news and opinions from a source which basically tells you that people trying to get into this nation from south of the border are quite likely to be terrorists or are coming here intent on pillaging and plundering. Copious statistics and anecdotal evidence shows that the overwhelming majority are simply down on their luck, with two arms and legs and hopes and dreams like you and me, who want to be able to work, earn money, eat food, smile, laugh and maybe even dance. So people like that, like Alejandro Jimenez, hook on with coyotes, persons who help ferry those without documentation or papers to gain entry to a presumably gentler land. And yes, they risk death to do so because where their current situation offers slim to no hope. “The smugglers can kill you,” Alejandro told me, admitting that he felt fear during his journey to America.
However he made it to Arizona, alive, if without a hard plan for the future. It was around 7:30 p.m. and night beckoned. A plan was hatched…from Arizona, he’d travel to New Jersey, over the span of a week. There he stayed in a house for a week, waiting, pondering, praying. He found footing, found some work, keeping his nose down, existing in the shadows, working off the books. And he wanted to do more than that, so he recalled someone back in Mexico whom had mentioned that maybe he’d like boxing. There was a gym near where he was working, as a cook, next to the Bucks County (Pennsylvania) Playhouse. Mark Roxey (behind Jimenez in photo) was there…
… tutoring, overseeing, mentoring. Roxey is one of those “only in boxing” types. He runs a ballet company in Lambertville, New Jersey, and also juggles boxing training and advising a few guys, like Jimenez. When the kid went into that gym in New Hope, Pennsylvania, Roxey tells me he recalls a quiet teen standing in a corner, soaking it in. Someone undocumented knows not to make a ruckus.
“He was peeking around a heavy bag,” Roxey recalls.
“He was watching sparring. He saw me working with a girl; she was about 16, maybe 110 pounds. ‘I want to learn to box,’ Alejandro told me. ‘Nah, I don’t think so,’ I told him because I didn’t really train people.” Roxey tried to gently dissuade Jimenez by saying he would, for $50 an hour. Alejandro came back the next day, $50 in hand. “Now I’m feeling bad and we started talking and I got his story. Then I told him, you don’t have to pay me. And he trained and he started competing in amateurs. But he didn’t have paperwork, so he was only able to compete in New Jersey. USA Boxing has a rule: If you are not a citizen, you can’t compete in tourneys but we didn’t let that stop us. We’d wait till Golden Gloves came back and he’d say, ‘Let’s fight that guy.’ He used to go to Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, New York, all the time. Anywhere we could get a fight!”
After around 60 fights, Alejandro, a resident of New Hope, said he wanted to fight pro. He’d been granted DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status in November 2016, so he was out of the shadows now. (NOTE: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an American immigration policy that allows undocumented persons in the United States who came to this country as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and also possibly become eligible for a work permit in the U.S. To be eligible for this program, recipients cannot have felonies or some sorts of misdemeanors on their records. That is not to be confused with the DREAM Act (the acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act), an American legislative act which qualifies undocumented minors in the United States conditional residency and a path toward permanent residency. But DACA recipients are called DREAMers…it’s just that the DREAM plan is seen as better in the eyes of immigration rights experts because it is a more detailed, structured and “permanent” solution. Fully ennobled, the DREAM act would grant citizenship rights to good people who have been here a spell and are proven to be solid citizens.)
Roxey made sure Jimenez was on the right track and encouraged him to work on a GED. College courses are next on the to-do list, apart from getting the win Friday in Philly, on a card which will screen on Facebook FightNight Live.
All that is in his head, with the added fear factor of the continued drum-beat of anti-immigrant chatter from the President, who trots out fear-mongering tales of kidnappings and sexual assault at the hands of bloodthirsty demonic coyotes and drug traffickers, while there is silence about the regular occurrences of mass shootings perpetrated by Caucasian American citizens.
“It’s scary to me,” said Jimenez. “I don’t know what I’ll do if the Trump Administration ends DACA. I heard Trump say that about Mexicans and thought, ‘He’s not gonna win as President.’ “I remember his response when Trump won, said Roxey. “Like with most or many Americans…it was shock and awe.”
“Alejandro has experienced a tremendous amount of fear,” continued Roxey, speaking by proxy for hundreds of thousands of undocumented citizens, who came here for the same reasons your great-grandpa did, in search of a new hope. “They are paying taxes, doing their best in the country. If they end DACA, it will be sad. People won’t be able to get licenses, go to school. My family came here from Germany, from Ireland, Puerto Rico…We are all immigrants. What about ‘liberty and justice for all’?”
Jimenez is now 4-0 (with 1 knockout). He debuted last March, scoring a TKO win over Derrick Pitts Jr. He’s won three decisions and at 2300 Arena, on FNL, he fights Edgar Joe Cortes (6-4, 1 KO, from Vineland, New Jersey).
The promoter of the card is Michelle “Raging Babe” Rosado (in photo below). I asked her if she hesitated putting this DREAMer on the card. “I didn’t hesitate one bit,” Rosado said. “When I promoted my first show in 2011, Arizona was going through some of the toughest immigration laws. Many promoters (Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions) threw in the towel. I took it on by the horns.”
And what sort of fight will Jimenez be engaged in tomorrow? “Cortes is a southpaw and he’s strong but we’ll be prepared for whatever he brings. We are going to prove that we belong where we’re going. I want to win a world title, to show other DREAMers, other immigrants, what they can achieve if they keep dreaming and keep working hard,” he told Pandelakis.
Roxey will be in the corner, a proud papa type, marveling at how far that quiet teen has come. I asked, does Alejandro get angry at Donald Trump? “He definitely gets angry – we all do – but I can’t help but be sad and disappointed for the country because of people who marginalize an entire population, dismiss them as killers and such. If you look a little deeper, people of all ethnicities have been demonized at various points: Irish, Jewish, Puerto Ricans…Hey, I understand,” he continued, “borders need to be secured but these legal and ‘illegal’ people here are grocery store workers, landscapers, construction workers.” And boxers too. “That’s what boxing is all about, a bunch of misfits, part of the same family. It doesn’t matter your ethnicity; we are a bunch of misfits doing good things.”
And on Friday, Jimenez will add to his tale and his message with his fists and his trunks: “Let freedom ring,” the battle cry of founding father Patrick Henry. “That means everything to me. I want to be free, free of fear, what could happen to me,” Jimenez said. “I haven’t seen my family since I left. I can’t go back to visit until I’m a full-fledged citizen. And I will, God and this administration willing.”
Michael Woods, a Park Slope, Brooklyn resident, was a staff writer at New York’s Newsday before joining ESPN The Magazine (2003-2014). He calls fights for Facebook FightNight Live, which has drawn over 4 million views over a span of 26 events, and does the “Talkbox” podcast for Everlast. Full disclosure: Woods will call the fight discussed in this piece for FNL. You can follow him on Twitter @Woodsy1069.
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