By Emily Pandelakis @emilyboxing – Professional boxer Alejandro Jimenez wants to show President Trump just how wrong he is when he says Mexico “is not sending its best” to the United States.
A resident of New Hope for the last 11 years, Jimenez has shown himself to be not only one of Mexico’s best, but also one of America’s best. He came to the USA at the age of 15 and is happy about his decision as he prepares for his next fight, scheduled for six rounds against Edgar Joe Cortes, of Vineland, NJ, on Feb. 8 at the 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia.
When he steps into the ring that night, Jimenez will be wearing trunks bearing the words of Founding Father Patrick Henry: “Give me liberty, or give me death.” For Jimenez, they are more than just words. He is an inspiration to immigrants throughout Pennsylvania.
While his American counterparts were learning to drive, playing Xbox and studying for exams, 15-year-old Jimenez was standing on the border between Mexico and Arizona, looking out at the expanse of desert ahead. His chest tight, he was frightened and thirsty. He knew the long walk ahead, through the unforgiving terrain of the summer desert might be his demise, as it had been for so many of his countrymen who made the trek. It’s a fear that still feels fresh for Jimenez, 11 years after he began his fateful journey.
“We walked for two days and one night,” Jimenez said. “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.”
His brothers had sent for him, paying a smuggler, or “coyote,” as they’re called within the Mexican community, to bring him across the border. The future fighter joined seven other migrants and, after several legs–some by foot, some by car, the last by air–joined his brother in New Hope, leaving his hometown of Oaxaca, his parents, and his four sisters in his rear-view, possibly forever.
Jimenez began working and immediately enrolled in South Hunterton High School in Lamberton, NJ. At 16, he walked into the boxing gym adjacent to the restaurant where he was a cook, next door to the historic Bucks County Playhouse. He approached coach Mark Roxey, and asked him to be his full-time coach.
Roxey said no.
“It’s a lifetime investment, financially, physically, and emotionally,” said Roxey. “People ask me all the time and I say no.”
It took Jimenez one month to convince Roxey he was worth the investment. At the time, the duo had no idea how intertwined their lives would become, and that the pair, once strangers, would one day be almost like father and son.
Roxey coached Jimenez through more than 60 amateur fights across Pennsylvania. Because of his immigration status, Jimenez was unable to travel and advance in the tournaments that led to national titles. Lucrative professional contracts were not an option. Instead, he worked as a sparring partner for several state amateur champions, handling himself well. Outside of the gym, they became like family with Jimenez spending holidays with Roxey and Roxey’s wife and three kids.
One year after Jimenez’ arrival in New Hope, the Obama Administration launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, allowing those young adults who had migrated to the United States as children–as Jimenez had–to “come out of the shadows” and apply to stay in the country. It’s an expensive, bureaucratic endeavor. In 2016, Roxey helped the young fighter complete the application and come out of the shadows in the country he’d grown to love as his own.
Jimenez was granted DACA status in November, 2016, but the volatility of the country’s immigration policy remained in the back of the minds of both boxer and trainer. “It’s scary to me,” said Jimenez. “I don’t know what I’ll do if the Trump Administration ends DACA.”
Roxey sees a role for Americans in making sure that doesn’t happen: “As an American and an advocate for “Dreamers” and human rights overall, I feel we have to stand up. We have to stand up for the young people who came here as kids, without necessarily having a say in that decision. They have a chance to become mayors, senators. Alex volunteers and helps out in his community. If the Dreamers can make positive contributions in their communities, if they can add value, they should be able to do so.”
More than just a boxer, Jimenez volunteers at Roxey’s non-profit professional ballet company, is active in his church, and serves as a big brother and mentor in the gym.
Jimenez made his professional boxing debut in March, 2018, winning by knockout in two rounds, and becoming the first professional boxer ever to fight out of New Hope. As was the case in his amateur career, Jimenez has not had it easy as a pro. He won his next three fights by decision, but always in the other guy’s hometown.
His toughest fight is Feb. 8 against Cortes who is 6-4 and has won his last three fights.
“He’s (Cortes) a southpaw and he’s strong,” Jimenez said, “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.”
Jimenez says his ultimate goal is to be free; free to live in his adopted home, the United States, and free to visit his family in Oaxaca. A dream he has emblazoned on his fight trunks: “Let freedom ring.”
Alejandro Jimenez fights Feb. 8th at 2300 Arena. For tickets, visit www.2300arena.com.
Photo: Darryl Cobb Jr.