Chuco Style

It’s a Saturday morning at the edge of the state, close to where Texas, New Mexico and Mexico meet and blur. In the small town of Anthony, about 20 miles north of El Paso, houses have backyards measured in half acres, and the Franklin Mountains stand out on the horizon without the distraction of tall buildings. It’s the type of place where a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag flies next to those of the United States and Mexico. On this hot July morning — after a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns and menudo — 13 members of the 915 Pachucos y Pachucas Unidos begin their monthly meeting.

They gather around a large kitchen table. Yvonne Patino, the group’s president, starts by asking for receipts for recently made T-shirts and collecting each member’s $5 monthly dues. Seated to her left are Gracie Guzman and her husband, Victor, the hosts of this month’s meeting. Victor has slicked-back jet-black hair and an easy smile. As each guest arrives, he repeats the same question: “Did you have trouble getting here?” All answers reference GPS and the beauty of the area.

To Patino’s right is Frankie Herrera, whose baby-blue shirt and black pants are without a wrinkle. He always sports a hat and looks like he’s never worn sweatpants in his life. Asked if he’s the best-dressed person in his office, where he’s a medical support assistant for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Frankie answers, “Well, there’s a few others that are close.” Herrera and Patino, like many others here, are carrying on a family tradition. “My father, my great-grandfather, my uncles were pachucos,” Patino says. “My youngest son is a pachuco.”

With the meeting underway, Yvonne’s 6-year-old son plays with other children whose parents are members of the group. They are growing up around pachuquismo — a subculture that began in El Paso and whose hallmarks include a flamboyant style of dress; parties with swing dancing, retro music and vintage cars; and, more recently, community service. These men, women and children are sustaining a tradition that started in the 1930s. They also symbolize what’s distinct about the borderlands. Mexican Americans in El Paso have long straddled multiple worlds: Texas and New Mexico, Mexico and the United States, English and Spanish. The pachuco lifestyle celebrates these differences while passing on Chicano pride to the next generation.

Pachucos are often thought to be gangsters or criminals. A 2017 story by a Los Angeles television station had the telling headline “Pachucos: Not Just Mexican-American Males or Juvenile Delinquents.” In fact, the first pachucos weren’t usually gangsters, but rather Mexican and Mexican-American teenagers and 20-somethings who developed their own style in the 1930s and ’40s. The subculture originated in the El Paso-Juárez area and spread westward with migration. Zoot suits, or tacuches, have always been the most distinguishing feature. Adapted from 1920s African-American jazz scene attire, tacuches come in loud colors and patterns. Bright yellow, sky blue or blood red aren’t unusual; neither are pinstriped or checkerboard patterns.

Traditionally, pachucos wear double- or triple-pleated high-waisted pants. Accessories include a silver or gold cadena, or chain, that loops down over the baggy leg and hangs a few inches above the ankle. Also common are vests, gafas (glasses), resortes (suspenders) and a long, multicolored feather tucked into the band around a tandito, a hat. Add some tablitas — shiny, colorful shoes, often in two tones — and you have the standard pachuco uniform for men. Women can wear a zoot suit, baggy pants with suspenders or simply a jacket with a long, tight-fitting skirt. Beyond the style of dress, pachucos talk in a slang, or caló, closely related to the Spanglish spoken along the Texas-Mexico border.

Pachucos are best remembered for the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. Over several nights in early June, in downtown Los Angeles, sailors stationed at a nearby base attacked anyone who wore a tacuche. Amid the jingoism of World War II — legislation leading to the internment of Japanese Americans was passed less than two years before the riots — pachucos aroused fears that they were unable or, worse, unwilling to assimilate. Oversized and baggy tacuches were also deemed a direct affront to the War Production Board’s clothing regulations, which aimed to conserve fabric. This all fed into the tensions that culminated in the Zoot Suit Riots. But even that name is misleading, as it places the responsibility on those who wore tacuches.

“Perhaps it’s time to revise that narrative,” says Ruben A. Arellano, a historian at the University of Texas at El Paso. “Instead of perpetuating the myth that it was [pachucos] who were responsible for the riots, we should call it what it actually was, which was the Sailor Riot. Because it was the young sailors who were out in caravans and carpools and sometimes even assisted by the local authorities to go out and beat up and strip these young Mexican Americans of their zoot suits.”

The caravans Arellano refers to are what Carey McWilliams called taxicab brigades. McWilliams, an activist and journalist who covered the riots, described the sailors as traveling in groups of at least 20 cabs. When they spotted anyone wearing a zoot suit, they jumped out and beat him up. “The sailors then piled back into the cabs and the caravan resumed its way until the next zoot-suiter was sighted, whereupon the same procedure was repeated,” McWilliams later wrote.

Because of the riots, there’s an assumption that pachucos were from Los Angeles. The belief that they’re gangsters also persists. These are misconceptions the 915 Pachucos (whose name references the El Paso area code) are trying to change. “We educate our youngsters about the culture,” says Patino. “Some of them still have this image of us being cholos, and that’s not what we’re about.”

The El Paso group is a nonprofit that has donated Thanksgiving meals to the hungry, Christmas toys for children and food for the homeless, among other efforts. Members have spoken in history classes at area colleges and raised money for families who can’t cover medical or burial expenses. Pachucos y Pachucas Unidos continues to expand, with chapters in Tijuana, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, among other cities.

Pachucos have long evoked consternation on the southern side of the border as well as in the United States. Mexico’s northernmost states have long felt the geographic and cultural distance from the central parts of the country, in particular Mexico City. Pachucos — and Mexican Americans as a whole — were even more outcast.

“The pachuco has lost his whole inheritance: language, religion, customs, beliefs,” argued Octavio Paz in The Labyrinth of Solitude. “His disguise is a protection, but it also differentiates and isolates him: It both hides him and points him out.”

Other Mexican intellectuals — José Revueltas, Carlos Monsiváis, Salvador Novo and José Vasconcelos, to name a few — also noted the precarious position pachucos occupied. They weren’t quite Mexican but clearly neither were they fully American. This is a tension that never ceases.

For Victor Guzman, the memory of a trip he made in the late ’90s to Camargo, Chihuahua, about six hours south of El Paso, still stings. “I was wearing my pants, all the way up to my belly button. I had suspenders, I had my hat on,” he says, “and I would get a lot of bullshit: ‘You guys are all pinche gabachos. You guys think you’re all that.’ And that’s not the case.”

At Lincoln Park in south-central El Paso, the lawn is shaded by a tangle of highway overpasses. One route connects the city to the rest of Texas, another leads to New Mexico and a third goes south to the international bridge with Juárez. Dozens of formerly drab highway pillars are emblazoned with colorful murals. There’s John F. Kennedy, a bald eagle, Cesar Chavez, and the black eagle that began as the United Farm Workers’ symbol and is now synonymous with the Chicano movement. Another painting shows a pachuco with his hand in his pockets, leaning back. Nearby, there’s a pachuca in a sleeveless shirt and suspenders. She holds an American flag in her right hand, while her left arm is draped with a Mexican flag.

The park is home to many of the El Paso pachucos’ public events, where curious onlookers often stare and ask questions. “I know we attract a lot of attention because of the way we dress,” says Victor Guzman. “But attention is not really the main thing. It’s us enjoying ourselves, being together with people that, that…” As he struggles to find the right words, Gracie finishes his sentence: “That enjoy the culture. And respect the culture.”

Members often pose for pictures in exchange for donations to whatever cause they’re there to support. They dance to music by the likes of Cab Calloway, Tommy Dorsey, Pérez Prado and Glenn Miller. “You can’t go wrong with oldies,” says Victor. When they dance, people gather around to watch the impressive sight. The tacuche’s bright colors and patterns make kicks and dips stand out, and the chain hanging from a pachuco’s waist glints while he moves.

I couldn’t help noticing that most members of the El Paso group were in their 40s or older. They speak often of passing the tradition on to their kids, many of whom tag along to events, but will it stick? Matthew San Roman, 27, is a sort of freelance pachuco, unaffiliated with the 915 group, who says he rarely meets other young pachucos. A Chicano studies major at the University of Texas at El Paso, he wears his tacuche most days. When classmates ask questions, San Roman sees an opportunity to start a conversation on Mexican-American history. “I get all kinds of reactions,” he says. “I really want them to know [about pachucos] because it’s part of them too.”

One hopeful sign: Back at the monthly meeting, conversation turns to an upcoming trip to San Antonio, where the El Paso pachucos are helping to start a new chapter. All 13 members will make the eight-hour drive to meet like-minded folks in “San Anto,” as they call it. They’ll sell enchilada plates and T-shirts to pay for a rental van, and then they’ll gather at a bar. Yvonne tells everyone to bring their two best tacuches. “Los mero mero, mas chingón,” she says — roughly translated to “the most badass.” They all laugh but know exactly what she means. Everyone here takes the symbolism of the tacuche seriously.

“My first suit, I bought it when I was 16,” Victor tells me. “I was so proud, man. I was wearing that thing to high school, I would only wear to las quinceañeras, las bodas. At that time, I was 16 so I couldn’t go to any bars or anything, so before that, I would only wear my pants, my suspenders, my tie, my little tandito, unas tablitas que me dio mi abuelito. But I loved it.”

Pachucos tend to remember the first time they wore a tacuche. “I’ve been dressing like this since I was 13,” says Frankie, now 53. “In 1982 and 1983, guys from California would come in and compete for the zoot suit contest. Those two years, I got first place. They couldn’t beat me and they would get all mad … because they thought the pachucos were from over there.”

But pachucos come from El Paso. The city’s semi-official nickname, after all, is El Chuco. According to lore, when someone asked traveling Mexican laborers their destination, they’d respond, “P’al Chuco.” To El Chuco. This westernmost edge of Texas that’s much more like Juárez than it is like Austin. Where a wall clearly marks the political borders but the cultural ones continue influencing each other.

Near the end of the meeting, members recap everything they’ve discussed. Someone quietly translates for the members from Juárez — la familia Pérez, as they’re referred to — who cross the border to attend meetings and any planned events.

José ya no va poder brincar” — José will no longer be able to cross — Francisco, the father of la familia Pérez, says of his young son. His visa will expire around the same time as the San Antonio event. Its renewal is already in process but “con todo lo que está pasando,” it could take months. Members offer their help in any way they can. “We look out for each other,” says Yvonne. “Gracias,” Francisco answers.

For now, the group’s focus is on founding more chapters. Asked if these will expand beyond the Southwest, Yvonne nods. “That’s our goal, to extend as far as we can nationwide, and keep going,” she says. “It’s something we love to do, it’s in our roots and hopefully our younger generation … they will carry on the legacy of the pachuco.”

Miguel Berchelt TKOs Miguel Román to retain WBC super featherweight title

El Paso, Texas — Miguel Román’s attempt to become Juárez’s first world champion ended with the referee showing compassion and stopping the fight in the last seconds of the ninth round. He hugged him against the ropes and in doing so kept his younger, taller and more skilled opponent, Miguel Berchelt, from pounding away with another combination.

It seemed like Román’s only chance at winning was walking through those punches but when he did, all he could do was land one or two punches. The fight ended but it felt like it could have easily been stopped several rounds before.

In the sixth round, Román appeared to be knocked out. As he laid on the floor, Berchelt climbed the neutral corner ropes, flexing as if he’d fulfilled his promise. When Román stood up, just as Berchelt turned back to the ring, the latter looked surprised that Román was still there. Before the round ended, Berchelt dropped Román and again, Román stood up. He survived but the fight was effectively over.

Chants of “Mickey, Mickey,” and “si se puede” — yes we can — erupted sporadically throughout the fight, trying to help Román. He’d only respond in spurts, landing a punch or two before Berchelt returned knocking Román’s head back before skipping away.

When the fight ended, two seconds from Román surviving yet another round, Berchelt celebrated. Román stumbled back to his corner. He sat there, on his stool, looking down at his feet. It was his third attempt to win a world championship and like the previous chances, he lost.

Román’s corner placed an ice pack on his neck and consoled him. Berchelt also came over to talk to Román. Berchelt wore his green WBC super featherweight belt across his chest and when he hugged down at his opponent, who remained seated on his stool, the belt rested inches from Román’s face — as if mocking him further. When Román finally stood up and walked around the ring, the crowd cheered the 33-year-old who has been in far too many brawls.

When someone raised Román’s son onto the ring, Román, hugged him and cried. He gently touched his beaten forehead against his son’s. He said something in his ear that unfortunately, neither of them may ever remember.


How Miguel Román, in a way only boxers can, perfectly symbolizes the El Paso-Juárez borderland

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Miguel “Mickey” Román shouldn’t be here, fighting for a world championship.

“I’ve had everything against me,” Román says in Spanish.

In this era where a boxer’s undefeated record is part of his identity and marketability, Román has lost 12 times. And where the top boxers may fight once or twice a year, or even less, over his 15-year career, which he describes as “sad,” Román has averaged almost five fights per year. Most of them took place in Mexico, away from the bright lights that come with boxing’s biggest events. Of course, Román has never been mistaken for the type of boxer to fight on the big stage.

On Saturday, in El Paso, Texas, across the border from Juárez, Mexico — his home — Román faces defending champion Miguel Berchelt for the WBC’s super featherweight title in a bout streamed on ESPN+. As usual, Román is the underdog.

“Román will be at a disadvantage in … areas like youth and talent,” said Patrick Connor, boxing historian and host of the “Knuckles and Gloves” podcast. “But he shouldn’t be overlooked.”

Compared to Berchelt, Román (60-12, 47 KOs) has crude skills more fitting of a well-versed street fighter. See him fight and there’s a ferocity and look of desperation; eyes narrowed, teeth clamped so tight on his mouth piece that the muscles around his square jawline seem that much tenser. Román is boxing’s answer to a manual laborer, the type of fighter more likely to get sponsorship from a local muffler shop than well-known corporations. He is also the kind of fighter that perfectly symbolizes where he’s from.

Despite being in different countries, El Paso and Juárez are more similar than different. Sister cities along borders usually are. Here, the area used to all be one — El Paso del Norte. In the mid-1800s, the U.S.-Mexico War culminated with the Rio Grande becoming the political border. When it did, it split this area into what later became El Paso and Juárez.

El Paso County is nearly 83 percent Latino, mostly Mexican and Mexican-American, and you’re just as likely to hear people speaking Spanish than English. Compared to the rest of the U.S., it ranks lower in education and higher in poverty rates. And yet, largely because of the military that first arrived around the time of the U.S.-Mexico War and the Border Patrol’s continuing and escalating presence, the city ranks among the safest in terms of violent crimes. This is especially true when compared to Juárez, which, as Mexico’s fifth-largest city, has always had they type of violence associated with a city its size. But Juárez’s violence, as we know it today, began about a decade ago. With drug cartels fighting to control what serves as the entry point to the U.S. — their best client — Juárez’s murder rates increased tenfold. By 2010, averaging over eight murders a day, authorities considered Juárez the deadliest city in the world. For a few years those numbers declined, but they are rising again. This is where Román is from and where he learned to fight.

“We were a very poor family,” Román explains about growing up in colonia Primero de Septiembre, one of Juárez’s poorer neighborhoods. “We struggled even to go to school.” When he attended school, he often fought. To keep him from trouble, Román’s father took him to a boxing gym. “I ran with gangs,” Román admits, “but once I started boxing and dedicating 100 percent of my time to it, I was able to leave that behind.”

Román turned professional in 2003. Two years into his career, tragedy struck. That night, Román was at home with his family when he heard gunshots. Soon after, he heard his name called. “Mickey, Mickey,” the voice said. As he walked outside, Román learned his brother — who was unwilling or unable to leave the gang life behind — had been shot. “I was carrying him,” Román remembers, “we were just about to get to the hospital. He took two deep breaths and that’s when he passed.”

Román not only held his brother as he died but knew who was responsible.

“I know a lot of fans follow me now. That’s why I didn’t take vengeance on the guys who shot my brother,” Román explained. “I have to be an example — to the people who trust me.” And so, Román kept boxing. Four years into his career, he was an undefeated prospect. And then he lost.

After accumulating a record of 22-0, Román lost two of his next three fights. The losses continued. In about a three-year-span, during what should have been the early prime of his career, Román lost seven of 13 fights. He then won four straight before, again, suffering more setbacks, losing three of four fights in less than a year. He contemplated retiring.“I didn’t have a plan,” Román said of what he would have done for a living. “I have a lot of family in the United States, maybe I would have gone there.”In early 2013, with his career on the verge of ending, Román rededicated himself even if his status within boxing became that of an opponent. Increasingly, he fought away from home, going to an opponent’s hometown with most expecting him to lose.“I proposed that if I lost a fight I’d retire,” Román recalls. “And I won 18 fights in a row and, until now, we are still here.” In his last 23 fights, he has lost just once. Román fought and forced his way into being named the mandatory challenger for the world championship.More recently, trainer Rudy Hernandez has contributed to Román’s continuing success. During training camps, which now include a dietary focus and increased attention to the technical aspects of boxing, Román moves to Southern California. Away from training, he still lives in Juárez.“I like it there,” Román said of Juárez. “The people treat me good.” Wherever he goes — restaurants, plazas, malls — Juárenses show their admiration. “If I crown myself as world champion, I will make history,” said Román. “I will be the first world champion from Juárez. And truthfully, that is a great motivator.”Beating Berchelt (34-1, 30 KOs) won’t be easy. Román will have to turn the fight into a brawl — as he usually does. His experiences, both good and bad, will serve him well.“I’ve been through it all,” he said, giving the impression he’s talking about more than boxing. “I have been knocked down and I have gotten up. I have gotten up to win.”“In a sense, his [career] is … the opposite of sad,” Connor said. “He’s been able to go farther than many thought he could despite not having the talent, protection, etc. When compared to where he could be, it’s a success story in [several] ways.”Mickey Román shouldn’t be here, but he is. And everything about him — including his thin, Pachuco-style mustache, reminiscent of one of Juárez’s favorite sons, Tin Tan — symbolizes the El Paso-Juárez borderland. He’s a blue-collar type of boxer. He has more knockouts than any other active boxer and is tougher than most. If Román can crown himself world champion, Juárez, the city he never left, and El Paso, the city that was once part of Mexico, will have something to celebrate.

Boxing Gyms Fight To Save Oak Cliff

They start showing up at the gyms every afternoon around 5. During the summer, it’s still so hot even in the late afternoon that it doesn’t take much movement to have sweat dripping from the tip of your nose. And none of them—the youngest are 8 years old, the oldest in their early 20s—are here to sit still. Parents drop off some, others walk, and the kids stretch and warm up while waiting for coaches to arrive. Some coaches will be in their work clothes when they get there, their shirts ringed with dried sweat, circling from the chest to right below the shoulder and around the middle of the back.

Casa Guanajuato and Vivero Boxing Gym are about a mile away from each other in the yet-to-be-gentrified part of Oak Cliff, west of I-35E, south of Jefferson Boulevard. They are authentic, old-school boxing gyms. Worn and musty punching bags hang among former boxers’ photos in cheap frames and newspaper clippings that have long turned brittle and yellow. Unlike franchise-owned gyms that only use boxing exercises for change-of-pace workouts, these places lack comfort. Blood and sweat have stained mirrors and floors. Countless rolls of duct tape keep the ring’s ropes and canvas from falling apart.

The cliché is everyone here is fighting for a way out, that without boxing they’d end up dead or in jail. While that could be true for a few, most of these young boxers will never fight professionally. Some may not even fight in amateur tournaments. They’re here because, regardless of talent or aspirations, boxing has something to teach.

Boxing—a sport that has increasingly become Latino and, because of that, gets mislabeled as dead—thrives here. For now, at least, while the gym owners can keep developers at bay.

“This is a tough way to make money,” says Gene Vivero, owner of Vivero Boxing Gym, a 501(c)(3) in the Elmwood section of Oak Cliff. A former amateur boxer, Vivero warns each of his young boxers against using the sport as a way out. “One injury and you’re out. One knockout and you’re out. I mean, that’s it. It’s over. As a kid, you get hurt or knocked out, whatever—hey, you ain’t gonna box no more. That’s just the way it is.”

Vivero is a no-nonsense type with a blunt tone that demands respect. Everyone who sets foot inside his gym must shake hands with those already there. “I want them to be respectful,” he says. Not even 15 minutes after stating his reason, a young boxer misses a hand to shake. “He don’t count, right?” Vivero, in his gruff voice, asks him. He repeats himself twice when the young boxer looks confused. “Shake his hand,” Vivero finally commands while pointing at who he missed. Shaking hands is a small gesture but a part of a larger discipline required in boxing. That discipline serves a greater purpose, both in and out of the gym.

Vivero Boxing Gym is a converted automotive garage. If the three garage doors weren’t enough of a clue, below a white coat of paint you can still read the faint lettering of what the building once was. If the gym has air conditioning, you can’t feel it. When the gym is full, breathing feels heavy. It becomes so hot that stepping outside and into what used to feel like a fiery summer breeze instead feels like a relief.

The gym is likely the most successful at producing talent within the Dallas area. “I’ve had more national champs and two Olympians come out of here—and Errol came out of here,” Vivero says with a quiet pride. The “Errol” that Vivero refers to is current IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr., who is among the current top pound-for-pound boxers in the world. “A lot of Dallas’ [boxing] history is at that gym” is how Spence Jr. describes the many who’ve broken a sweat inside Vivero Boxing Gym.

Historically, most of the state’s boxing talent has come from Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth, and a few areas in South Texas. But within the past decade, Dallas has risen on the boxing scene. As boxing has long been a sport practiced (and watched) by the lower and working classes, Dallas’ increasing economic and racial segregation are not completely unrelated to the rise of the city’s boxing prowess.

Thus, as Vivero sees the change, there are now more boxing gyms and better coaching. Just in his small gym, there are six or seven coaches, depending on how you count them, since one of them is unofficial. That unofficial coach, tutored by the others, is a year away from being certified to teach the sport. He’s Erik Ramirez, a 17-year-old senior at Sunset High School.

“I used to box,” Erik says. “But the sport … takes a lot out of you. My last couple of fights, I wasn’t really feeling it anymore.” When he ultimately stopped boxing, he admits, he felt lost. Almost as if by habit, having boxed for five years of his relatively short life, Erik continued coming to the gym. Eventually, his former coach had him help with young boxers. It was an experience he enjoyed, especially since it meant staying involved with the sport—which he credits with keeping him out of trouble and instilling self-discipline. “They’ve offered me drugs and stuff,” Erik says of some of his peers. “But because of boxing, to stay in shape, I always say no.”

Coaching also offered Erik a chance to stay close to his younger brother, Figo, who remains a boxer. Erik helps to coach him. “Hopefully this takes me somewhere,” Erik says. “Sometimes I think about the future, what will happen if [Figo] turns pro, which I think he really will because he really likes the sport and he’s pretty good at it. If he turns pro, I want to be there with him.”

At the amateur level—away from the bright lights of Las Vegas, New York, or anywhere else where professional boxing is firmly established, away from the valid criticism of the brutal sport—boxing plays a different role in the life of the sport’s young participants. With Erik and Figo, along with many others, boxing is family. If not literally, then it becomes a figurative one. And in areas like Oak Cliff, boxing gyms play an important role in a community that faces socioeconomic change.

If you drive through the residential streets of Oak Cliff, you can see this change in the many construction trucks parked in front of houses being remodeled and the dumpsters filled with the insides of those gutted houses. You can feel it, economically, with escalating rents and property values. You notice it in who lives there, and how that demographic is changing as new construction spreads.

“It’s coming this way,” Vivero responds when asked how he’s seen the area change in the 28 years that he’s owned the gym. It doesn’t need explanation. We all know what it means. “You know at Wynnewood Shopping Center, they’re gonna sink $30 million into it,” Vivero says, almost incredulous at the amount that’ll be invested in a shopping area that counts Fallas Paredes and El Rancho Supermercado—both catering largely to the Latino population—among its major retailers.

“So that’s why I tell you: it’s coming this way.”

The Bishop Arts district, for decades, was essentially abandoned, a cluster of forgotten, boarded-up shops. High school kids could hang out in alleys and on corners with no one bothering them. Now, of course, it is the epicenter of change in Oak Cliff. Signs are in English; just a few blocks south, they’re almost exclusively in Spanish. Commercial and apartment buildings are springing to life. Basic infrastructure—lighting and sewage among it—is being upgraded to the point that some streets are completely closed, at least for now. This section, to put it plainly, is whiter than the other areas around it. In fact, it seems like the only Spanish you hear comes from the construction workers.

This is a different Oak Cliff, separate from what the rest of the area is now and what the neighborhood was historically.

“Back in the day, when I was growing up, there was a lot of shootings,” says Freddy Narro, who grew up in Oak Cliff. “The gang violence was strong in the ’80s and the ’90s.” Narro—who works in construction, installing fire sprinklers—is now the head boxing coach at Casa Guanajuato, a community center that’s about a mile south of Bishop Arts and a block away from the abandoned Ice House Cultural Center.

Narro has a friendly charisma. He’s prone to calling young boxers papá and mija. Individually, each boxer gets a nickname to help them form a sense of belonging. “It turns into a family,” Narro says of the relationships formed with everyone inside the gym. It’s a relationship that leaves him and his other coaches feeling guilty if, for whatever reason, they cannot teach on certain days.

Like other coaches, Narro sees boxing as vital to the communities it serves, providing much more than what’s visible. “If someone would have introduced me [to boxing] when I was young, I wouldn’t have gone to jail as many times. All these little kids,” Narro says while looking around, “just look at them, bro. You can tell they’d be knuckleheads if they weren’t here.”

It wasn’t until his mid-20s, while living in North Dakota, that Narro got introduced to boxing. The move away from Oak Cliff was his mother’s decision, sending him there after he’d been locked up 13 times and experienced the death of a few friends and relatives, before he was even old enough to vote. Once he discovered boxing, Narro fell in love with it because, by his own admission, he liked to fight. “I was like, man, you don’t get in trouble? You get a trophy?” Narro laughs as he reminisces about the first time he stepped into a boxing gym.

When he returned to Dallas, partly to care for his sick mother—“Cancer is eating her up,” is how he describes her health—Narro continued to coach boxing. “All my family is here,” he says on returning to the community he grew up in. “I’m a clean dude, so I’m OK coming back.”

By any measure, Casa Guanajuato is one of the nicer boxing gyms you’ll find. Large, colorful murals—the Virgin of Guadalupe among them—cover entire walls. Besides boxing, Casa Guanajuato offers classes on citizenship, music, English, and job training. Tereso Ortiz founded the community center in 1994 and continues to run it. He’s received multiple awards and recognitions, from both the United States and Mexico, for his service to the community.

Part of this service is celebrating cultural roots and traditions. But among the many programs the center offers, boxing is at the core. “Boxing, for me, has not only been the basis but even the maintenance of this place,” Ortiz tells me in Spanish, “and we’ve also had great success.” Among these successes is Luis Yáñez, a 2008 Olympian who has a mural dedicated to him in a corner of the gym.

“Casa Guanajuato Boxing Gym La Casa de los Campeones”—home of the champions—the mural reads. Yáñez trained not just in Casa Guanajuato but also in Vivero Boxing Gym. Ortiz considers him part of the center’s community, one that’s evolved since Ortiz first arrived in Oak Cliff from Ocampo, Guanajuato.

“I’ll never forget the day: it was the 6th of May, 1971,” Ortiz says. Since then, he’s experienced changes in both the city and the neighborhood. “You get here and at that time even eating beans wasn’t easy,” he says. “There was nowhere to get them. The only Mexican grocery store that existed in those years was in downtown Dallas.”

Latinos now account for about 40 percent of Dallas’ population. Oak Cliff, as a whole, remains among the city’s largest Latino areas. But as Ortiz notes, “If God gives me more years, I’ll be able to live through another enormous change.” Part of this change will not just affect the ethnic makeup of Oak Cliff but maybe even Casa Guanajuato’s location along with it. Developers have already offered a large amount of money for the community center. It is, potentially, life-altering money.

“It’s incredible the amount of money that property is increasing here,” Ortiz tells me. His eyes are wide, brows raised, as if in disbelief that someone would offer so much for a place that cost him $85,000.

“And you know why they want it?” he asks me rhetorically. “To knock it down and build apartments. That’s what they want this for.”

On a Thursday afternoon—an hour after someone’s turned on a Spanish-language radio station to echo throughout Casa Guanajuato, and after some of the young boxers have stretched and warmed up—it’s time to fight. A white thermostat says it’s 90 degrees inside the building. It’d be hotter if not for the two industrial-size air conditioners on full blast, losing their battle to keep the gym cool.

Every coach differs on how often they spar their boxers. At Casa Guanajuato, they spar twice a week. At Vivero Boxing Gym, it’s every day. But regardless of how often they do it, all agree on its importance.

Sparring is where heart and desire can overcome physical limitations. Conversely, it can leave even the most athletic and cocky kid crying, forcing him to abandon the gym when humiliated and never be seen again. “Sometimes, when they get tapped on the nose, they go play soccer,” is how Vivero describes these kids before he laughs softly.

Sparring is where boxing’s greatest lessons take place. Past the handshakes and tough love, past the hugs and nicknames that make you feel like you belong, actual fighting is where one learns to get punched, knocked down, and, perhaps even more important, lose.

“Jogging and doing all these exercises, that’s easy,” says Narro. “The hard part is losing because people don’t know how to lose. Like I tell the boys, ‘Look, man, life’s gonna be harder than this shit. You gotta get back up ’cause you’re gonna lose family members. Your mom is gonna pass away. Your dad. That’s way harder than losing a fight. So if you can’t handle a loss in a fight, how in the hell are you going to deal with life?’ ”

This is why they fight. And why, when it’s time to do so, seemingly everyone at Casa Guanajuato stops what they’re doing and gathers around the ring. The rhythmic sounds of speed bags bouncing off fists and platforms stop. As do the grunting and guttural noises that go with any work on the heavy bags. Two fathers—previously talking to each other, while eating from a bag of generic brand chips and drinking soda from lime-colored cans—suddenly pay close attention to what’s about to go down.

A girl around 10 years old—Chata, they call her—climbs into the ring and faces a boy around her same age. They touch oversize gloves, and in their protective headgear, they fight. If they’re afraid, they don’t much show it. They can’t. At this point, allowing themselves to get paralyzed by fear is beyond counterproductive. Chata punches and moves—bends at the knees, pivots off her back foot—with a fluidity that lets you know she’s been inside the ring before.

As they fight, Narro stands about 4 feet away from them and teaches. “Create space,” he says. “Don’t get sloppy!” he yells. But, most important, he implores them to stay calm. “Dalé, Chata,”—Hit him, Chata—a parent yells.

“Stay calm,” Narro repeats. “Breathe, mija. Breathe, papá.”

The round ends, marked by a piercing bell you can almost feel in your chest. One of the major rules—besides no cursing or taking off your shirt—says after each sparring session, the opponents hug. Without being told, Chata and the boy hug while Narro embraces them both. He congratulates them on a job well done and tells them he’s proud. He then takes off his glasses, uses his shirt to wipe off his sweat, and, squinting, looks around at all the young boxers standing by the ring.

Pato, Frijolito, Joker, El Crusher, Chato (Chata’s brother), and many others stand and wait. Narro puts on his glasses and points at a kid. “You ready?” he asks. The boxer, about 16, already with headgear on—which covers most of his face, leaving visible just his dark-brown eyes—nods.

Órale,” Narro responds. “Get in here.” The bell rings and he fights.

With each new building that’s erected, each previously dilapidated home that’s remodeled, each person who moves in and immediately thinks he knows what’s best for the community, and each business tenant who can no longer afford the rent, it has become increasingly clear that many of these kids and their families will also be forced to move from Oak Cliff. If not now, then soon. Progress is what developers call it. Others call it gentrification. Regardless of semantics, rising property values will increase taxes. For the many who rent, those taxes will increase what they pay for housing. For the few who own, the money being offered may be too much to turn down.

When that happens—for the same reason these types of gyms don’t exist in places like the Park Cities or Preston Hollow—Casa Guanajuato and Vivero Boxing Gym will get knocked down. They’ll get destroyed along with the area’s other boxing gyms, like the 10th Street Boxing Gym, which sort of forms a triangle with the other two. When that happens, Vivero and Ortiz both say, they’ll rebuild. Their coaches—young Erik, redeemed Narro—and the others will follow. So, too, will the boxers. All will arrive at a yet-to-be-determined place. It’ll be the type of place, not too dissimilar from the one they’re at now, where boxing—rather than being considered a dead sport by middle- and upper-class sensibilities—helps keep the largely Latino communities alive. It’ll thrive there and continue to do so, long after the time comes for them to move again.

Why Many Mexican Fans Will Be Rooting for Golovkin in His Rematch with Canelo

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It happened, this odd connection between Kazakhstan’s Gennady Golovkin and Mexico, almost as if by accident.

After crushing yet another opponent—in his fifth bout in the United States after fighting in obscurity throughout Germany—Golovkin was asked by HBO’s Max Kellerman to describe the right hand that felled his opponent and how he, despite also getting hit, stayed up while his opponent crumbled. “Max,” he answered, a sinister smirk on his face, “this is my style, like Mexican style. This is fight. This is not game.”

That was late July 2014 in Madison Square Garden. Less than three months later, Golovkin fought for the first time in Southern California in front of a largely Mexican crowd. “It was one of those moments that creates goosebumps,” recalls Tom Loeffler, Golovkin’s promoter.

As Golovkin walked to the ring, fans stood on their seats. “Triple G, Triple G,” they chanted. It didn’t matter that his opponent was Mexican. “Right there, you could see they embraced him,” Loeffler says. “And I think it is because of his style in the ring but also his character outside [it].”

The love between Golovkin and the Mexican and Mexican American fanbase isn’t new. That those fans would embrace a Kazakhstani boxer may seem unusual, but it’s less so the more you know about how boxing influences Mexican culture and vice versa.

Mexico has a rich boxing tradition. The sport speaks to the culture’s deeply rooted machismo. While a problematic concept that many would argue has had harmful social ramifications, this is where the style—Mexican style, which both Golovkin and Loeffler mention—comes from. It emphasizes offense over defense. Some might argue this fight style is much more reliant on continual pressure, body punches—especially the dreaded liver shot that paralyzes the body—and overall toughness. This is mostly how Golovkin fights.

Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s trainer, is the man who taught his pupil the Mexican style. That process began almost as soon as Golovkin walked into Sanchez’s boxing gym in 2010.

Sanchez sat Golovkin down and played him a video of Julio Cesar Chavez—a Mexican national hero—fighting Edwin Rosario. They both watched Chavez dismantle his opponent—watched how, round-by-round, Chavez broke down the defending champion. And in doing so, Rosario felt the slow and painful agony of withering under Chavez’s unrelenting attack.

“When I showed him that video, I asked him to give me three years without interruptions, without any kind of questions,” Sanchez remembers telling Golovkin. “I promised him that in three years I would make him the best middleweight in the world, an undefeated world champion, and no one would want to fight him. And I was going to try to mold him like [Chavez].”

Chavez personifies Mexican style. He has Robin Hood appeal, a Mexican working man’s ethos; even if he earned millions from fighting, he could still pass as a poor man who just happened to have money. That distinction is vital. It’s the difference between a folk hero and a star.

Golovkin is a bit more the former. Even though he now has major sponsorships, he’s considered someone who, quite literally, fought his way to the top without ever getting much of a break. Someone who came to the United States not knowing the language and who was forced to remake himself.

“Golovkin is [like], whether people like it or not, the son of that Mexican that came here, crossed the border, busted his ass off,” says Salvador Carrillo, explaining Golovkin’s appeal to the Mexican fanbase. “He is the epitome of hard work. That’s why a lot of us…fell in love with the guy.”

Besides hosting The Boxing Rundown podcast, the enterprising Carrillo also created and sells a T-shirt showing Golovkin’s face imposed on an iconic Chalino Sanchez album cover. He made it prior to Golovkin’s first fight in Southern California. The T-shirt displays folk singer Chalino—his face replaced with Golovkin’s—loading his gun. Atop it, the phrase “Mexicans for Golovkin.”

“I don’t sing, I bark,” Chalino once joked in Spanish. And with that horrible voice, he sang of a way of life—violence and all—that helped audience members reminisce about their lives back in Mexico. He was a “valiente,” a word for which there’s no exact translation in English but meaning essentially a local tough who no one would mess with—unless one sought the same reputation.

Carrillo chose Chalino because he’s a modern-day reference that some Mexican and Mexican Americans relate to. “Golovkin has that scary look to him,” Carrillo explains. “It’s that bad guy that you want to root for. It’s your Pablo Escobar, your Chapo.”

Carrillo sells another Golovkin T-shirt. It shows Golovkin with a neatly manicured mustache and wearing a button-up shirt that’s an unmistakable part of the narco fashion Chalino helped inspire—the same one you can see on the Las Vegas strip. “Chapolovkin”—a reference to El Chapo Guzman—extends above Golovkin’s head.

El Chapo, Chalino and Chavez each have a folk-hero identity. Golovkin, to a lesser extent, has tapped into something similar that Mexican fans recognize and appreciate.

That Golovkin’s aggressive style makes him a favorite among Mexican fans isn’t surprising. What’s surprising is how he’s maintained that fanbase even as, for the second time, he’s about to face Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, a Mexican national and the country’s best boxer, with the WBA and WBC world middleweight titles on the line Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Walk through the main entrance of the MGM Grand Hotel, the media headquarters for the fight, and the first thing you see is a boxing ring. “Canelo vs. Golovkin 2” is promoted on each of its four sides. There’s a gold-colored statue of a sitting lion inside the ring. It appears life-size, maybe five feet tall. To the left of the entrance is a hotel gift shop with an entire front area dedicated to hats and T-shirts bearing each boxer’s name.

Can Errol Spence Jr. Put American Boxing Back In The Ring?

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As chaos erupts around him, Errol Spence Jr. simply smiles and saunters into the boxing ring. It is his homecoming — the first time he’ll defend his title in the Dallas area — and he has everything to lose. A defeat at the hands of Carlos Ocampo, a largely unknown Mexican boxer regarded highly enough to make him a mandatory opponent, would cost Spence millions and a spot among the top pound-for-pound boxers in the world. And yet, with everything on the line and seemingly everyone in the crowd of more than 12,600 screaming in anticipation, Spence appears calm, as always.

A highly decorated amateur and 2012 Olympian, Spence has thrown his hat into the ring with the world’s best boxers. His success is the sport’s success, helping secure its future in the United States — while putting to bed the tired notion that boxing is dead. Beyond the 683,000 who watched the Ocampo fight on Showtime in June, Spence’s appeal is visceral, even in football-mad Dallas: Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and several other players were among the sold-out crowd.

Spence, 28, honed his skills at Vivero Boxing Gym, a converted automotive garage in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. Gene Vivero, the gym’s owner, “knew [Spence] was an athlete” the first time he saw him. And though Spence’s athleticism allowed him to pick up boxing’s subtleties, not all athletes are boxers. “Sometimes when they get punched in the nose, they go play soccer,” Vivero says of the many kids who trickle in and out of his space. Spence kept coming back.

Spence did grow up playing Texas’ No. 1 sport, lining up at running back and idolizing the Cowboys’ Emmitt Smith. But his slight build didn’t make him a great gridiron fit, and he took to boxing swiftly. Spence remembers Vivero as an old-school gym: “hot … no air conditioning, no nothing.” The high temperatures and humidity of North Texas can make training unbearable. But perhaps it’s Spence’s familiarity with the uncomfortable, rooted in Vivero’s gym, that makes him so calm, composed and, most of all, confident in the ring.

He was only an amateur when a heckler at the Texas Golden Gloves tournament first nicknamed Spence “The Truth.” As Spence earned multiple national championships and watched documentaries and fights of boxing greats, his dream became increasingly realistic and seeped into all aspects of his life. “I want to be the best at what I do and be mentioned with those greats. I mean, it’s only right,” Spence says.

Fighting in the 147-pound welterweight division, which has historically boasted some of the sport’s best, Spence aims high. “He has a pinpoint jab, solid power, good balance, a crippling body attack [and] hand speed, and he throws his punches in combination,” says award-winning boxing writer and historian Carlos Acevedo. Those attributes are only augmented by Spence’s southpaw stance. And yet, as talented an offensive boxer as Spence is, Acevedo points to the left-handed fighter’s needed improvement on defense. “He tends to drop his hands when on the attack, and head movement seems to be an afterthought.”

These deficiencies have yet to cost Spence — whose record stands at 24–0, with 21 knockouts — likely because there are few boxers in the world who can exploit them. Unfortunately for Ocampo, he is not among them.

As the fight began inside the Ford Center at the Star, Spence and Ocampo appeared cautious. In the first minute, they each threw a few pawing jabs and feints to the body, attempting to figure a proper distance between them. As they did, the previously raucous crowd settled.

Despite being the clear underdog, Ocampo, unintimidated, landed a few solid punches to Spence’s ribs. With less than 30 seconds left in the first round, it even appeared Ocampo’s left hook momentarily stung Spence. And then, with three seconds remaining, it happened — so suddenly it wasn’t clear until the replay why Ocampo was writhing in pain, his face contorted as he struggled to breathe.

Spence had ended the fight in the first round with a perfectly placed punch to the liver — among the most painful of locations. And as Ocampo remained floored minutes past the 10-second count, Spence smiled and celebrated while the arena again roared. Spence had reduced Ocampo to a placeholder, a name added to the résumé of his quest for greatness.

The knockout also announced Spence’s place among a small group who will lead the future of boxing in the United States, just as Floyd Mayweather leaves the ring. If he can garner mainstream attention, Spence may appeal to the wider public in the same way “Sugar” Ray Leonard did. While Spence might lack Leonard’s megawatt smile, his quiet charisma and confidence have won over Bible Belt fans in the Dallas area — suggesting a wider marketability. Of course, it all depends on how he fares in the ring. It’s increasingly clear that Spence’s chief rival as the face of American boxing is Terence Crawford (33–0), who dominated a world champion in June. Before either of them stakes any definitive claim to greatness, he will have to face the other.

After the fight, as the crowd is still yelling its approval, Spence says this wouldn’t be his last time fighting at home. Someday, he wants to fight at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, which seats north of 100,000 — perhaps against Crawford. “You fight there, and you know you’ve made it. You sell out that, you’re an iconic figure,” says Spence. “If I can do that, then I made it to the pinnacle of the sport.” Audacious? Sure. But it’s how The Truth rolls.