Tucson-bred boxer Oscar Valdez has a grandfather facing deportation within a month and frightened family members stuck in DACA uncertainty.
A successful “dreamer” in a more traditional sense, able to bring his WBO featherweight title to the Tucson Arena on Friday, Valdez also knows what it’s like to be a dreamer these days.
“There’s actually a couple of family members (living under DACA) and they’re so scared right now they don’t want me to say nothing,” Valdez said. “I said, ‘I can speak out. You want me to?’ They all said ‘just leave it alone.’”
He won’t. Instead, Valdez just isn’t using their names while speaking out in support of dreamers this week along with Sinaloan WBO super middleweight fighter Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, who will join Valdez on Friday’s card.
Then there’s Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who has offered 500 dreamers free tickets to the fight card if they bring their employment authorization card to the Tucson Convention Center box office.
While there may now be political progress toward permitting dreamers to stay in the United States, President Trump’s initial decision to terminate the program — which was intended to protect those who arrived as undocumented children — clearly touched a nerve with Top Rank, which has many fighters from Mexico and of Mexican descent.
“This is insane,” Arum said Tuesday. “Dreamer kids are as American as my grandkids. The idea that we would send them back to another country is (unfair). Americans have higher standards than this.
“We have to open up our hearts to them because they deserve it. I think every American has a moral obligation to stand up.”
Arum’s stance on immigration issues has been pretty obvious since he assured Mexican fans back in December 2015 that they could travel to Valdez’s first fight at Tucson Arena because “the loudmouth will not have started to build his wall.”
Then, in April 2016, Arum promoted a “No Trump Card” in Las Vegas, the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Jr. fight, and put both Ramirez and Valdez on it.
Valdez was all-in on that one.
“Since Day 1, he was a no-Trump guy,” Valdez said of Arum. “He made it clear he was going to have our backs. He even said, ‘If Donald Trump wins, I’m not letting him take you back to Mexico.’ I was like, ‘All right, I’m hugging Bob for this.’”
Actually, neither Valdez nor Ramirez has to worry about deportation. Valdez is a dual citizen of Mexico and the U.S., while Ramirez is a Mexican citizen who possesses a U.S. work visa.
Yet Ramirez also says he can relate to the dreamers.
“I don’t have family here but I feel like I am a dreamer too because I came here to United States and my dream came true, which was to be a champion of the world,” Ramirez said. “The (dreamers) who come here work and pay taxes. I don’t think they are doing something wrong with this country.”
With a mostly firm grasp of English after years of living in California, Ramirez paused to make sure he said the next thing correctly.
“How you say, ‘Contrib? Contribute’?”
Contribute. It’s a word Ramirez says about himself, too, having picked bell peppers in California’s San Joaquin Valley as a teenager and living now mostly in Los Angeles as a professional boxer.
“I go back-and-forth but most of the time I’m here,” Ramirez said. “I have a visa for working here. I have Social Security.
“And I pay taxes, too. I think I pay more taxes than people who are living here, but it’s good.”
It’s good, because he’s good, in the U.S., that is. So is Valdez, the definition of a legal border-hopper: He was born in Nogales, Sonora, grew up partly in Tucson and now splits his time between Los Angeles and Hermosillo.
Valdez had the immigration part easy, having a grandmother who became a naturalized U.S. Citizen in Tucson. Valdez’ mother also became a U.S. Citizen, and so was Oscar.
“I was blessed,” Valdez said. “I’m grateful.”
But Valdez knows there are a lot of Mexicans in the U.S. who aren’t as fortunate. He’s hoping to see some of them Friday, for a little entertainment and maybe some encouragement, too.
“We’re all dreamers. We’re all dreamers,” Valdez said. “This brings me more motivation.
“If I’ve got any message for them, it’s let’s keep on fighting, let’s keep on proving to this president that we are in this country to do good things. We’re not rapists or drug lords. We just want to have a better life than we have in other countries.”