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From Farmworker to Olympian to Activist: A Boxer Fights for His Community
Posted on Aug 4, 2014
By Mark Whicker
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“You get up at 4:30 in the morning and you go by the gas stations and see how many people are waiting for a ride to work,” Ramirez recalled recently for Truthdig, smiling. “It’s not the kind of job where you make an application. You just get in the truck and go.”
He grew up in Avenal, Calif., right beside Interstate 5, a Central Valley town of nearly 13,000 residents. Over 4,000 of those reside in the state prison.
A good week in the fields, where Ramirez and his father Carlos and his mother Juanita worked, would bring $400. Now those jobs are drying up like the ground.
A water bond issue will appear on this November’s ballot, but Sacramento can’t agree on how much it provides and whom it benefits. Lobbyists converged. Very few of them have a close relationship with the issue, leaf by stem, as does Ramirez.
None are U.S. Olympic boxers, either. Ramirez went to the Games in 2012. He improved to 11-0 with eight knockouts as a pro in the 140-pound division by beating Alfred Romero in a unanimous decision Saturday in Las Vegas. In October, he will stage a “Fight for Water” boxing card in Fresno.
Although he trains in Hollywood and no longer makes a living with a backbone and bucket, the 21-year-old Ramirez visits Avenal frequently. He has ridden buses to Sacramento with the farmworkers, visited lawmakers and has dedicated his fights to their cause. He has an impressive corporate sponsorship base for a boxer so young. His picture was even used on a Discover card during the Games.
Yet his firsthand story is more compelling. And it’s a rare piece of clarity in an issue that cannot be simplified by passion alone.
An $11.2 billion water bond was approved by California legislators in 2009 but was not brought to the ballot because of the state’s tough financial situation. The budget is balanced now and things are better, but Gov. Jerry Brown has suggested narrowing the scope of the bond on the November ballot to $6 billion to make it palatable to lawmaker and voter.
The California Latino Water Coalition, chaired by comedian/actor Paul Rodriguez and a group that has embraced Ramirez, calls for more water storage facilities, meaning dams and reservoirs, which are opposed by environmental groups because they endanger species. Those groups have shut down such plans before.
Mario Santoyo is a director and the technical adviser at the CLWC. In a recent interview with Truthdig, he called it “ironic” that two logical Democratic constituencies—environmentalists and Latinos—are squaring off.
Mark Whicker was a sports columnist at the Orange County Register for 27 years. Twice he was named one of the top 10 sports columnists in the U.S. by The Associated Press Sports Editors.
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