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“I’m here and this is my dream. So it’s cool.”
Cejudo, crying the moment the match ended and wrapping himself in an American flag, defeated Tomohiro Matsunaga of Japan 2-2 on tiebreaker and 3-0 in the best-of-three match.
He is the son of undocumented Mexican immigrants who bypassed college to pursue his dreams of being an Olympian and won the gold medal in the freestyle wrestling event–the first U.S. champion of the sport’s lightest weight class since 1960.
“He’s testament to the fighting spirit of America,” his coach Mike Duroe said. “This means so much to him. Gold medals are the American dream.”
At just 5-feet-4 and 121 pounds, Henry Cejudo is the the youngest of six children. The Denver Post reported on July 31:
Being the youngest, Cejudo said, “I always had to fight for things – blanket, remote control, food.”
In Phoenix, Cejudo remembers living in rough apartment complexes where crime was ever present, murders not unusual.
“I never forget where I come from,” he said. “The struggles, everything, I just use it as motivation.”
That fire comes out when he’s on the mat, even in a practice match here, where you can feel his intensity.
“You’re going to lose if you think you are,” he said. “I was always like that, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always had that mentality.”
Organizations like Americans for Legal Immigration (a euphemism for Americans Against Latino Immigration), a site that advocates strict immigration levels, would also love to do-away with “birthright-citizenship,” which would have ripped a talent like Henry Cejudo from the United States. William Gheen does not care; for him, the issue is black and white:
“America and Spain are the only two countries left in the world that have birthright citizenship. And that is something that our organization and many others would like to see changed because of its wild and flagrant abuse by illegal aliens.”
On the Alipac website, it states that Gheen believes illegal immigrants are giving birth in the US so they can stay here, bring other relatives into the country, and take advantage of our welfare laws. On this note, do see what Kyle at Citizen Orange has to say and check out the reaction of rabid nativists–they don’t consider him American and are wondering whether passing the ‘anchor baby’ law would strip Cejudo of his medal among other hate-speak.
Cejudo’s mother–Nelly Rico–worked two jobs to sustain seven children single-handedly. Even our gold medalist used to work two jobs as a teenager just to put food on the table. And Henry Cejudo is not the only child of “undocumented immigrants” representing the United States at the Olympics.
The Mexican town of Tecalitlán lies in the heart of mariachi country, but Brenda Villa’s mother didn’t have much time for music. As the oldest of nine children, Rosario left her native state of Jalisco for El Norte when she was 18.
Her journey three decades ago wasn’t particularly unusual for a Mexican immigrant. She worked as a seamstress in the Los Angeles area. She sent money home to help her mother, a widow. She lived in the burgeoning Mexican community east of L.A., married another immigrant and hoped for a better life for their children.
But much of what happened since hasn’t followed script. The Villas settled in Commerce, a gritty, working-class L.A. suburb that happened to have a community aquatics complex. The mother sent her children to the pool to learn to swim because she was afraid of the water.
Brenda, along with her older brother Edgar soon began playing water polo as a diversion from swimming. Then she and her Latino teammates began winning junior tournaments, often defeating all-boys’ teams from more affluent areas.
Finally, Brenda became America’s best young women’s player, earning a scholarship to Stanford. And she began her third Olympics on Monday by scoring a goal in the United States’ riveting 12-11 victory over China.
The triumphant stories do not end at undocumented immigrants bearing American-born athletes. Our runners for the 1500m also came from diverse backgrounds, and one of them is a former DREAMer.
— Lagat came to America to attend college at Washington State.
— Manzano was driven across the Mexican border by friends already living in the U.S. and posing as his parents when he was 4.
— Lomong was one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” the name given to young refugees of the grisly civil war in Sudan who made it to the U.S.
If rabid nativists like the ALIPAC, and Minutemen were to get their way due to their bigotry, misguided and false assumptions, imagine how many potential Olympians, not to mention world-class brain surgeons, DREAMers yearning to be college professors, scientists and engineers, we would lose. It is imperative to support the DREAM Act and ensure that homegrown American talent stays and contributes to America.
Cejudo’s message to DREAMers and all aspiring migrants:
“The message is, ‘stay legal,'” Cruz said. “What I mean by that is, don’t go stupid and go crime. I think it shows that even a minority can come up the right way.”