Swift vs The Ghost: Reflections on Latino Politics

By Rudy Mondragon
Twitter: @boxingintellect

On Saturday, January 23rd, 2016 Danny “Swift” Garcia defeated Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero via a 12 round unanimous decision (all three judges had it 116-112). Garcia’s victory earned him the vacant WBC Welterweight title that once belonged to The Best Ever, Floyd Mayweather Jr.

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This was a unique match up as these two boxers were both trained by their fathers for this fight. Both fathers have a reputation for being charismatic trash talkers who have contributed to the build up of their son’s previous matches. What was also unique about this match up was that both Danny and Robert are US born fighters who redefine the famous Puerto Rico vs. Mexico boxing rivalry. Danny was born in North Philadelphia and Robert was born in Gilroy, California.

Things got heated at the final press conference and weigh in. Leading up to the final presser, interviews with Ruben Guerrero surfaced in which he was commenting on the silence of Angel Garcia as well as questioning Danny Garcia’s Puerto Rican identity. When asked by Martin Gallegos who he thought the Puerto Rican fans would be cheering for come fight night, Ruben responded by saying:

“Well I think they are going for Robert, because this guy don’t even speak a licking word in Puerto Rico bro, like he said he’s not real Puerto Rican. He just says he is, but he’s not! I don’t know what he is. He hasn’t figured that out yet.”

The question of “who will the Puerto Rican fans cheer for?” is a question that stems from building up the Puerto Rico vs. Mexico drama. Ruben’s response contributes to the build up of the spectacle that the media desperately tries to craft by asking questions like this. One interpretation of what Ruben is saying is that he feels Puerto Rican fans will side with his son because Danny Garcia is whitewashed and not Latino enough for Puerto Rican boxing enthusiasts.

Ruben’s response is an unfortunate example of Latina/os policing other Latina/os for their lack of “authenticity.” His response brings up three complex questions to my mind: What makes someone Latina/o? What constitutes “authenticity” when discussing ethnic/cultural/racial identity? and Why is it that Latina/os continue to use the ability to speak the Spanish language as an argument to say you are more/less Latina/o?

At the final press conference this week, Ruben Guerrero also made a comment that dealt with language as being a marker of authentic Latina/oness. As he was delivering his speech at the final presser, Guerrero announced in Spanish that “shit talkers go down” in reference to Angel Garcia. He followed that up by saying that he had to translate that to English because “you (Angel) don’t talk Spanish, Puerto Ricans don’t talk Spanish!”

For Ruben, “authentic” Puerto Rican identity comes down to one’s ability to speak Spanish. I guess for Ruben, it doesn’t matter that Angel is well aware that that Puerto Rico is still a US colony or that Danny identifies as Philly-Rican. Interestingly enough, Ruben Guerrero identifies as Chicano and practices a form of Chicana/o Spanglish. Spanglish, being a constructed language that takes both English and Spanish as a tool to communicate Chicana/o culture, experience, and struggle in a world that privileges colonial languages over indigenous tongues. Language is a way to communicate culture and not an absolute marker of cultural, racial, and ethnic identity.

As a boxing fan and writer, I am well aware that trash talking is used as a strategy to get in the mind of your opponent. Some of the greatest mental game strategist consist of Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, Fernando Vargas, Ricardo Mayorga, Mike Tyson, Paulie Malignaggi, Bernard Hopkins, amongst many others. Paying attention to the content of the trash talking however, is important as it communicates messages that are reflective of the broader society and social problems that go beyond the boxing realm.

When it comes to Ruben Guerrero, his trash talking game takes on a hyper-masculine approach perpetuating the idea that this world is run by men. His emasculation of Angel Garcia reeks of misogyny. And his policing of Angel and Danny Garcia’s Puerto Rican identity based on one’s ability to speak Spanish is unfortunately a common factor that breaks up the possibilities of Latina/o solidarity. The media plays a huge part in this, but it also takes two to tango.

In closing, I want to again say that I understand that trash talking is part of the boxing game. It is a tool used to mentally throw off your opponent. Trash talking takes creativity and thoughtfulness. Can boxers today be more creative and innovative with their trash talking and find ways to not perpetuate isms (racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, etc.)? It is a challenge that I would like to discuss with anyone in the boxing game, even Ruben Guerrero. As long as he doesn’t say I have “baby nuts” or challenges me to a fight, I am all in for an honest conversation.

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