El Bronx, NY – How do you pay tribute to a person that meant so much and that will be missed by so many people? That was Chegüi Torres, a person who was the life of any conversation or party.
Chegüi was a master with a microphone. He educated people with facts about the Latino community that even made some of us educators and activist feel like students again. I sometimes felt like I was in a lecture hall in college when I listened to Chegüi speaking. He also motivated us by his sheer experience coming up the ropes as a Puerto Rican boxer in a racist and dirty business that could easily swallow the best of them. That was Chegüi, an asset to our community. A boxer from Ponce, Puerto Rico in the cement jungle of New York who became the first Latin-American world light-heavyweight boxing champion, turned journalist, writer and author. In 1956, Chegüi won the Silver Medal at the Olympics for the USA in Boxing.
José “Chegüi” Torres was one incredible role model for anyone that took the time to speak to him. The fact that he was loved in the Puerto Rican communities of the 60’s is a matter of record. He was an inspiration for every Boricua sweating in the factories of New York struggling in a city that did not understand our political plight.
The 1960’s were a very rough period for the Boricua’s living in this city. It was the height of the struggles between Italians and Puerto Ricans that was manifested in many schoolyards, rooftops and parks in this city with casualties that would equal those of many undeclared wars that received no international attention. It was West Side Story in every community where Puerto Rican’s were moving into and Italians were holding on to.
In was during that volatile period in our history that Chegüi Torres got his long awaited chance to fight for the World Championship that was being delayed for no other reason except that he was a dark skin Puerto Rican. Finally in 1965 Chegüi was given the opportunity to fight the reining Champ, Willie Pastrano the pride of the Italian’s.
This might seem trivial today, however, historians would tell you that no other countries national anthem, other than the American national anthem was ever played in a boxing match, especially if both fighters were American citizens.
On March 30th, 1965, Chegüi was anxiously waiting when he was informed that they would not be able to play the Puerto Rican National Anthem. Chegüi said, “I was promised that we could play the Puerto Rican National Anthem and if we don’t I’m not fighting.”
Finally, the promoters and organizers told him it was worked out and that he could sing the national anthem. Chegüi smiled, walked out of the dressing room and headed for the ring to make a little piece of history. Chegüi called out to his Compadre, none other than singer, Felipe Rodriguez, one of the most popular Puerto Rican singers of all time. Felipe, who was sitting in the first row came up to sing the Puerto Rican National Anthem and thus it was the first time that a national anthem, other than the American national anthem was performed in a major boxing match and quite possibly in any sports event in this country.
Chegüi then went out to make history for the second time by knocking out, Willie Pastrano in the ninth round and becoming the third Puerto Rican to win a World title and the first Latino to win a light-heavyweight title. He started his professional boxing career in May 1958 and in 11 years as a fighter he won 41 fights (29 by KO), 3 losses and one tie. After retiring he became a known author, writer and sports reporter. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.
He was a friend to every progressive cause and will also be in our memory as a friend and supporter to Latino Sports.
The above article is an excerpt. The full length version can be found at latinosports.com/boxing/tribute-to-jos-cheg-i-torres.html.[/lang_en]