The Dreamers Step out of the Shadows – Limberth’s story

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Limberth Ponce opens up the door to his parents’ garage, flips on the lights and connects a punching bag from the ceiling to the floor. He takes

a couple of playful swings at it and glances around at the stacked chairs and scattered tools. The 21-year-old Moline High School graduate still lives with his mom and dad in Rock Island while attending Black Hawk College and waiting tables at a restaurant. He also coaches five and six-year-olds at the Moline Soccer Club. The garage is his personal space, his training gym- in addition to another garage in Moline where he works with his trainer Jeff Perez.

This spring, Ponce won the Chicago Golden Gloves 165-pound title match, which qualified him to contend for a national title. But, a technicality kept him from advancing: he was born in Mexico.

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“I was kind of small and I don’t remember everything that happened,” says Ponce about entering the United States. “I turned 9 on the way here… I didn’t have a birthday party that year.”

Limberth was put in a car with some people he didn’t know and told to pretend to sleep in the back while they went through a border checkpoint. His parents came by another route and they met up at a gas station after crossing the border. They headed to Moline to be close to his mother’s family.

“At first it was a little rough because I didn’t understand everything,” explains Ponce. He was held back a year in school, repeating third grade with a teacher who spoke Spanish. Although being held back may have felt bad at the time, he now thinks it wasn’t a bad move.

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“I had an average life actually…” admits Ponce. “After fifth grade I think.”

He played soccer and started boxing at age 11, gradually adjusting to his new home. Boxing didn’t seem like a natural fit at first, but he kept working and got stronger.

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“I wasn’t good, I was a little chubby kid,” remembers Ponce. “I used to get beat up all the time.”

These days he gets beat up in the ring a lot less, but that doesn’t mean he has it easy. He struggles to negotiate his future without documented legal status.

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“I guess when you’re younger you don’t really think about it,” says Ponce. “But when you’re older and have to do things yourself, it’s a big deal and you realize what’s going on.”

“I think I can do greater things,” Ponce continues. “I’m not sure exactly what, but I know I would have less problems doing what I want to do- like going to college.”

Ponce plans to take advantage of the recently announced deferred action immigration policy and get a legal work permit.

“I want to get a better job,” says Ponce. “Like the one I have right now… it kept me through high school and everything, but I think it’s time to move on…”

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the new policy on June 15 and will begin accepting “deferred action requests” within sixty days of that announcement. For Ponce, and the thousands of others like him, there are still many unanswered questions, but so far deferred action is inspiring some hope.

“My plan for the next semester is just to box and go to school,” says Ponce. “After school, depending on the degree I get- work and have a family.”

“I think [the deferred action policy] will help me, like going through school- maybe get financial aid so I can save money,” says Ponce. “…Not have to worry about getting pulled over, not have to worry about getting harassed by anything.”

He doesn’t remember too much about Mexico- other than that he was born in Acapulco, where he used to hang out on the beach with tourists. For him, the Quad Cities is home. And for now, he’ll keep boxing- he hopes to enter the professional circuit in the fall after filling out his amateur resume with a few more tournaments this summer. He’ll continue to work as much as he can, saving money to pay for school and allowing him to continue mentoring young soccer players. He’ll continue to dream about the future, waiting until he can cross the legal hurdles.

“I just want to live a normal life,” says Ponce. “This will make a big difference for me and for a lot of people.”

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