POV

“Chicos de la Calle”: A Boxing Gym on the Wrong Side of the Tracks

Outside the Constitución station, which vomits out thousands of people everyday in Argentina’s capital, in a basement with no windows under old abandoned rail lines there is a boxing gym.

images by Simone Perolari interview by Teo J. Babini

Outside the Constitución station, which vomits out thousands of people everyday in Argentina’s capital, in a basement with no windows under old abandoned rail lines there is a boxing gym. Objective: to give homeless children a chance at redemption. Under the rails, José Menno, a former boxer of Italian heritage now railway employee, is the trainer, having met, among others, Monzon and Benvenuti. His current students? “Chicos de la Calle”, but also amateurs and professionals devoted to this particular gym. We spoke with Simone Perolari the author of these images.

©Simone Perolari

©Simone Perolari

How did you come to be in Argentina and find/shoot the gym?
I was in Argentina in 2009 to work for an Italian magazine. In Buenos Aires, I met an Italian journalist who told me about this boxing gym for kids. We went to main train station and tried to find it; of course, there are no signs or placards. She recommended that I not bring valuables or my wallet, only a camera discreet enough for an introductory visit. That area is not very safe.

©Simone Perolari

©Simone Perolari

Tell us about the “Chicos de la Calle”. Are they a rough bunch? What was the general reaction to your presence in the gym as a photographer?
The first impression was strong: we went down under the rail station where a young person who knew the gym had directed us, but found ourselves in a pitch-black basement. A group of kids came and entered into a door, the gym entrance. The street kids were curious about our foreign presence. Mr. José Menno, the owner of the gym, welcomed us very kindly and allowed us do our job without any problems.

©Simone Perolari

©Simone Perolari

Between the wood-floored ring, stripped paint and industrial environment, conditions in the gym are obviously not ideal. Are they able to receive any funding for the project?
Their equipment was certainly strange, very simple and street. I do not think they receive help from any associations. The gym was originally for elderly employees of the train station after work. It was abandoned for many years and left in concession for these guys.

©Simone Perolari

©Simone Perolari

Tell us about José Menno.
Mr. Jose Menno is Argentine. He told us that he trains the kids to try to keep them off the rough streets. His little project has become a cult almost; kids from all over Argentina come there to live and train.

©Simone Perolari

©Simone Perolari

You mention some amateurs and professionals who train at this gym. Anyone we would know.
Mr. Jose told us that they have produced some great boxers who have been professionally successfully. He was a pro boxer himself. In those days of my shooting, I met only one professional fighter, he was helping with the training.

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