Iowa Wrestling Legend A Model Of Latino Multi-Generational Success

Parents are their children’s first fans and cheerleaders. They are the first to encourage and support whatever interest or sports they may want to pursue from the very first moment. Maria Coronado is no exception, and she has cheered her son, Joe Colon, since he first joined wrestling.

I met Maria Coronado a few years ago, and from the moment she spoke of Joe, she did so with such pride. She wears her son’s school team shirt and her face lights up when talking about Joe’s accomplishments.

Wrestling became an ingrained Iowa tradition starting in the 1880s with the likes of champ Martin “Farmer” Burns from Wheatland. The state is also home to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo.

Joe Colon, 29, is a third-generation Latino born in Mason City. He started wrestling when he was just five years old. He has won first place in different state tournaments since third grade. The sport runs in the family — his older brother and uncles were wrestlers, too.

The family moved to Clear Lake after fifth grade. Joe joined his school’s wrestling team in seventh and eighth grade and participated in the AAU and USA, winning consistently.

During his freshman year of high school, he joined the Clear Lake team. As a sophomore, he became a 103-pound class 2A state champion. A two-time state champion, he’s only lost one match in his entire high school wrestling career.

Joe graduated from Clear Lake High in 2009. He then decided to enroll in Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge. He joined the wrestling team and won the junior college national title. Joe received the award for outstanding wrestler at the junior college national tournament. During his sophomore year he continued to train and focused on his academics to be eligible to compete at the next level.

He graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in 2014 with a degree in communications. He was an athlete for two years and later was presented with the opportunity to become an assistant coach at Grand View University in 2017. This meant he would be close to his younger brother, who was a senior and a member of the wrestling team.

“It was pretty awesome to help coach and be along my brother’s side as he went on to win his second national title,” Joe said.

No wonder Maria is such a huge wrestling fan. She got to support and cheer on her kids as they competed and won multiple tournaments.

Joe’s long list of wins is extensive, from winning at the state level to nationals, and eventually winning the 2018 world bronze medal in Budapest, Hungary, in 2018. The two-time Pan Am champion captured first place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Lima, Peru.

He is now on his third season as a volunteer assistant coach for the Bulldog’s wrestling team at Fresno State University in Fresno, California.

When I witness such multi-generational successes, I am curious about its impacts on Latino identity. How much do Latino immigrants and their families keep, or lose, as far as traditions and culture? Joe shared with me that even as a third-generation Latino, his family takes their Mexican traditions seriously.

“When I look back, I realize that my grandparents had a big impact in keeping traditions alive, from listening to Latino music, to getting together as a family before Christmas to make tamales and much more.”

Family is especially important to Joe. His mother Maria has been a rock and refuge for him and his brothers. They have faced many difficulties and she has persisted and remained the most impactful figure in their lives. Cheering from the corner of the wrestling mats to taking photos at matches, she has there since the start.

Since Maria acted as his coach so many times, one day he asked his mother, “What’s the game plan?” Her response was: “I don’t know, you know more than me now, I’m just here to take pictures.” She was always more than the photographer, he told me.

Joe’s plans include continuing to compete, but his big dream is to become a head coach and ultimately open a facility where he can train younger athletes and give back to the community.

“Wrestling has helped me a lot, from my work ethics, learning to fail and keep going, setting goals, to sacrifice and determination,” he said. “This sport helped get me through school, and I want other kids to benefit from my own success.”

He understands how big of an impact a coach can make in a kid’s life. Pat Harlan, his coach in Clear Lake, took him under his wing, pushed him to succeed and that is why he wants to coach other kids.

Immigrants in this country, regardless of nationality or generation, have greatly contributed to the success of our nation. Many may dismiss or ignore how old and new waves of newcomers have impacted our economy, the arts, and sports, to name a few parts of our past and present.

The story of Maria and her sons is like that of other Iowa parents who encourage and support their children and their dreams. We may be surrounded by messages of how different we are, but let us not lose sight of what we all have in common. When people harvest with love, the fruit is always good.

Bravo, Joe and Maria.


by Claudia Thrane
Posted 9/8/20

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