Best Of :: La Vida
El Pakal is one tough-looking hombre. Not only is he ripped from head to toe, but his face is hidden by a gold wrestling mask and his torso is painted with Aztec symbols. Is he loco? Nah, just a participant in lucha libre (Mexican-style wrestling). Pakal is a member of Gladiadores Unidos, a local group that holds matches every Friday at a converted South Phoenix warehouse, and also a rudo (bad guy) whose main goal in the ring is to beat the crap outta the technicos (good guys). For those who're unfamiliar with lucha, here's a brief primer, wey: Originating in Mexico and similar in most respects to the WWE, lucha features faster, higher-flying action that's a little different from what you see on Monday Night Raw. First of all, many Mexican-style wrestlers wear colorful masks. Also, the action takes place in three-on-three tag-team matches that involve a whirlwind of action that often spills into the audience. Gladiadores Unidos is one of three lucha groups in Phoenix and is, by far, the best. Its characters are more over the top (a wrestler dressed as a cat) and humorous. Don't worry if you're not bilingual, because the action is easy to follow. Just stay outta the first three rows.
Barrio Cafe chef Silvana Salcido Esparza turned 50 this year, and she was pissed. It wasn't the number of candles on her cake or years she's spent building her restaurant business on 16th Street — it was Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Esparza's been glued to the news and images of Arizona's Mexican community in all its lackluster glory on the big screen. "Oh, we have a vibrant community here," she says. "We just need a center for that community to really shine." So she started with her back wall. Esparza brought in El Moises to paint a mural, and then she was struck with a vision: a Calle of Murals. She set up a Facebook page, then an e-mail address, then a website. She has almost 20 artists and 500 Facebook fans. The first official "Calle 16" mural will go up in October. "They can't stop us," says Esparza. "I want the city to crawl back to us and ask where they can help."
Art with a political edge is what this town's been needing in the worst possible way, and Phoenix's new Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center/Galeria 147 has been delivering. In a state where Latinos are under the gun, both literally and metaphorically — from the Legislature, in the form of the ethnic studies ban and SB 1070, to Sheriff Joe Arpaio's notorious anti-immigrant sweeps of Hispanic neighborhoods — ALAC's providing an outlet for the indignation and outrage of an entire people. ALAC's debut presented works from old hands like painters Ramon Delgadillo and Luis Mena, in addition to new ones, such as muralist Francisco Garcia, whose work depicts the sacrifice, the pride, the victimization, and the beauty of Arizona Latinos. Out of the crucible of oppression often comes the stuff of great art, and ALAC/Galeria 147 seems to be proving that with its very existence.
It was a collection of tentacles coming out of a Starbucks mug. How could we not love it? And that's just one of the bizarre creations we got to see at the Mutant Piñata art show at Bragg's Pie Factory. This annual event never fails to tickle our imagination with papier-mâché vampires and anatomically correct (or so we're told) baboons. You may be used to candy-filled piñatas, but we're telling you that the real treat is the eye candy you'll see at this show. Leave the bat at home. The mutant piñata show happens each March, during Art Detour, and the word is that several pieces from last year's show — including a fabulous vampire by Tempe artist Mike Maas — will appear in the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art's People's Biennial in October 2011.
Want to beat the crap out of Jan Brewer? Now's your chance — though at $85 a pop, we're not sure you'll want to deface your purchase. Leave it to Scott Jacobson — he of the impish grin and years in the middle of Arizona politics doing public affairs for a big, bad utility company. These days, Jacobson's pushing piñatas rather than power — though, really, his political spin on papier-mâché wields a strength of its own. E-mail him if you'd like one of his piñatas for your very own.
One of the best events of the year is the Dia de los Muertos festival, hosted by the Desert Botanical Garden on Halloween weekend and during the first week of November. The festivities include Mexican folk arts, storytelling, dance, and poetry, as well as a mercado with awesome wares for sale. Wander the garden paths and check out the ofrenda installations, pause to make crafts with the kids — like decorating your own calaca (smiling skull) mask or molded sugar skulls. There is enough pageantry and, yes, food to keep you entertained all day. Who knew celebrating death could be so fun?