God bless my grandmother. Well into her 70s, she taught herself how to read by reading the Bible. Yes, this beautiful little wrinkled and toothless abuelita was a powerful and moral woman. But she had one vice: watching lucha libre, Mexican wrestling.
Lucha libre literally means "free fight" or freestyle fighting. Free from what, I do not know, since these guys beat the hell out of each other. What I do know is that in Mexico this style of athletic expression is almost as popular as soccer. Middle-aged men in funky colored leg tights with bodies that remind me of my father's softly muscular body enter the ring to fight their hearts out for the packed arenas throughout Mexico.
These luchadores go on tour in Japan and the United States. They hit arenas, convention centers and other venues showing off their high-flying kicks such as the patada voladora and the backbreaking quebradora. I can still remember how I was almost embarrassed for my family's secret love of our favorite wrestling super heroes, Santo, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras. Back then, America viewed wrestling as something only blue-collar trailer trash watched. That might have been true for the American wrestling, but not of its Mexican counterpart. For Mexicans, it's more of a cultural phenomenon, a pulp fiction of sorts, popular since the 1920s and '30s.
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I grew up watching movies where the silver-masked Santo would one minute be fighting in a wrestling match, the next in a tuxedo (still wearing his cool silver mask), or driving his convertible Jaguar on his way to fight vampires and save the day. With more than a dozen movies under his belt, sometimes he would be accompanied by his masked buddies in fighting the scary Llorona (the crying ghost) or even the mummy.
Earlier this month a caravan of Mexican wrestlers hit Phoenix for a Sunday match at Corona Ranch on Baseline Road. The Mexican sporting goods stores Deportes America sold out of their tickets in record time, not to mention their inventory of assorted masks. With names like Lizmark and Hombre Araña (Spider Man), they came to wow an audience consisting mostly of fathers with their young children. Like their fathers before them, they continue to show their children the Mexican tradition of watching lucha libre on Sunday afternoons.
I am no longer embarrassed for my love for lucha libre. In fact, I have become quite the aficionado, making trips to the Tijuana arena to watch my neighbor (from Rosarito Beach, Mexico), the original Rey Misterio (Mystery King). In fact, he sold me a horse, or shall I say a mare, which I named, appropriately, Reina Misterio. My grandmother would be proud.-- By Silvana Salcido Esparza
The author is a local chef and restaurant owner.