Masked Marvels: Las Super Luchas
originally produced by KUAZ - Arizona Spotlight - 04/14/2006 - Nelson Warnell - used with permission
ASM Podcasts - Episode 1 - (5:45)
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(Sounds of wrestling match introduction)
(Nelson Warnell) Professional free-style masked wrestling in Mexico is deeply embedded in popular culture and is known as "Lucha Libre". The Arizona State Museum on the campus of the University of Arizona is currently hosting an exhibit featuring lucha libre artwork, called "Masked Marvels: Las Super Luchas". Exhibit specialist, Davison Koenig, says the display is part of a larger exhibit at the museum.
(Davison Koenig) We have our "Masks Of Mexico" which has been up since October  which is whole comprehensive look at the tradition of masking and masked ceremonies, masked dancing in Mexico going from pre-Hispanic times to the present. Included in that is a little side trip down the lucha libre road. And talking about Mexican wrestling as a cultural continuum from these traditions that go way back both in Europe and in Mesoamerica. And how huge it is today—it's not a subculture—it's mainstream Mexican culture. It somehow isn't quite as large in America here and most of us have very little clue of the enormity of it as a cultural system within Mexico. But here on the border a lot of folks do know about it. And thanks to Cartoon Network's "Mucha Lucha" American kids are growing up knowing about it now.
(Nelson Warnell) The exhibit features the work of artist Xavier Garza. Garza is a lucha libre historian with a deep love of Mexico's masked wrestling tradition.
(Xavier Garza) To me lucha libre has always been a poor man's theatre, "teatro de los pobres" I always say. Because a person who's barely getting by cannot afford to pay fifty, sixty, seventy-dollars to take his family to see fine theater. But for the price of a few pesos they get a show, and it's got antagonists and it's got protagonists and they are cast in leading and supporting roles, they work from a script, they wear the costumes, just like they do in the theater. And most important, especially to a child, they wear the masks! So to a child, they are like living superheroes.
(Sounds of wrestling)
(Xavier Garza) They become a bigger than life character, they become a living and breathing cultural stereotype. They become "the Mayan Prince"...they become "the Master of Shadows." They stop being who they were born, they become this entity, this being, this character. The beauty of it all is that while they wear the mask—and every culture has done it, they put on the mask for a ritual, for a performance—and they cease to be who they are. And the beauty of it is, after the show is over, they can go into the privacy of a dressing room, remove the mask, and they blend in with the rest of society. And that's part of the mystery, the allure, that anybody could be a masked luchador—the man or woman standing next to you at the bus station, the man pumping gas into his car—they could be a masked luchador and you wouldn't even know it.
(Sounds of wrestling)
(Xavier Garza) It's the oldest play in the history of man: good versus evil. And what ends up happening is the struggle is on and evil is winning and yet somehow in the end good manages to triumph. And if it doesn't triumph, it only because it's to set up a bigger fight down the line!
(Nelson Warnell) Garza is also the author of "Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask".
(Xavier Garza) It's trying to capture the whole innocence and the whole spirit of lucha libre as seen through the eyes of a child. Going back to the whole idea that they (luchadores) are like living, breathing superheroes. And in the story, the little boy, Carlitos, goes to see lucha libre for the first time and he's just amazed by this incredible world of heroes and villains. And that's basically the basis of the story. Without giving away the ending, he learns at the end of the story that a masked luchador could truly be the last person you would expect.
(Nelson Warnell) "El Cuervo" is a young luchador from "parts unknown", who looks more like a gymnast than a grappler. He works a Monday through Friday nine-to-five job, but on weekends he dons a black and white mask and becomes "El Cuervo", The Crow!
(El Cuervo) I really like it because when you put on the mask you become a totally different person and you transform from one person into this darker image and that's what I like so much about it: being this character. This is what I live for, this isn't just a sport to me, this is a way of life. I train for this, I study tapes, I try to better myself, I try to think of new ideas, and I'm just constantly thinking about wrestling, so it's just nonstop for me.
(Sounds of wrestling)
(El Cuervo) I hope I come out of this ok. I hope I'm able to continue because injuries are a common thing in wrestling. I just pray every time that I go out there that I come out ok and I'm able to wrestle once again.
(Nelson Warnell) The Lucha Libre exhibit at the Arizona State Museum will run through August .
For Arizona Spotlight, I'm Nelson Warnell.
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