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On a street that bisects an eroded and garbage filed canyon in Tijuana’s Colonia Guaycura, a few miles southeast of the Otay Mesa border crossing, sits a narrow two story duplex that houses a family devoted to the sport of Lucha Libre – Mexican wrestling. Super Kendo and his son, Kimura, 19, reside here and plan their days around the art of Lucha Libre.
If you didn’t catch Jack Black in “Nacho Libre” for an introduction to this lifestyle, it is best to avoid the DVD and check out Lourdes Grobet’s beautiful book, “Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars Of Mexican Wrestling” (on which the filmmakers used as a primary source). Grobet does not make fun of what to Americans might seem like a joke. Instead she dutifully captures the dignity of these wrestlers and the devotion of their fans.
Lucha Libre is an authentic part of Mexican popular culture in which figures like El Hijo del Santo, and Blue Demon battle for social justice – real life super heroes who never reveal their identify. Like Subcomandante Marcos, whose masked face has less to do with hiding his revolutionary identity than linking him to a tradition of Mexican heroes such as El Santo (when I was a kid I watched one of his many films, “El Santo en Atacan Las Brujas,” on TV and it gave me nightmares for months) and the ancient tradition of masked figures from Mexican indigenous culture.
My little brother and I were obsessed with the Argentine version of Lucha when we lived in El Salvador in the mid 70s. “Titanes en el Ring” was a weekly television show with stars like the La Momia, Don Quijote, Martín Karadagían and the infamous La Momia Negra. We would use our allowances to buy Titanes stamps to fill in our ragged Titanes collector’s book. Just about every kid in Latin America with a TV set loved that show.
I cannot reveal the identities of Super Kendo and Kimura, in whose modest home I spent yesterday morning. After moving to Mexico from the Dominican Republic when he was 14, Super Kendo recently retired after 37 years in the ring. Now he devotes his time to making costumes for Tijuana’s Lucha community and training a new generation of wrestlers.
After the costumed padre-hijo duo demonstrate some of their moves, Super Kendo puts him arm around his son and says, “He began fighting two years ago. I am proud that he joined the tradition of Lucha.”
Kendo’s wife worries about her oldest son, but dutifully watches all his bouts. In a hushed voice she says, “It is hard to watch him fight, especially when he gets hurt.” But on Friday night when Kimura enters the ring at the Auditorio Municipal in Tijuana she will be there to make sure he is okay.
With a brand new career ahead as an up and coming Lucha star, Kimura shows off his Japanese inspired kicks in the driveway. A tiny Chihuahua wanders over, barks for a bit and then walks away. Kimura takes a break and says, “The fans tell me that I have charisma. And I feel like I do have charisma”
Kimura possesses the dignity of a young man who is proud to honor the career of his father. Because unlike in the ugly ring of Mexican politics and the heartbreaking world of crime-infested Tijuana, in which everyday people are seldom respected, in the sport of Lucha Libre, the pueblo mexicano is number one.
Lucha libre takes place this Friday, December 1st, at the Auditorio Municipal in Tijuana at 12421 Blvd. Agua Caliente at 8:30 p.m. Telephone: (011) 52 664 681-6474.