Todos Somos Luchadores
Solar, right, has wrestled for four decades and is the father in real life of Solar Jr., left.
Published: October 24, 2012
By Fred Puza
When Carlos Avila ’84 was in elementary school, a teacher asked him to draw a picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up.
He drew a luchador, a professional Mexican wrestling performer. Although his childhood dream didn’t come to pass, Avila’s interest in luchadores grew as he did. In September, Avila, now a filmmaker, saw the documentary on luchadores that he wrote, directed and produced — “Tales of Masked Men” — premiere on PBS.
“When you’re a 10-year-old kid, you become fascinated by these larger-than-life personalities,” Avila says. “I’ve always wanted to do a substantial documentary on this world to try to strip away a lot of the kitsch and campiness and treat it in a cultural, sociological and historical way.”
The documentary explores the 80-year-old history of lucha libre, or freestyle wrestling, by following three luchadores: El Santo, Mascarita Sagrada and Solar. It also places luchadores and lucha libre within Mexican history and culture.
“Luchadores are not just guys who put on tights and get in the ring,” Avila says. “They are professionals, and this is their life’s work. There is a history to lucha libre that has a very deep resonance in Mexican culture.”
The iconic image of lucha libre is the mask. Wearing a mask allows the wrestler to embody a different character, although not all wrestlers wear one. Mask designs may draw on myths and folklore, but they may also appear contemporary. Avila says that, regardless of design, people identify the lucha libre mask as symbolic of Mexico.
“The mask has become a part of the pantheon of Mexican iconography,” Avila says. “Also, the mask immediately creates a mystique for a wrestler and lends a theatrical quality and a sense of drama.”
Luchadores also play a pivotal role outside of the ring. Mexican politicians seek endorsements from wrestlers during election seasons. Wrestlers often make public service announcements, for instance Mistico appeared in a government PSA intended to help end Mexico’s drug wars.
“Luchadores are so iconic that they have a level of being a spokesperson within the culture,” Avila says. “They serve as people of authority and, perhaps, allow the Mexican community to take an issue more seriously.”
Lucha libre has many fans outside Mexico, including Latin America, the United States and even Japan. Avila says many luchadores feel like Mexico’s ambassadors when they compete in other countries.
“They become representatives of Mexico because they’re taking this unique expression of wrestling around the world,” Avila says.
While making his documentary, Avila became close friends with Solar, who frequently told him, “Carlitos, todos somos luchadores.” (“Carlos, we’re all wrestlers.”) Avila says that this phrase genuinely captured the essence of lucha libre culture.
“We’re all in the struggle together,” Avila says. “In lucha libre is the universal theme that we’re all trying to figure our way through life.”