By Xavier Garza
Why write books about luchadores? I remember being asked that question by a librarian one time at a book signing. I answered her that one of the reasons was its obvious appeal to boys, who can be reluctant readers at times. Lucha libre readily lends itself to create the type of action-packed stories boys just love.
But there was another reason I wrote books about luchadores, dating back to when I was a seven-year-old child going to the movies with my dad. It was the summer of 1974 when my father took me to the H&H Drive-In in my hometown of Rio Grande City, Texas. The marquee heralded a double-feature matinee that consisted of a Japanese monster movie and an action-thriller flick from the world of Mexican cinema. The second film was titled Santo contra las momias de Guanajuato (The Saint versus the Mummies of Guanajuato). I was all too familiar with radioactive fire-breathing Japanese Kaijua monster movies of the Godzilla variety, but up until that night, I had not yet been introduced to the masked heroes and villains of lucha libre.
As the second feature began, I watched as the masked villain made his grand entrance. Heralded as a resurrected evil prince from a civilization long lost, he now sought dominion over the earth. But standing in his way was the direct descendant of his adversary from centuries past. I watched in awe as this mysterious new hero donned the legendary silver mask and cape of his ancestor and stood ready to do battle against the resurrected evil prince. I remember at that point asking my dad who was this silver masked man on the movie screen? My dad turned to look at me and smiled. “That’s El Santo, mijo… the Saint. They say he is the greatest luchador that has ever lived.”
My dad’s words echoed in my mind: the greatest luchador that has ever lived. It was at that moment that I was hooked. I would be a fan of both El Santo and lucha libre for the rest of my life.
My father’s words served to spark in me a love for the sport of lucha libre that I carry with me to this day. I was in awe of the fact that these luchadores had the power to put on a mask and become something bigger than themselves. The minute they donned that mask and cape they ceased to be people with names like Rodolfo Guzman Huerta, Alejandro Marquez, or Teresa Lopez. They were transformed into the bigger-than-life personalities that lived in the world of lucha libre. They became heroes and villains with names like the evil Medical Assassin, the rabid Dogman Aguayo, and the heroic Masked Damsel. They were the living and breathing depictions of ancient heroes, cultural stereotypes, monsters, and in some cases… gods, themselves.
Their appeal was simply irresistible to a seven-year-old boy with an intense love of comic book super heroes. Except that these were no mere drawings in a comic book, oh no. These were flesh and blood individuals that nobody ever saw without their masks. To be seen or photographed without their masks was taboo, utterly forbidden. As such, it could be literally anybody underneath that mask. The person buying a gallon of milk at the grocery store could secretly be a masked luchador and you would never even know it. Was the Medical Assassin secretly your uncle? Was the Guardian Angel perhaps your local priest that gave mass at your church each and every Sunday? When it came to lucha libre, there was no way to truly know for sure.
It was that sense of mystery that made lucha libre so appealing and would influence me for years to come. As I grew older, I dreamt of becoming both an artist and an author, and wouldn’t you know it that these luchadores found their way into my work. After nearly ten years of trying to get published, it would finally happen after a conversation with Dr. Nicholas Kanellos, president of Arte Público Press. In 2004, they would publish my first book, titled Creepy Creatures and other Cucuys, and it served as the foundation for many books to come. Among those books would be my first lucha libre book, published by Cinco Puntos Press in 2007, Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask, A Bilingual Cuento. In many ways this book was a labor of love for me. It was my great big thank-you to all those masked heroes and villains that had filled my head as a child and given wings to my imagination.
One night as I was working on illustration ideas for the book, my then-three-year-old son walked into the studio and asked me who was the silver-masked luchador that I was drawing. I instantly flashed back to that night at the movie drive-in with my father, his words echoing in my mind. I answered my son the only way I knew how. “That’s El Santo mijo… the Saint. They say he is the greatest luchador that has ever lived.”
Don’t miss our review of Xavier Garza’s The Great and Mighty Nikko.
Xavier Garza is an author, teacher, artist, and storyteller whose work is a lively documentation of life, dreams, superstitions, and heroes in the bigger-than-life world of South Texas. Xavier has exhibited his art and performed his stories in venues throughout Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. He is the author of several books for children and young adults. His Maxmilian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller received a 2012 Pura Belpré Honor designation. Follow Xavier’s adventures on Twitter (his handle is @CharroClaus) and Facebook.