This is an account from Karen Kressin , who hails from Kansas and is a frequent traveler to Mexico
We almost filled the empty “51C” bus late on a Tuesday afternoon in July 2006 as it pulled away from the gates of the university. I had not anticipated the crowd of approximately 20 American and Canadian college students, joining me for an evening of Mexican wrestling in downtown Guadalajara, but I was delighted that so many heard about my plans and were interested in coming along. The previous summer I had sampled lucha libre, and I was eager to see it again and try to understand it better.
At the arena, the crowd was made up mostly of men and boys, all well-groomed and respectable looking. On my program I recognized the names of a couple of wrestlers who were listed last year. Alas, no Mr. Mexico who had been my favorite, although I knew he was still fighting because I had recently seen his name on a lucha libre website.
Actually, it is hard to know who you are watching. Because of the acoustics, it was impossible for me to understand the names when the fighters burst through the little door amid flashing lights and fake smoke. At one point I asked the 10-year old boy sitting next to me who it was who had just won – a fighter wearing jeans, a ponytail, and no shirt. He didn’t know and asked his adult male relatives down the row. They weren’t sure either, but eventually found out for me. A little later they asked to borrow my program, which was just a half sheet of paper (cut vertically) printed in hard-to-read turquoise ink.
In the ring, there was the usual show of fake punches, throws, drops, and body blows. I noticed that whenever I was moved to laugh out loud, nobody else was laughing. I must be out of the loop. Occasionally the crowd would stand up, shake their fingers at the ring and shout, “PUN-TO, PUN-TO.” I assume this was an attempt to influence the outcome of the judging.
Roving vendors hawked a curious assortment of refreshments. Lime wedges and forks were sticking up over the edge of one tray held high overhead. Also for sale: beer, soft drinks, popcorn, chicharrones the size of pizza pans, and – I couldn’t believe my own eyes – donuts!
The crowd was never quiet for long. Occasionally a group would stand up and start pointing and shouting what seemed to be insults at another section of seats. It was definitely an insult in the case of one phrase I was able to decipher in the din, “MA-DRE-MA-DRE-CHIN-GA-DA-TU-MA-DRE.”
I thought those were fighting words, the worst of the worst, but no one seemed to take offense. Faces were smiling and even small boys joined in the chant, usually standing on their seats. There were other chants I wasn’t able to decipher unless I turned to look people in the face and watched their lips. That wasn’t always successful, partly because whenever someone noticed me studying his face, he would stop chanting. Maybe it’s like Las Vegas – what happens at lucha libre stays at lucha libre . . .
There were enough other women there to make me feel confident that we were safe, but attending lucha libre is not for shrinking violets. When I asked someone near the door to show Rosemary and Juliet (both pretty blonde teenagers) and me to our seats, he started to comply until another man, older and more official-looking, strode up and shooed him off. That man, as he led us down by the ring and across in front of everybody, raised both hands over his head in a “bring it on” gesture, encouraging whistles and cat calls.
Occasionally during the matches, men and boys would stand up in a small group, repeatedly shake pointed forefingers at a woman or girl seated nearby, and chant “QUE-SE-PA-RE” over and over – “May she stand up.” Rosemary and Juliet complied when they were chosen, but didn’t understand the “VUEL-TA-VUEL-TA” chant and didn’t turn around. Consequently, the men behind us booed them. One young Mexican woman attending with her husband or a date declined the invitation to stand, and she was roundly booed by all. Women walking in the aisles to get refreshments were also asked to turn, “VUEL-TA-VUEL-TA.” Most did so smilingly. Maybe the sections of the crowd compete for which section has the best looking women?
Frank appreciation of feminine beauty is, of course, very Mexican. So is a taste for the occult, which is what I see in the masks and good-or-evil personas of the fighters.
The whole program was over around 10 p.m., not too late for the little boys who were there. I saw no evidence that anyone had overindulged in alcohol. The crowd was orderly when it left the arena.
Besides the ins and outs of the wrestling and the wrestlers, which obviously I do not understand yet, the appeal of going to lucha libre seems to be that it makes you feel good. You get some exercise getting up and down in your seat. You air out your workplace-stiffled lungs chanting and booing at the ref, at attractive females, and at other spectators in general. You have a nice outing with your buddies, your son, or your girlfriend. You drink some beer. You eat some donuts. (Well, most of the aspects make you feel good.)
All in all, I stand by my previous assessment that lucha libre is good clean fun.
Guadalajara’s lucha libre venue is Arena Coliseo Guadalajara, at Calle Medrano 67 (around the corner from the “Angel” statue on Calzada Independencia) Tel. 36-17-34-01 Internet: www.cmll.com