The one question I get more than any other regarding my new fiction collection, Dodger Blue Will Fill Your Soul, is Did all those stories actually happen? I usually respond with something about truth being no excuse for fiction, or some other defensive-ism that confirms a satisfying enough response for the reader/interrogator. I explain that even though both The Silver Surfer and Man of Steel are so fully developed and well written into the collection, that it was highly unlikely the two actually step foot into my actual childhood—and to the follow up, Yes, but they are suppose to represent someone else in your life, like a super strong uncle?, I always offer this statement: It’s fiction, so by definition it is not true.
It might just be more real for you than it ever will be for me.
Naturally, this brings us to the highflying story magic that is Mexican Wrestling, or Lucha libre (Freestyle Wrestling). Naturally. Lucha libre thrives along border towns like El Paso and Brownsville, across into Cuidad Juarez and Matamoros, and into the deep interior (and heart) of Mexico. Formally introduced during the 1930’s, Lucha libre transcends mere sporting event and into something someone might describe as a religious experience mixed with all the tragic makings of the Shakespearean. In a deeply religious and hyper-machismo culture, lucha has come to represent the battle of good and evil, the triumph of angels over demons—with a deeply proud indigenous through-line that informs much of lucha’s mythology.
Lucha libre wrestlers are dynamic athletes, exhibiting the strength needed to lift and throw a two hundred pound man with ease, the grace and focus of a ballerina to tight walk a rope, and the fearlessness of an acrobat to enact a thrashing, precise air assault on a whim. For most wrestlers, training begins in any of the local gyms as soon as they are old enough to dedicate themselves (this does not include the years they spent mimicking their favorite heroes as a child, curbside in full mask and cape regalia, pining one another in hard packed dirt). Training is all consuming, taking years to climb the rungs of what seems to be an endless ladder for most. It is a dedication that ruins the body. (I would say it also hardens the mind but opens the heart.) About one percent of those who train to become wrestlers ever get the chance to wrestle professionally under big lights—a classic sports tale.
The question that always comes up is this jewel: Is it fake?
A typical lucha libre audience includes… well, everyone. Mothers hold newborn babies whose initial witness to lucha is the booming vibration of raining down bodies—perhaps a comforting sensation with such recent proximity to the womb. Abuelitas scream obscenities and wave clenched fists at the rudo (bad guy). The old men sit stoic in their seats as the tecnico (good guy) flexes his V-shaped, glistening body, recalling their own better days when they, too, lifted cars and punched out the sky. Young men puff out their chests for all the beautiful girls who only have eyes for MAGNO and MINOTAURO and ANGEL-X. They all come to release stored energy. Lucha libre works to seamlessly interact with the audience, to include them in pushing story and developing character over the span of a match. Each audience member has an allegiance with real stakes to be sorted out in the outcome. For many, lucha libre is the only place for renewal and hope, the stage the audience seeks to work out very personal and ongoing battles, to make sense of this world through the lens of athletics and theater in collision.
The answer is simple. Yes, it is real. The shared emotions are real. The shared pain and laughter are real. The belief that another version of you is out there and thriving and laying the path on how to get somewhere, is real. I suppose MAGNO and MINOTUARO and ANGEL-X aren’t real. They are characters. But there’s no fix in this game. There is never a moment when each participant, audience or wrestler, questions the validity of the experience. The wrestlers have led disciplined lives full of sacrifice to achieve their goals. An audience has brought the willingness to be thrust into a shared story and self-reflection. How it starts and how it ends really has little to do with the journey that transpires in between.
I am currently working on my first nonfiction project (long fiction writer sigh). Cassandro: Beneath the Makeup is the biopic journey of Saúl Armendáriz as the most fabulous and famous lucha libre exotíco wrestler, Cassandro. Spanning a career of 28 years, Cassandro el Exotíco transcended the hyper-masculine Mexican culture, staking his claim in the world of professional wrestling as the first openly gay exotíco and three-time Champion. He has traveled the world, bringing lucha to a global stage—Japan, Australia, Belgium, London and Paris. He wrestled the best the sport offered, legends like Hijo de Santo and Rey Misterio, eventually training with future stars of the lucha universe—Sin Cara of the famed WWE and Rey Mysterio Jr. of the widely popular L.A. based Lucha Underground. Cassandro’s flamboyance was matched by his athleticism and fierceness inside the ring—a trait honed by unimaginable sacrifice, unsurpassed dedication to craft, and personal trauma. This is not a wrestling story. This is a story about duality—good versus evil, Cuidad Juarez versus El Paso, machismo versus homosexuality, sobriety versus addiction, and Saúl Armendáriz versus his alter ego, the Liberace of lucha libre, Cassandro el Exotíco.
With any luck, I’ll be asked— Is all that true, did that really happen? The quick answer will be— It’s nonfiction, so by definition it has to be. And with more luck, if I can pull it off just so, somewhere in there it’s about you. ~
Bryan Allen Fierro, author of Dodger Blue Will Fill Your Soul (The University of Arizona Press), received his MFA in fiction from Pacific University in Oregon in 2013. He won the Poets and Writers 2013 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award in Fiction, and placed in both the 2013 Hemingway International Short Story Contest and Masters Workshop at the Tucson Book Festival. His stories have appeared in the literary journals Copper Nickel and Quarterly West. Originally from Los Angeles, California, he has lived in Alaska for thirteen years, and currently works as a firefighter/paramedic for the Anchorage Fire Department. Dodger Blue is his debut book of stories.