EL PASO — In this Western Texas border city, lucha libre is a family affair.
Angel Parra, 46, grew up watching—a tradition that was passed down to him from his mother. As an adult, Parra started taking his nephew, Damián Martinez, 26, to matches.
“Our bond is through wrestling and even with my grandma she watches wrestling with us,” Martinez told Latino Rebels. “Lucha libre always distracts me from everything that’s going on and it makes me able to be present with my family. Even though it’s scripted or whatever, we still believe in the magic of wrestling.”
The three of them —uncle, nephew, and grandmother— huddled together at the opening of the El Paso Museum of History’s newest exhibit, “Lucha Libre: Stories From the Ring.”
The exhibit opened in late August to the eager attendance of hundreds of El Pasoans.
It chronicles the historical origins of Lucha Libre dating back to the 1800s, tracing lucha libre’s El Paso roots where Salvador Lutterroth, the creator of the Empresa Nacional de Lucha Libre, observed several matches before he began to promote matches in Mexico during the 1920s and 1930s.
“Lucha libre is something we had in mind because it is part of popular culture, it is something that is enjoyed by basically our community here and in Juárez, and it originates quite possibly here, arguably here in the borderlands, although many say in Mexico City,” Erica Marin, the director of the El Paso Museum of History, said.
The exhibit lays out the characteristic elements of lucha libre like Rudos vs. Técnicos, displays the costumes of famous luchadores like “Sin Cara,” and celebrates local luchadores like Dulce Tormenta, and Cassandro, the Exótico—one of the first luchadores to wrestle in drag.
“It is a dream to be a part of the El Paso museum, especially with Cassandro,” Dulce Tormenta said at the exhibit’s opening reception.
The exhibit is the first official one under the directorship of Marin, the first native-born, Chicana director of the El Paso Museum of History. Her directorship is marked by embracing the lives and stories of la frontera, something she is uniquely placed to do as a native El Pasoan.
“It connects because this is what people do, this is what El Pasoans like, and you have to be in tune with that, and the way to be in tune with that is you have to be from here to understand that,” she said.
Marin says she is committed to bringing exhibits that tell stories of the borderlands, “everything that we feel in the border, everything that we experience, everything that we see on the daily.”
The lucha libre exhibit was originally curated in 2020 by Norma Hattel, the city of Las Cruces exhibits curator.
“It was open for literally a week, “ said Hattel during the opening reception in El Paso. “So, I was super excited when Erica approached us.”
Prior to her current role, Marin was a curator for the museum, and helped bring a lowrider exhibition to the museum; “Low & Slow: Lowrider Culture on the Border.”
“I think people have ideas of what exhibits should be like in museums. The El Paso Museum is doing such a great job of turning that on its head a little bit, like the lowrider exhibition that was here, really catering to the frontera so both sides can enjoy what the El Paso museum has to offer,” said Jerusha Hunt, at attendee at the opening reception.
The exhibit will be on display until March 2022.
María Esquinca is a poet, journalist and a New York Women’s Foundation IGNITE Fellow at Futuro Media. She recently graduated with her M.F.A from the University of Miami and was a 2020 Report for America corps member with Radio Bilingüe. She was a News 21 fellow and has interned at WLRN, The New York Times Student Journalism Institute and at Crain’s Detroit Business as a Dow Jones News Fund Business Reporting Intern. A fronteriza, she was born in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, and grew up in El Paso, Texas, where she currently resides. Twitter: @m_esquinca.