Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hago la lucha: La Gorda and the City of Silver

Vintage poster for one of Rafael Lanuza's "Superzán" luchador movies
This past July, at Readercon, I participated in a Latino SFF writers reading with two masterful readers: Daniel José Older and Julia Rios. Since I was doing a solo reading from my novel INK later, I chose to read one of my short stories La Gorda and the City of Silver, which appeared in the Crossed Genres anthology Fat Girl in a Strange Land early in 2012. The story has been one of the best received of any of my short stories, and I had never read it publicly before, so I threw myself into it and tried to match the exuberance and skill of my co-readers.

Like so many of my stories, La Gorda has a political underpinning. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide in Latin America and I knew the fictional luchadora I had created was going make protecting the women and girls of her neighborhood her mission.

The odd thing about La Gorda is that her family life — she is the daughter of a lucha libre filmmaker, and goddaughter to his stable of luchadores — is based on reality. My grandmother actually lived in Ciudad de Plata (City of Silver), the Zone 7 neighborhood in Guatemala I describe in the story, and her next door neighbor was a man called Rafael Lanuza.

Still from Superzán & the boy from space
If you look at the photo at the top of this blog post you will see a poster of one of Lanuza's most popular early films, Superzán y el niño del espacio —Superzan and the boy from space — which, like others of his lucha libre films, was partially filmed in his backyard in City of Silver. I watched, over my grandmother's fence, as scenes from some of Lanuza's luchador short films were being shot, and remember my grandmother introducing the filmmaker to me once. He wore a suit, and a hat, and looked so staid to me — but out of his mind came these wild movies that combined a popular luchador hero and pulpy Sci Fi elements....

While Lanuza went on to earn his fame as Guatemala's leading filmmaker with a non-lucha libre film called Terremoto (Earthquake), the luchador films are the ones my grandmother took us to a Zone 7 movie theater to see.

Still from Superzán & the boy from space
They were super low-budget films (many of Lanuza's actors were his relatives), tacky and over the top, and called forth audience participation on par with that of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the height of its popularity. But, unlike Rocky Horror, the interaction, the jeers and cheers, were completely unstudied. Just the community reacting to good and evil playing out in black and white on the screen in front of them.

I loved the experience even as I was embarrassed by it.

By the way, my story hinges on La Gorda not being able to become an official luchadora because she is a woman, and while that accurately reflects the world of lucha libre in Guatemala during the 1970s of Lanuza's filmic heyday — it is no longer true. There are luchadoras in Mexican lucha libre these days (though at least one article I've read argues there are still too few of them, and that they are poorly paid compared to their male counterparts).

"The cautionary tale of numero cinco." episode of Angel.
It is interesting to note that as more Mexicans and Central Americans have immigrated to the United States, lucha libre has immigrated with us. So much so, in fact, that the luchadores with their iconographic masks have found their way into more mainstream pop culture. There is a Hellboy as luchador series of books, and even the TV show, Angel, featured an episode with a luchador character.

At their heart, luchadores are populist folk heroes, the defenders of good and of the people. In Lanuza's Superzán movie, the boy from space bears a message of peace, love and goodwill. It is up to the luchador Superzán, along with a couple of indigenous Maya allies, to save the boy from those who would silence him and use his telepathic ability to nefarious purpose.

My stories are often resolved in bittersweet ways. But not La Gorda. Hers is a triumph of community, of ordinary people putting a stop to the predation and evil that takes place in the streets around them.

Because everyone — mask or not — can stand as a hero.

Ándele pues. Haga la lucha.

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