How Bingo Nearly Ruined My Life

Published on D Magazine


I don’t remember the last time I prayed. but inside this place, surrounded by a thick cloud of smoke that penetrates everything and everybody, I feel a sudden urge to do just that. Not a formal prayer but more of a plea that the bald man—the one who chain-smokes cigarettes and washes down that burn with coffee so dark the liquid shines as black as crows’ eyes—gives me what I need.

His calm, matter-of-fact tone is soothing. He says, “Thank you,” after someone gives him his cut. A tip, for speaking softly into the microphone amplifying his voice across this large room. Speakers beneath once-white ceiling tiles that have turned different shades of beige. The carpet, if it wasn’t already a dark hue, would be equally stained from all the smoke. Everything in here looks ruined.

The first time I saw this bingo hall was on a Saturday morning two years ago, from across the street, while getting my state inspection sticker. My wife and I had just moved from the Village, in Dallas, where we felt too old, to Arlington, which is more like my hometown of Juárez, Mexico. There aren’t as many squirrels here. It feels familiar. That morning, while waiting, I saw the large building on Pioneer Parkway. Despite the sign suggesting “Come Join the Fun,” it looked abandoned, like it was once a large department store that could have been the centerpiece of a proud neighborhood. But decades later, the building looked so decrepit that I couldn’t imagine it had once been new. Buildings aren’t constructed to house bingo halls. They get built for something else. When that something else fails, bingo moves in.

There’s a 99 Cents Only store next to the bingo hall. Next to that is a check cashing place. A bit farther and there’s a Jack in the Box that never closes even though nothing good ever happens there after sundown. This is where bingo halls exist. Anywhere else and they’d be as unseemly as fast food restaurants or military recruitment stations in an affluent part of the city.

My mother used to play bingo. We lived in Colorado, where, during the winter, the sun set at such an early hour that it felt ungodly. The Army stationed my father there, about a nine-hour drive from our home and family. A couple of times each year, the Army would take him on monthlong training exercises. When my father left, it was just my mother, little brother, and me. As a child, I spent many evenings inside bingo halls with Mom. That’s why, as soon as I saw the bingo hall in Arlington—with its large BINGO! sign in faded red and yellow—I thought of her. I thought about how, in the parts of American cities where you hear more Spanish than English, she had confidence. She spoke for herself. Outside of those enclaves, though, she was lost.

Dile, Roberto, dile que”—tell them, Roberto, tell them that—she’d begin each of her frustrated sentences. Because she didn’t speak English and her young son had to translate for her, she felt we were being judged. Or worse. When you don’t know what’s said, every conversation around you sounds conspiratorial. Every half-smile accompanying a dumbed-down explanation of why certain items aren’t eligible for layaway looks like a mixture of pity and disgust. And yet, partly through playing bingo, she learned to pronounce words and letters. I remember the joy in her voice on the few nights we drove home after she’d won. “Gracias a Dios,” she’d say, thanking God for answering her prayers.

Play bingo once for money that offers weeks of financial relief, and you understand why its popularity rose during the Great Depression. And because it doesn’t require skill so much as sheer luck, you also understand why some play with a talisman within arm’s reach.

So, after driving past the bingo hall for two years, I came to play. In here, I can hear the soft mumblings that sound like prayers. The same prayers I, having made peace with my hypocrisy, also silently recite. “Please, God,” I think. I still can’t remember the last time I earnestly said those two words. “Please, God, B9.”

The B9 ball would mean I’d be able to mark the bottom left-hand corner of my bingo card with my blue dauber. With that ball, I’d not only fill the entire B column but also the bottom row. That, along with the N column already filled would mean I’d have a triple bingo and win the highest prize, $750. Theoretically, one can win $10,000 a day here. But to ask for that much feels greedy. Praying to win $750 sounds measured.

The closer one gets to winning, the more one makes plans for spending the money. One feels a hope. I would pay some bills, buy something nice for my wife and daughter, send some money to my mother. Or maybe I won’t tell anyone. I can spend it all on myself.

“I need this money,” I think with each ball sucked out of that low-humming vacuum contraption. The bingo balls make a soft thumping sound when they land at their resting place. The bingo caller then rotates the ball toward the camera so all can see on the television screens hanging in the corners and middle sections of the room. No B9 ball again, but I need it. To lose it—something that was never mine, something that everyone in here also wants—would be a disappointment.

B9. Say it, you son of a bitch. Whisper it softly into the microphone so I can yell out, “Bingo!” and hear others curse me the way I’ve cursed those who’ve won. I want to feel that envy. I want to feel what it’s like to hold back a cackle of greed or a devilish smile as I watch the cash getting paid on the spot. Those $20 and $50 bills rapidly peeled off a stack and placed on the picnic table in front of me. I want to win despite what may come.

I wonder: what if winning does more harm than good? Win once and maybe I’ll spend the rest of my life chasing that high. First, I’ll play a few nights each week. Then every night. When that’s not enough, I’ll play a few days each week at noon. Then every day. I’ll mark my birthday by taking advantage of the opportunity to play for a penny on that special day. I’ll eventually come here for the New Year’s Eve special. Then Valentine’s Day. Then every holiday after that until Christmas. I’ll play so much that no matter how hard I scrub my hands, the blue ink from the dauber will never wash off my fingers. Nor will I be able to rid the smell of cigarette smoke from my hands since, already here and surrounded by it, I’ll also start chain-smoking—the way my mother did when she played and prayed inside a place like this.

I overthink many things. I can feel when it’s happening. Perhaps everyone in here is happy while my dark thoughts force me to smile at the absurdity that I might lose everything I’ve gained because of a game. Bingo, of all things, which doesn’t even require speaking English to play. Bingo, of all things, makes me miss my mother. I think that if I miss her that much, I could just call or even drive those nine hours to visit more often.

But at this point, those thoughts aren’t as important as winning. I can’t remember wanting anything more than this. “God, let B9 be the next bingo ball and I’ll never ask for—”

“Bingo!”

After you hear that yell, you see a wave of disappointment roll across the entire room. Many look up to find the face that goes with the voice. Sometimes you hear curses from the same mouths that mumbled prayers just a moment before. A few throw their hands up and declare, to no one in particular, which ball they needed. They, too, had hope. They likely made plans for that money.

Hear that yell—“Bingo!”—and you feel betrayed. By your talisman, by those daydreams that happen at night, by the old security guard staring at you after you finally look away from the person counting their cash. Betrayed and forsaken by those unanswered prayers that turn bingo, that simplest of games, into something dark and cruel.

 

Meet the Singers Who Recorded Corridos After Andy Ruiz Jr.’s Historic Boxing Win

Published on Remezcla.com


Since defeating the presumed next face of boxing Anthony Joshua, Andy Ruiz Jr.’s sudden fame has been startling. It’s since felt like a different era, back when most people knew the name of boxing’s heavyweight champion. One night in June, at Madison Square Garden, Ruiz became the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent. The win brought with it drastic changes.

Ruiz went from a relative unknown but talented boxer to someone who appeared on late night shows. He met the Mexican president. The most respected news outlets spoke of his win. His hometown of Imperial, Calif., near the United States-Mexico border, planned a downtown parade. Ruiz’s life changed. And with that sudden change of fortune, fans — especially Mexican and Mexican Americans — saw something in Ruiz. They saw someone who had achieved an improbable dream. Someone who, like some of them, started with little. In Ruiz, they saw hope.

Ruiz’s win — among the biggest upsets in sports within the past several decades — became one of those moments that people will remember. They will remember where they were on the night Ruiz stood over Joshua like a conquering hero. They’ll remember that night when, even if they weren’t watching, they heard the news and felt inspired by it all. A few of those inspired wrote corridos for Andy Ruiz Jr.

Corridos are “the product of a subordinate society whose only means of fighting the dominant Anglo powers were symbolic,” explains Guadalupe San Miguel Jr., a University of Houston history professor.

Born from Mexico’s tumultuous times, traditionally, corridos functioned to spread news among the uneducated and, at times, illiterate. It is working class music where the corrido’s protagonist fights against the impossible.

And because of the historic tension between neighboring countries, some corridos depict Mexicans fighting against someone or something that symbolizes the United States. That tension never gets completely resolved. It may lay dormant for years, but almost inevitably, something will irritate that wound. Thus, some corridos are more than a century old. People still sing them because the lyrics feel relevant.

You can’t escape the political context of corridos, just as you can’t get away from those same politics that make certain boxers more important than others. For every great boxer, the kind that even those who don’t follow the sport know of, there is something political magnifying their importance. Those few boxers connect with a certain group of people the way others can’t.

On the night of June 1, Andy Ruiz Jr. became one of those boxers.

Before the fight began, Ángel Eduardo Luna placed his phone on a microphone stand beside him. Though he was born in Veracruz, Mexico, Luna now lives in Phoenix, Ariz. He’s lived on the north side of the United States-Mexico border for the past 13 years, moving there a few years after his father died. Luna is 29 now. Tuesday through Sunday, he works as a cook. On the weekend, Luna chases his dream.

“One day, I’d like to have the opportunity to travel to Mexico,” Luna says in Spanish. “I can’t do that now … but I want to sing in Mexico.”

Luna’s dream is to sing and have his music heard throughout the world. He wants to sing back home in Mexico; where for now, he can’t return. Until that day comes, Luna sings where and when he can: while he showers, while he cooks, while he works and on the weekends at weddings, parties and quinceañeras. Any place he can, Luna sings.

When Ruiz’s fight began, Luna gave passing glances toward his phone as he performed at a quinceañera. “I was practically singing and through side eye, watching Andy fight,” he says. It wasn’t until he and his band took a break after 45 minutes of performing, that Luna paid full attention to the fight.

Luna, surrounded by three or four others, watched as Joshua knocked down Ruiz in the third round. The Mexican stood up, and Joshua soon landed a few more punches that made Ruiz’s head rock back. It felt like Ruiz was a punch away from losing. And then, something remarkable happened. Ruiz knocked down Joshua. He stood back up but when he did, Joshua, all 6’6” and 250 pounds of muscle, had lost that menacing look he once had. Ruiz kept attacking while Joshua, built like a comic book superhero, looked increasingly fragile. “I kept saying, ‘Look! Look! Look! This vato is hitting him with everything,’” Luna remembers saying of Ruiz. “And we started noticing [Joshua’s] legs weren’t stable.”

Everyone who watched the fight saw the same thing. They saw Ruiz get knocked down. They saw him stand back up. They saw Ruiz knock down Joshua. They saw that unlike Ruiz, who fought with a renewed sense of life after being knocked down, Joshua never recovered. The referee finally waved off the fight in the seventh round.

“This fucker never quit even after they knocked him down,” José Jaime García says, also in Spanish, of Ruiz. “He got up and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to fuck him up.’ He gave him a beating because that’s what it was — a beating.”

García is a singer and plays the accordion. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, he’s lived in Sacramento, Calif. since he was a 2-year-old. He is 30 now, and has grand goals and dreams that revolve around music. “I want to have hits,” he explains. “I want to leave a legacy and a musical history.”

García is fortunate and talented enough to make his living solely from music. On the night Ruiz won, García was at a gig. “We went on break,” he remembers, “Don Juan, who plays the electric bass, says, ‘We won! We won!’ All la raza was happy.”

Ruiz’s victory symbolized something more than just boxing’s heavyweight championship. It meant something to people who will likely never even meet Ruiz. It meant something because who Ruiz is and where he comes from is relatable to Mexicans and Mexican Americans of a certain class.

“That kid started from the bottom, no one gave him anything,” García responds when asked why Ruiz has inspired so many. “He said something beautiful after the fight,” García continues. “He told his mom that they were no longer going to struggle. That hit me deep, because we all have those dreams when we come here to this country.”

News of Ruiz’s accomplishment quickly spread through social media, and through word-of-mouth. Even days later, people spoke of Ruiz’s win. A few made songs to immortalize that night.

“Every time I write a corrido I don’t waste a single line,” Tito Escamilla explains, in Spanish, his process when writing. “A lot of others focus on rhyming. But me, in every line, I want to express an emotion.”

Escamilla, like Luna and García, was born in Mexico. He’s from Chihuahua but came to the United States around 2004. The 32-year-old lives in Los Angeles where he too chases his dreams of having a musical career on par with past Mexican greats. Escamilla discovered his talent for writing corridos while still a student in the Mexican equivalent of high school. He’d attend horse races, and minutes after they ended, he’d have one written for the horses’ owners.

“I don’t like writing fantasies,” Escamilla, who also watched Ruiz’s fight while on break from a gig, says. “Whether it’s a corrido for a narco or an athlete, I speak the truth because that’s the news. I don’t like to alter it. Corridos are the news.”

Within days, several corridos written and dedicated to Ruiz appeared across social media. Luna, García, and Escamilla were just three of many who’ve written some. They recorded their songs in a professional studio. Others wrote corridos and then recorded themselves singing their tributes to Ruiz even if they weren’t of the highest quality.

Presumably, especially if he keeps winning, more songwriters will dedicate corridos to Ruiz. Those who write them — mainly Mexicans who come to the United States or Mexican Americans born of parents who came here in search of something greater — can only hope their corridos will outlive them. Decades from now, perhaps people will continue to sing them. They’ll sing and think back to the night Ruiz — the humble Mexican kid who started from nothing — won an unlikely battle.

Remarkably, Ruiz became one of boxing’s heavyweight champions. When he won the coveted title, he made people’s dreams — even the most improbable — feel more realistic. It is why Ángel Eduardo Luna, José Jaime García, Tito Escamilla and others, sing corridos for Andy Ruiz Jr.

Miguel Solis Did Not Make the Runoff, But He Will Take His Campaign With Him

Published on DMagazine.com


Miguel Solis’ campaign ended where his career began. The mayoral hopeful and his treasurer, Chequan Lewis, started their Election Day by greeting voters about 100 feet away from the Thomas C. Marsh Preparatory Academy, the middle school where Solis realized he wanted to teach. Until then, on the advice of his mother, he had wanted to practice law. “I used to tell him that all the time, ‘You need to be an attorney because all you want to do is argue with me,’” his mother, Sherrlyn Solis, remembers.

That dream faded. The young teacher, inspired after serving as a staff member on President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, found a home at the front of a classroom. Some of his students even joked that one day  young Mr. Solis would become president. First, he became the youngest trustee to serve on the Dallas Independent School District’s board. Now he wanted to be mayor.

“Hello, my name is Miguel Solis,” the 32-year-old candidate would say, over and over, always flashing an easy smile to passing voters. “I’m running to be your next mayor. I hope you consider me.” Some recognized Solis and shook his hand. Others smiled as they walked by. “Vote for Solis,” Lewis would add.

This dance between candidate, campaign treasurer, and voters repeated for the entire day. From the cool morning outside of Thomas C. Marsh that smelled of wet grass, to the breezy afternoon outside of Unity Church of Dallas. They stood under the shade of trees and used their hands to block out the afternoon sun. They killed time between pitching themselves to voters by quoting poetry—William Ernest Henley’s Invictus that speaks of an unconquerable soul and Tennyson’s Ulysses—and talking about the merits of the Wu-Tang Clan. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Solis and Lewis stopped and visited no fewer than 10 polling stations.

It became Pavlovian. See a car and wave while wiggling that orange “Miguel Solis for Mayor, Together for Dallas” sign. See a person and say hello; if you’re close enough, shake their hand. “Hello, my name is Miguel Solis,” the candidate would repeat countless times, like he has for months.

The years of dreaming and talking, the months since January when Solis announced his candidacy at a small home turned community center in Dolphin Heights, was coming to an end. Perhaps, with this end, something new would begin.

“One of the things we’ve been talking about since we met almost 10 years ago now, “Lewis says, referring to Solis. Lewis, a Harvard Law school graduate who calls Solis his first friend in Dallas, ponders his words. After stopping mid-sentence, he begins again. “We spent a lot of time in this city thinking about what Dallas has been and we want to grab the reins to start steering Dallas toward what it can be.”

This was the hope. And their daylong, simple interactions with voters gave oxygen to those flames.

“We had to make a gamble early on,” Solis says, “we knew that our campaign was going to be running against people who could potentially self-fund, who had access to money from years of fund-raising for other people, so we knew we were going to have to win this thing with people power.”

This people powered campaign helped raise more than a half-million dollars—the second-highest among the nine mayoral candidates when you don’t take personal loans into account. Solis was running a campaign at ground-level, the type of widespread strategy not often seen in Dallas politics. Here, candidates vie for the support of the business community and campaign hard in northern districts where voter turnout is likely to be highest. Solis took to the entire city, visiting churches and recreation centers and living rooms in all the districts. Few experts knew what to make of it; he was able to back up his platform with big dollars. But would that bring voters? Solis is a candidate who can say “I’ve always found politics to be an outlet for good” without bullshit.

There is something there, in those interactions between Solis and voters. Some wish him luck. “I voted for you,” others tell Solis, sometimes yelling it out of their car. One woman, the epitome of a loving grandmother, brought Klondike bars for Solis and Lewis. That cold treat helped them deal with the humidity left from a week’s worth of rainy days. Outside of Henry W. Longfellow Career Exploration Academy, they thanked her and hugged her and took a photo.

Solis wanted to become not just Dallas’ first Latino mayor but someone who recognizes the city’s diverse set of experiences, ideas, and history. Solis aimed big in his messaging. He often spoke of knitting together a segregated city. “We’ve got to figure out a way to bring this city together,” Solis said, “and it’s going to take bold change.”

Months of talking and listening and campaigning were ending. You could feel it. It was equal parts somber and awe-inspiring that it had even made it this far. The long voting day brought Solis a few moments of reflection. He thought about his grandmother who fled the Mexican Revolution. He thought about his father who, through education, made it out of poverty. He thought about former students who, unlike him, couldn’t enjoy what he calls, the “infrastructure of opportunity.” He thought about his young daughter who, through her early life’s health scares, taught him to keep things in perspective.

“You never want to lose anything,” Solis confides, “I think we’re all wired to want to win, to be successful in every venture of life. But I’ve learned a lot over the course, specifically over the course of being in elected office but with the things that I’ve experienced personally.”

It was getting close to 7 p.m. The polls would close and Solis’ watch party would begin. Solis and Lewis stood in an open lot near a house on the corner of W. University Blvd. and Roper St. for the final minutes, working for every vote.

“I appreciate you taking this ride with me,” Solis says to Lewis, both clutching orange signs. They fist bumped and recorded one last video. Solis speaks into the phone’s camera. Together, they watch the recording. They both nod their approval. A handshake between them soon turned into a hug. “Thank you,” Solis told Lewis, again. “Thank you,” Lewis responds. They then, like they’d done all day, drove to their next stop.

The watch party was filled with hopeful supporters. Solis anticipated a tough night. Early voting had him in the lower tier, sixth of ninth. He’d earned 9.89 percent of the vote, fewer than half of the leader, state Rep. Eric Johnson.

“Right now, I kind of have a sense of where we are,” Solis said during their drive. He walked toward a kitchen entrance of the Maplewood, a private social club inside a nondescript gray building off Inwood. “It’s going to take a lot for us to kind of break past the other people…just to get into second place. But you never know … We’ll take a look at it for like the next hour and then see.”

For that next hour, guests increasingly filled the small venue. Families with small children hugged other families already there. Young kids laughed and played. Other attendees nursed beers. Solis’ young staff and group of volunteers were there, as were his family and supporters, some of whom had hosted house meetings where Solis listened to community concerns.

Some supporters sat inside the rectangular building, others stood in the patio. They talked among themselves, trying to ignore their nerves.

“I am definitely nervous,” Eugenia Castañeda said, “but I am also very pleased with how we handled our campaign and all the hard work that we put into it.” Back in 2013, on the first day Solis ran for the DISD school board, Castañeda volunteered her help. She is now a finance assistant in Solis’ campaign. She is also one of Solis’ former middle school students who he inspired to dream.

“Even since I was in 8th grade,” Castañeda remembers, “[Solis] would write on my papers: ‘This is Princeton material, you’re gonna go far.’ He would do “Si Se Puede” (Yes we can) posters in the classroom. It made me realize that I could also do it and that I was also a part of that political world.”

While most waited anxiously, Solis remained in a separate room. He reviewed the voting results to see if he would, in fact, make it to a runoff for City Hall. As Solis watched and paced or did whatever he did, Chequan Lewis sat in a booth.

“I’m all in, emotionally, on this one,” he said. And now, he sat, sometimes slumped, while he nibbled on food. “Disappointed,” is how he described feeling. He cleared his throat and repeated himself. “Disappointed. And proud.”

The hours spent laughing and smiling and waving and shaking hands and reciting poems and lyrics seemed like another day. Also gone, at least for tonight, was the hope that the conversations between him and Solis would become much more than just talk. “We have spent the last seven years talking about how we can make this a better country. A better state. A better city.”

Gone, though, not dead. But, at least for tonight, not yet born either. And that—knowing their dreams would have to wait longer—was enough to hurt.

At about a quarter past 9, Solis spoke to about 60 of his supporters. “Though our campaign ends tonight,” he said, “the needs of our remain and the hopes for a brighter future still exist.” He shared quotes from Winston Churchill and Ulysses.

“I am forever changed by you simply by trying to become your mayor,” Solis said from a small podium. “As Tennyson once said through that great, weary sailor: ‘I am part of all that I have met.’”

Solis keeps a notebook filled with quotes from books and poems that mean something to him. Around the time his father died in 2009—his first week as a middle school teacher—his wife, Jacqueline gave him that notebook. You can picture Solis reading something, feeling it deeply and reaching for that old notebook. You can picture him repeating that quote to himself until he memorized it.

If you talk to Solis long enough, you’ll hear him recite quotes from memory. Hear him talk longer and you understand why, when he ends his speech by thanking everyone there, people—young and old, black, white, brown—rush to hug him. Some of them wait patiently behind others. Once in front of him, they put their hand on Solis’ shoulder and say a few words. Jacqueline stood next to her husband and wiped away tears as he gave his concession speech. So many eyes look glassy. In between whatever they say, Solis nods. He smiles, like he did all day, even if there is finally disappointment in his grin.

 

Taco Libre Brings a Demon to Dallas

Published on Dmagazine.com


The man stood outside a white, air-conditioned tent about an hour before he was scheduled to fight. He shook hands and took pictures with the few men, women, and children who recognized him. Most walked right by him. If this were Mexico, his many admirers would have swarmed him. He wore a luchador’s mask with his plainclothes; in a different setting he would’ve stood out. But at Taco Libre, inside the Farmer’s Market near downtown last Saturday, he was far from the only person wearing a mask.

He also wasn’t the only luchador at the 5th annual event, which combines tacos, music, and lucha libre. Had he walked among the crowd—taken in the live music and the smell of freshly made tacos—he may have even been lost in the company of those who wore masks while they ate and drank. But unlike them, he’s worn that mask for decades. He doesn’t take it off for relief from the heat. He inherited it from his father. He’ll be buried in that mask. It’s why the few people who recognized him, largely of Mexican heritage, shouted his name. He flew from Mexico City to be here; this was one of the few chances these people had to see him in the United States.

“Blue Demon Jr.!” one man yelled, flashing a boyish grin and posing for a picture next to the masked man. Blue Demon Jr. took a few more pictures, shook a few more hands, pet a dog, and then disappeared into that white tent.

An hour later, as the sun descended and the building’s shadows crept across the hot concrete floor, he emerged from that tent fully dressed in his luchador’s attire. Wearing that iconic mask and a blue and silver cape that flowed from his bare shoulders, he hurried from the shadows of the late afternoon and into the ring’s lights. He walked past those who reached out their hands and angled their phones to get a decent photo. His name came back at him in two syllables: “De-mon! De-mon!” He took off his cape, handed it to someone, and prowled the ring while seemingly everyone stared at him.

Like tacos, the Mexican style of wrestling, lucha libre, has become increasingly popular in the United States. But it’s mere sports entertainment here. Wrestling in Mexico is part of the country’s identity. At its best, lucha libre is a staged satire where everyone in that ring represents a part of everyday Mexican life, particularly for the working class. It’s a metaphor where the rudos, or heels, enjoy corruption in its many variations. They work against the people. Técnicos, or faces, best represent these everyday people. The referees—because they uphold the corruption—are often despised and even hated.

Everyone knows rudos are corrupt. They cheat. It’s built into the system. Most times, the best you can do is survive. A few fight back and get crushed. Fewer fight back and win, even if only symbolically. They become heroes and icons. This is why people cheer wildly for Blue Demon Jr., who comes from one of lucha libre’s immortal figures.

Blue Demon Jr. was 5-years-old when he discovered his favorite wrestler was his father. Blue Demon, his father, along with El Santo and Mil Máscaras, are the three most important luchadoresin Mexican culture. They starred in movies where they fought against devils and vampires and monsters and Nazis. They were just frail enough to remain relatable. When Blue Demon died of a heart attack at 78-years-old in 2000, the country mourned. And just like El Santo, Blue Demon wore his mask during his funeral. With the death of his father, Blue Demon Jr. became the only person allowed to wear that official mask. That mask is everything.

“Masks are part of Mexican culture,” Blue Demon Jr. says in Spanish. His light-colored eyes look greenish-blue when contrasted against his cobalt blue and metallic silver mask. “[Masks are] part of the global culture because it’s not just Mexicans who have worn them. The Mexica (the indigenous rulers of the Aztec Empire), the Egyptians, the Sumerians, the Celts, all of them wore masks. So, they’re definitely not solely ours but they’re part of our values. As Mexicans, the Mexica culture has given us a lot, a lot to understand the world with. And Mexican wrestlers are now a world-wide reference. When one sees a mask, one thinks of Mexico.”

Some of Mexico’s greatest public intellectuals have written about the role that masks play in Mexican societyThey both hide and create an identity. In lucha libre, a few masks are symbols of something greater. When a rudo carried Blue Demon Jr. to the top rope for the entire audience to see, you felt a sudden tension as he attempted to rip off the mask.

The referee told the rudo to stop but did little else. The opponent—wearing a devilish mask with sharp, fanged teeth and skulls on his pant legs—untied it and tried taking away everything that Blue Demon Jr. is. “La mascara!” a boy yelled out as Blue Demon Jr. fought to keep it on his face. Our hero fell backward with his feet jammed under the ring corner’s top turnbuckles, hanging upside down with his mask pulled above his chin. A girl in the front rows covered her mouth as if in disbelief.

There’s a part of all of us that want to see Blue Demon Jr.’s face. There are always a few that cheer for the rudos. Thus, there are some that would like nothing more than to see a person’s soul exposed. You understand that temptation. You may even feel it. But most also understand that discovery isn’t worth the loss of something greater.

Blue Demon Jr. is an antihero befitting of the country he’s from. Part of loving Mexico is acknowledging the deep flaws that exist within its breathtaking beauty. It is both a wondrous and frustrating place. Like in every country, it’s a place where both saints and demons exist, sometimes within the same person.

“I definitely think it’s the social place in which we live,” Blue Demon Jr. says before the fight. “We’re tired of hearing promises that are never fulfilled, and that they [those making promises] see themselves or want to pass themselves off as heroes or saviors of society. Regardless of medium used, I try to help people and do things for them. I always try to give something to the people.”

To the delight of the people, Blue Demon Jr. recovered. He still fought the rest of the match with his mask untied. When he stood in the ring’s corner, lights shined off the silver and the blue. It shined like satin. Combined with the sweat glistening from his torso and arms, Blue Demon Jr. appeared to glow.

After losing their first fight, the técnicos won the last two bouts. Satire cannot cross a certain line or else it mocks those who use lucha libre to find a bit of solace in many of Mexico’s contradictions. And so, Blue Demon Jr. kept his mask. He always does. Once his wrestling days end, in the same way he inherited it, Blue Demon Jr. will pass his legacy to his son.

Presumably, so long as lucha libre exists, that process will continue. It’ll create the type of lineage associated with royalty. And so long as there are men and women who tell their children about the great Mexican luchadores—who they are, what they represent, what they symbolically fight for—there will always be someone eager to shake the hand of someone like Blue Demon Jr., even if they live in a different country from where lucha librefunctions best. For those same reasons, there will always be someone who gasps at the sight of a rudo attempting to destroy the existential being of what those técnicos represent.

When the fight ended, Blue Demon Jr. grabbed the microphone. In Spanish, he thanked the crowd for their love and support. Another luchador, a técnico who was Blue Demon Jr.’s tag team partner, spoke in Spanish, then in English. He mentioned the absurdity of building walls. Wicked rudos can enjoy tacos and build walls. Blue Demon Jr. listened and nodded.

Blue Demon Jr. left the ring after the speeches. He took a few more pictures and shook a few more hands as fans—some wearing his mask or a t-shirt with it emblazed on it—watched intently. Men, women, and children again yelled his name. They reached out to touch him as he returned to the white tent. Mexico, where his message is always needed, was waiting.

The Murder, Memory and Myth of Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata

Published on Remezcla.com

Shortly after the sun rose on April 10th, about a week and a half before Easter, Emiliano Zapata was already awake and riding his horse. He rode along the cool countryside with the comfort that comes from knowing the land. The obvious and hidden trails, the creeks, the hills, he knew them all. Zapata had both hunted and hid in that land.

Years before, when he fought for Francisco I. Madero—who eventually disappointed him—this land was among the first places Zapata had seized control of in his beloved home state of Morelos. Together, he, Madero and several others wanted to overthrow the government. The plan, Zapata thought, would be to redistribute the land. Most revolutions die without accomplishing much. It’s why the successful ones become ingrained in a nation’s psyche. Almost inevitably, they become romanticized and referenced by those whose politics are far removed from the revolutionary.

The Mexican Revolution lived—at least in as far as it overthrew and replaced a government. And so, remarkably, the first goal lasted long enough to make the failure of the second goal hurt men like Zapata that much more. As the leader of the campesinos saw it, Madero had betrayed the cause. Madero was killed—betrayed—but lived long enough to hear Zapata call him a traitor. Zapata lived and, as a master horseman, continued to ride like he did that spring morning in 1919.

Known as a dapper man, one can easily imagine Zapata riding on that cool morning, his mustache immaculately groomed, wearing his usual dark-colored, three-piece suit. A neckerchief tied loosely around his neck, a large sombrero shading not just his eyes but part of his face, all of it smelling like it had been out in the sun and dirt for too long. He rode and breathed the fresh countryside air and pondered. There had already been several attempts on his life. As with Madero, it wasn’t uncommon for the highest of leaders to die at the hands of treacherous men. And yet, it was that same betrayal brought Zapata to this idyllic place that morning. He’d grown desperate.

Years before that morning, Zapata and Pancho Villa—leader of the northern revolt—sat side-by-side in the presidential chair in the country’s capital. They posed for a picture. Villa smiled, his grand mustache not large enough to hide his jovial eyes and smile. Zapata sat to Villa’s left. He gave a stoic, almost menacing stare into the camera. If you were among the poor, this picture captures what was arguably the high point of the revolution. If you were among the elite, the picture concerned you, even if only symbolically.

But since that day, the fortunes of both Villa and Zapata—the revolution’s most charismatic figures—had turned. Villa lost several key battles, twice in Celaya, and eventually retreated to the Sierra Madre mountains, where he hid from the US forces intent on capturing and killing him for raiding their country. Similarly, Zapata and his men fought to survive. This, among other reasons, was why he reached out to Jesús Guajardo, a constitutionalist. Years before, Guajardo had presided over the killing of hundreds of unarmed Zapatistas. But now, he claimed he was ready to fight for Zapata.

Their first contact was the type that happens in love and war. A few weeks prior to that morning, Guajardo had received an order to once again attack Zapatistas. But instead of following orders, Guajardo was discovered by a superior a few hours later in a cantina, presumably drunk. He was jailed before he was ultimately allowed back in the field, and Zapatista spies said Guajardo felt hurt and disgruntled by the scandal. It became the perfect moment for Zapata to smuggle a note to Guajardo.

Like teenagers in an illicit love, they wrote and snuck messages to each other. Zapata asked Guajardo to join his side. Guajardo agreed. Eventually, they met and as a sign of good faith Guajardo killed fifty-nine of his own men. He also brought the one thing all those in revolt consistently want for: weapons and ammunitions. Still, Zapata was wary.

As the day became hotter, Zapata continued to ride. He’d been fighting for the better part of a decade. In Anenecuilco—his home, some twenty kilometers north of the Hacienda de Chinameca he was riding outside of—his family had fought for far longer. During the War of Independence, Zapata’s grandfather was one of the boys who snuck across Spanish lines and delivered whatever insurgents needed in their fight for liberation; tortillas, gunpowder, liquor, salt. Later, Zapata’s uncles fought in the War of Reform. They also fought against the French Intervention. On both his maternal and paternal sides, locals associated Zapata’s family with courage. The type of people who wouldn’t betray your trust. A century of fighting and now, potentially, the future of Zapata’s fight, and by extension the fight of his people, rested on this meeting’s outcome.

He waited. While waiting he heard reports federal troops were near. Zapata and his men investigated. They found nothing. He waited longer. He waited so long, in fact, that Guajardo sent a formal invite from inside the house hosting their meeting. Zapata, not yet ready, declined. When Guajardo sent Zapata a beer—to combat the escalating heat—he again declined. Perhaps it was a poisoned drink, Zapata thought. Perhaps, as some of his spies suspected, this was all a ruse.

Finally, hours since dawn, in the early afternoon—2:10pm to be exact—Zapata decided to meet. He told ten of his men to follow. The rest stayed behind and rested, trying to stay cool under the shade of the surrounding trees. The house they would meet in was inside the hacienda gates. He and his ten men rode inside. They approached the house, and as they did Guajardo’s soldier saluted Zapata – a man who until that moment, he’d considered his enemy. It’s quite possible it was the first time most of these men had seen Zapata in the flesh.

There he was: Emiliano Zapata. The man who’d long been the enemy of the federal government. The man who Mexico City newspapers called a bandit, a terrorist, a barbarian whose savagery inspired comparisons to Attila. Emiliano Zapata, who had not just inspired fear but also a devotion so intense his followers would rather die than turn against him. Emiliano Zapata. They wrote songs about him. They praised him. If you’d seen him then, you might even think he was immortal. Emiliano Zapata. This is who they saluted.

They raised their rifles in the air and shot at the sky. And as Zapata and his men rode closer, the entire thing looked something like preparations for a parade. Zapata dismounted. The show of respect continued with a bugle sounding three times.

Once. Twice. The third bugle’s note still hung in the air when those who had just paid their respects lowered their rifles, aimed and shot Zapata. And though not all of them hit their target, nearly a thousand men inside that hacienda fired their guns.

The local hero died, betrayed on his own land, never fully knowing some of his notes to Guajardo got intercepted. The correspondence ended up in the hands of the same general that had caught Guajardo in the cantina. And during a supper, a few weeks before the day of Zapata died, that general—González—showed the notes to Guajardo. He accused him of being not just a drunk but worse: a traitor. Stunned and eventually in tears, Guajardo understood how treasonous acts end. He knew he’d get executed. But Gonzalez said he could spare his life. And so, Guajardo, with no options, agreed to ambush Zapata. If successful, he’d live – so long as Zapata was either captured or killed. Morelos’ favorite son died.

“Our general Zapata fell, never to rise again,” said a Zapata aide of one of the Mexican Revolution’s ultimate betrayals. In that gunfire and chaos, Zapata’s horse suffered a wound and rode away, scared and alone. Guajardo’s men kept Zapata’s lifeless body. They loaded it on a mule and traveled some twenty-five kilometers north to Cuautla. Inside a police station, authorities identified Zapata’s remains. They took photographs and the following day, newspapers across the country wrote of Zapata’s death.

Locally, in Cuautla, before his burial, thousands came to view the body. Some saw it and knew—despite the swelling—that it was Zapata. They cried like babies, even the grown men hardened by war. “The wings of our hearts fell,” one Zapatista said after seeing the body.

Others saw the same body and refused to believe it was him. As he lay there, lifeless, looking so vulnerable, they refused to believe it. And so, Zapata lived on in the types of stories and songs told to Mexican children, that then get passed on for generations. Tales originally told by people who swore they were true.

They say Zapata never died that April 10th. That he lived and fled to the Arabian Peninsula and would return when most needed. They said something about his dead body wasn’t right. That a scar was different, that a mole was missing, that the body had all ten fingers, when the real Zapata was missing a finger.

“We all laughed when we saw the cadaver,” one of Zapata’s soldiers said decades later. “We elbowed each other because the jefe was smarter than the government.” They say Zapata knew about Guajardo’s impending trick and that Jesús Delgado — a spitting image of Zapata, who traveled with the general as a body double —was the man killed. Others say it was another man, Agustín Cortés, or Joaquín Cortés, or Jesús Capistrán, or, as Zapata’s son put it, “some pendejo…from Tepoztlán.” Whoever it was, the name didn’t even matter. The important thing was that, according to these stories, Zapata lived and would eventually return.

And some say he did return. They claimed he’d visit only when protected under the cover of night. Others swore that, just like on the dawn of April 10, 1919, they’d see him atop his horse. He’d ride up in the mountains and always keep watch. Others said they saw that same horse, alone, galloping in the hills. They said it was an impossible white color.

Several decades after his murder, the daughter of a man appointed by Zapata to protect the land documents that proved their ownership, spoke of Zapata’s return. She said Zapata was an old man by then, and too aged to continue his struggle.

Zapata, whether you see his picture as a young man or were among those who claimed to have seen him in old age, has come to symbolize whatever noble cause the Mexican Revolution stood for. It was that same cause that for years brought together veteran Zapatistas. Increasingly, they too became old. And each year, on a day like today—April 10th—they gathered and expected Zapata’s return. A resurrection. He’d arrive and together they’d continue fighting for justice.

Today, a century after Zapata’s death, across Mexico and other parts of the world, the living—and perhaps even the dead—continue their fight inspired by Emiliano Zapata.

 

Old man Dirk

Published at SBNation.com


On a cold, late-winter night in Dallas, the Mavericks are playing the 61st game of another season in which they’ll lose more than they’ll win. With a little under 8:30 left in the fourth quarter, Dirk Nowitzki — in only his third start of the season and his first at home — shoots a three-pointer. As soon as the ball leaves his hands, you can hear the crowd noise increase. If he misses, a collective groan will rumble across the arena. If he makes it, fans will cheer wildly.

He makes it. Fans cheer. Mavericks go up by five over the Indiana Pacers.

Less than 50 seconds of game time later, Nowitzki walks to the bench. He follows his usual routine. After high-fiving any hand teammates offer, he works his way toward the end of the bench. He takes out his mouthpiece and tucks it into the top of his right sock. A ball boy hands him a long-sleeve shirt and Nowitzki puts it on, then another. The ball boy gives him his tear-away pants. Nowitzki steps over the pant’s inseam, secures the top-right hip button, then the left. A few more buttons on each side. The game is close, but Nowitzki, the best player the Mavericks have ever had, won’t play the rest of the night. He sits in the middle of the bench, and watches.

You watch him. Gone is the long hair — once described as “blond locks [resembling] some teenage idol from another decade” — that complimented his youthful appearance. His face isn’t as young as it once was. Also gone is that effortless stride with which he ran up and down the court. When he runs backwards, transitioning between offense and defense, his movement appears even more labored. His shoulders look almost-shrugged as his arms swing about as fast as his legs move. By the standards of professional athletes, Nowitzki is an old man. But even at this stage of his career, his impact and importance endures, not just on a young Mavericks team but in the city where he plays.

Before the game began, a 28-year-old father, Jahir Martinez, held his 5-month-old son, Judah, as they waited in the hallway outside the Mavs’ locker room. The father wore a white Nowitzki jersey. The son wore a blue Mavericks onesie.

As players ran out of the locker room to get to the court, they slapped the hands of fans standing along the walls shouting encouragement. Nowitzki was the last player out. Instead of running, he walked. Martinez held out his son and as Nowitzki went past, he delicately engulfed baby Judah’s entire forearm with his hand.

“I’ve met him in person,” Martinez says of Nowitzki, his favorite player, “and the reason why I took my son — everybody was asking, ‘Why you take your son? What’s the motivation behind it?’ — because when my son grows up, I want him to see what type of athlete he got to meet.”

Dallas loves Nowitzki. On the court, no other player is as responsible for the success the Mavericks have had in the last two decades. Before Nowitzki, the team was dreadful. Throughout the 1990s the Mavericks were among the worst teams in professional sports. Thanks to a back-to-back wins to close the 1993-1994 season, they narrowly escaped becoming the first NBA franchise to lose 70 games in consecutive seasons, but they never won more than 36 games in any season.

As they struggled, a teenaged and then-unknown Nowitzki played on a club team in obscurity in villages and small amphitheaters around his hometown of Würzburg, Germany. In 1998, Nowitzki arrived in Dallas without much fanfare despite being described as someone who could revolutionize basketball. “The Mavericks, in the ’90s, had a tough decade,” Nowitzki remembered. “[I’d] go somewhere all the time, and people were like, ‘Oh, you’re tall,’ but they had no idea who I was.”

Thousands of miles and about a 10-hour flight away from home, Nowitzki experienced complete culture shock. He couldn’t get through many conversations in English without having to ask, “what?”, multiple times. Fans booed him during his rookie year, in which he averaged eight points per game. He played so few minutes that a Dallas journalist wrote, “Dirk sweats so little during games, he doesn’t even need to shower.” Frustrated, Nowitzki knew that once he’d fulfilled his contract with the Mavericks, he could always go back to play in a European league. He stayed in Dallas for one day after the season ended before returning home.

But Nowitzki and the Mavericks would quickly improve. Steve Nash, acquired during Nowitzki’s rookie year, helped him acclimate to the league and the United States. The two played together six seasons, improving to 60 wins in 2002-2003, before Nash signed as a free agent with the Phoenix Suns in 2004.

Nowitzki could be the last great player to play the entirety of his career in one city anywhere.

Mark Cuban, who bought the team during the 1999-2000 season, called not re-signing Nash among his biggest regretsas an owner. Nowitzki was heartbroken.

“There will be some decisions you don’t like,” Nowitzki said in 2009 of his close friend leaving, “and there will be some decisions that you like, but you can only control yourself.” Yet Nowitzki stayed loyal, and racked up individual accomplishments, beginning more than a decade of consecutive all-star and All-NBA team selections. In that time, the Mavericks were consistently among the better teams in the league. But disappointment tempered much of the Nowitzki era.

There was the 2006 Finals when the Mavericks took a two games-to-none lead over the Miami Heat, only to lose the next four games. The following season, Nowitzki was named the league’s MVP and the team won a franchise-best 67 games. But they also suffered a shocking upset in the first round of the playoffs to the Golden State Warriors.

The loss was so devastating it drove Nowitzki into the Australian outback for five weeks. He spent time with his mentor, grew a beard, and searched for the “meaning of life.”

That was the first of three consecutive seasons in which the team lost in the opening round. With the early exits, Nowitzki was criticized by national media members, who said that he wasn’t an elite player or a leader — or worse, claimed he was soft.

But while Nowitzki — and by extension, the team — went through difficulties, coaches and teammates continued to support him. So too did Dallas.

“From my first year when I was really struggling … when I did get subbed in I used to get a standing ovation in year one,” Nowitzki said early into this season. “That made me think; this community here, these people, these fans really want me to succeed here. And I want to make everything possible to pay them back and make this work, to pay their loyalty back.”

Nowitzki and the Mavericks eventually broke through on the court, winning the 2010-11 NBA championship over LeBron James and the Heat. Off the court, he began a foundation that works with children who’ve suffered through illness, poverty, and abuse. When asked why Dallas loves Nowitzki, Cuban says, “His loyalty.”

In the five years after their championship season, the Mavericks lost in the first round of the playoffs four times. They missed the playoffs the other of those five years. Counting this season, the Mavericks have struggled three years straight. During these lean times, other teams inquired about Nowitzki’s availability. Yet when his contract expired in 2016, he re-signed with the team, again. Now, as a player clearly past his prime, who years ago could have perhaps contributed on a contender, Dallas cheers each dwindling minute of his career.

As the game against the Pacers winds down, with the Mavericks holding a four-point lead, Nowitzki, with a white towel draped around his neck and over his shoulder, sits on the bench and watches. With about two minutes left, Luka Doncic shoots a three-pointer from 30 feet away. The ball hardly touches the rim as it goes through the net. The crowd cheers and Nowitzki stands up, raising both his arms.

Doncic is this season’s revelation. He has sped up the Mavericks’ rebuilding process. When Doncic brings the ball up, Nowitzki will talk to him if they’re on the court together. Doncic nods back, implying he understands what Nowitzki, old enough to be his father, is telling him. There’s 40 years of basketball and life wisdom in Nowitzki’s words.

Unlike during Nowitzki’s early years, Dallas now has an entire infrastructure in place to help players like Doncic acclimate quickly to the NBA. And while it took Nowitzki some time to believe he belonged in the NBA, Doncic, signed to Real Madrid at 13 — the same age Nowitzki first picked up a basketball — knows he was born for the play the game.

Doncic plays with an arrogance that comes from prodigious talent. He passes the ball in a way that shows he sees things others can’t. Naturally charismatic, fans can’t pry their eyes off him when he’s on the floor. And on this late-February night, Doncic, in his last game as a teenager, seemingly controls everything the Mavericks do. It is what earned him the nickname “Wonder Boy” in his home country of Slovenia. In Dallas, it’s called Luka Magic.

Nowitzki is the best-case scenario for how an aging athlete should end their career … his best current contribution is knowing how to gracefully let go.

With Mavericks up by six, Doncic has the ball again. He dribbles, feints a drive, then steps back to hit another 30-footer. The game ends with Doncic scoring seven of the Mavericks’ last 10 points. He assisted on the other three-pointer, too. The Mavericks win while Nowitzki watches from the bench. This is how athletes age when they play long enough. Eventually, they come to witness their own obsoletion.

And yet, Nowitzki is the best-case scenario for how an aging athlete should end their career. Unlike many before him, there’s no sense that he’s here for the proverbial wrong reasons. He’d certainly love to win another, but he’s not chasing rings. He doesn’t seem to have monetary motivations, either. He enjoys being around his young teammates — joking, laughing, and playing — even if his best current contribution is knowing how to gracefully let go.

This transition from the past to the future could have gone horribly wrong. Nowitzki could have ended his career in the jersey of a team he has no connection to. Teams have paid players younger than Nowitzki and told them to stay away. Instead, as soon as the game’s final buzzer sounds, Nowitzki is the first player off the bench and on to the court to congratulate Doncic and the rest of his young teammates.

The Mavericks will, again, miss the playoffs this year. But with Doncic’s emergence, their fans have a renewed sense of hope. Next year, with Kristaps Porzingis, acquired in a January trade, presumably healthy and playing, Dallas’ prospect could change quickly, but Nowitzki will almost assuredly not be around when the Mavericks are serious championship contenders again.

That Doncic will be great seems ordained. A few hours after the game, Doncic turns 20 years old, and he has already accomplished feats that no other NBA player have, accounting for four of the five triple-doubles ever recorded in the league by a teen.

That Doncic will always be there for Dallas, the way that Nowitzki was, is unknown. Doncic is urbane and speaks three languages. He represents the future, not just for Dallas but for the NBA as a global brand. And one could understand if he let that cloud him into thinking that even a city like Dallas isn’t big enough to reach his ambitions.

Nowitzki could be the last great player to play the entirety of his career in one city anywhere. Long past being a teenager, he may even may play another season. He grew old in Dallas. He has a key to the city so he calls Dallas home. And Dallas loves him because, among other things, through the struggles, he never left.

Thus, during the winter months of his career, fans continue to cheer for him the loudest. Entire families will wear their matching Nowitzki jerseys and shout for a player averaging a small fraction of his career marks. At every home game, faceless voices among the crowd yelling, “Let’s go, Dirk!”

“I will choke up,” Jahir Martinez says of that inevitable moment when Nowitzki walks away. He says he will tell his son, who will likely grow up cheering for Doncic and, at best, only faintly remember the cold night when Nowitzki shook his hand, of what the big German meant to him and many others. “I will get something choked up,” Martinez continues, “because [Dirk] delivered something that I can remember for the rest of my life.”