El Santo, 35 Years After his Death

Thirty-five years ago, Santo, El Enmascarado de Plata died. In 1932, he began his career as a luchador with little success. He was a rudo, a heel, wrestling under his own name, Rudy Guzmán. It wasn’t until a decade later that a promoter suggested he wear a mascara, a mask. He wore it while continuing as a rudo. After wearing other mascaras that also failed, in 1942 he first wore the now iconic silver mascara and wrestled under the name El Santo, El Enmascarado de Plata—The Saint, The Man in the Silver Mask. His career took off.

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Today, mascaras are synonymous with Mexican lucha libre. But U.S. wrestling first brought them to Mexico. The Masked Marvel debuted in Manhattan in 1915 and was a gimmick various wrestlers used throughout the country. It didn’t belong to just one wrestler. Anyone could wear a mask and call themselves “The Masked Marvel.”

One of the many Masked Marvels, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Masked Marvel

Video of another Masked Marvel wrestling Gorgeous George. The same Gorgeous George that influenced part of Muhammad Ali’s persona.

In 1934, a U.S. wrestler, Cyclone MacKay, wanted to use the Masked Marvel gimmick in Mexico. MacKay told a Mexican shoemaker he wanted something like a KKK hood to wear. The shoemaker, Victor Martinez, whose family still makes mascaras, made the first one in Mexican lucha libre. Two decades later, dozens of Mexican luchadores wore mascaras, including El Santo.

We are now in the 2nd Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. The first Golden Age occurred in the decades between the 1930s to 1960s. The success of cinema symbolized Mexico’s progressing toward modernity and the purported good that came from the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910. Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different answer on when that revolution ended, if at all. Similarly, you’ll get a different answer on what that tumultuous event accomplished.

In the 1950s, within about 3 and a half years, two of Mexico’s greatest actors and performers died. Jorge Negrete, died in December 1953, aged 42, of hepatitis. Pedro Infante was 39 years old when he died in a plane crash on April 1957. Negrete and Infante made up two-thirds of what’s known Tres Gallos Mexicanos—the three Mexican roosters. The other was Javier Solis. All three helped define a Mexican masculinity during that era: the hard drinking, hard loving macho. Solis died later than Negrete and Infante—in 1966—but still tragically, of surgery complications, aged 34.

Movie clip of Infante singing in the movie, “La Vida no Vale Nada” – life is meaningless.

Their deaths—especially Negrete and Infante’s, based on chronology and not importance—left a cultural void which El Santo, who starred in his first movie in 1958, more than filled. El Santo became a tecnico, a good guy. He came to symbolize good fighting the evil. In the more than 50 movies he starred in, he fought alongside police. He fought as a secret agent. He fought against the supernatural. But always, always, always, El Santo fought on the side of good. And just as on the movie screens, in the ring, El Santo became the consummate hero.

After a certain age, everyone knows lucha libre is staged. Or at least, they should. But that doesn’t take away from what it means to a certain class in Mexican society. Anthropologist Heather Levi says lucha libre’s popularity stems from its ability to connect the many contradictions of life in Mexico. It is a metaphor that mirrors the everyday struggle of fighting the corrupt—from politicians to cartels and everything in between. Often the rudos will do anything to stay in power. Sometimes the tecnicos can overcome all the cheating and win. Then and now El Santo represents the eternal good that exists within Mexico.

In the 1970s, according history professor Anne Rubenstein, there were even stories claiming one reason El Santo never took off his mask was because he was Pedro Infante. The following decade other stories claimed Infante was alive, performing as Antonio Pedro. Infante died, but such was the impact of that loss that some people refused to believe it.

On September 12, 1982, El Santo wrestled one last time in front of an adoring crowd. Two years later he appeared on Contrapunto, a Mexican news show. There, he revealed his face. It wasn’t Pedro Infante, it was Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, the Mexican kid from Tulancingo, Hidalgo—where there’s a museum of El Santo—who became a national hero. On February 5, 1984, a few days after El Santo revealed his face in front of a national audience, he died of a heart attack.

El Santo’s last lucha.

El Santo showing his face and effectively killing off his persona.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?’ Mexican-American U.S. supporters wrestle with fandom in the Trump era

“It’s something I’ve struggled with and wanted to understand,” says Gilbert Aguilar of something many sports fans might never give a second thought: why they follow their team. However, for Aguilar, 59, his decision to cheer for one of his favorite teams comes with an inherent sense of conflict. As a Mexican-American, Aguilar not only cheers passionately for the United States but is also a member of the Dallas chapter of the American Outlaws (AO) fan group.

Aguilar ponders this while sitting next to a poster of Selena in a Mexican restaurant in a predominantly Latino part of Dallas. The iconic pop star’s music plays in the background.

“Part of it goes back to where my parents came from, where I came from, and the opportunities that were here, my patriotism to this country, the melting pot, all those things contribute to the fact I love the AO,” he says.

Published on The Athletic.

A confident, never arrogant Jaime Munguia embraces role as the future of Mexican boxing

Published on YahooSports.com

Less than a year ago, Jaime Munguia fought in Cancun, Mexico, on the undercard headlined by Miguel Berchelt. The 21-year-old’s aggressive, fan-friendly style was clear even if he remained raw.

“Offensively, Munguia is a monster,” Carlos Aguilar, commentator for Tv Azteca, said in Spanish. “He is a monster that emerges from the swamps and eats and tears you apart.”

That night, in that casino, a cross-country flight away from the opposite Mexican coast where he grew up, Munguia tore his opponent apart.

He knocked Jose Carlos Paz down twice in three rounds. The last knockdown came from a left hook to the body. That punch is painful to endure. Perhaps the most painful. Paz felt it. He fell to one knee. He grimaced. He struggled to breathe, then shook his head to show he could not fight anymore.

That fight began a 2018 that drastically changed Munguia’s life. Few boxers had a better year. And on Saturday, in Houston’s Toyota Center against Takeshi Inoue, Munguia looks to continue his ascent. He will defend his WBO super welterweight title. But more than that, Munguia — touted as the next great Mexican boxer — continues his march toward that unofficial but important title.

If soccer remains its most popular sport, boxing is Mexico’s Freudian id. For better or worse, it speaks to the culture’s deeply rooted machismo. And few things, in Mexico, are more overly reliant on that machismo than boxing. Historically, Tepito — a borough of Mexico City — has produced some of the country’s top boxing talent. Carlos Zárate, “Ratón” Macías, “El Púas” Olivares, and Kid Azteca all come from Tepito.

More recently, however, Tijuana has grown and attracted Mexico’s top boxing talent. Julio César Chávez — the standard by which every Mexican boxer gets measured against, even if unfair — moved there once he outgrew the competition in his hometown of Culiacán, Sinaloa. Among the city’s many boxing world champions, Érik Morales and Antonio Margarito are from Tijuana, so too is Munguia.

And while there is a large difference between Mexico City, the country’s cultural center, and Tijuana, a geographic borderland influenced by the United States as much as by the Mexican capital, boxing is one thing that unites across Mexico. And when certain young champions come along, someone like Munguia, the entire country takes notice.

“A lot of people have told me I’m the future of boxing … the future of Mexican boxing,” Munguia said to Yahoo Sports, in Spanish. “That could be a burden … but it’s also motivation to keep doing what we’ve been doing. To keep moving forward, to demonstrate and prove what people are saying. I think we can do it. And we will.”

Munguia’s confidence — which, when he talks, never strays into arrogance — comes from the many years he’s been in and around the sport. The son of a former boxer, Munguia estimates he was 4 or 5 years old when he first sparred. He was 10 years old when he first fought as an amateur. Training in the same gym as Antonio Margarito — one of his early boxing idols — Munguia eventually won a gold medal in the Mexican national championships. Too young to fight in the 2012 London Olympics and too impatient to wait another four years, Munguia turned professional. He was 16 years old.

“I never lacked for anything,” Munguia said, noting how his story isn’t the typical one associated with boxers who, growing up in abject poverty, must fight to survive. Raised in Tijuana’s Colonia Xico, Munguia didn’t grow up around affluence either. With a few exceptions, in Mexico and worldwide, rich kids don’t box. “My mother worked and so did my father. I always went to school. I never needed anything, but I wanted to be more.”

It wasn’t until a few years into his professional career that Munguia thought the more he sought, could come through boxing.

“I think I was 18 or 19,” Munguia recalls the age when he had that realization. Until then, he had no real plans for his future. “I began to think I could do something with this. Before that I didn’t give boxing much thought. I only fought because I liked it. Nothing more. But after that I began noticing that I had certain qualities.”

Watch Munguia fight and it doesn’t take long to notice one of those qualities is his style of fighting. There are plenty of boxers who are aggressive. Munguia is more than that. There is a suddenness in how he fights.

“I think you are born with it,” Munguia says when asked about his style of fighting. “I’ve always fought this way. I’ve always gone after my rivals, always in search of the knockout. Always.”

The best example of Munguia’s style comes from last May when, as a late-replacement, he fought Sadam Ali. Until then, most people only knew Munguia as the boxer who almost fought Gennady Golovkin. That opportunity ended when the Nevada Athletic Commission didn’t approve the fight, citing Munguia’s lack of experience.

That supposed lack of experience gave Ali confidence. He would outbox the young Mexican, he thought. “My plan is to take him to school and I’m going to win,” Ali said before the fight. But he didn’t. Munguia hurt Ali early and never stopped attacking. “I don’t know if it’s my instinct or what it could be,” Munguia explained, “but you notice when your opponent is hurt. You must finish him.”

Munguia mauled Ali before the referee stopped the fight in the fourth round. And as his cornermen carried Munguia on their shoulders and across the ring, he smiled and held the maroon-colored championship belt across his chest.

“It was the first championship, so I was very happy about it,” Munguia remembers. Almost overnight, his life changed; more recognition, more invitations, more friends. More of everything. “But then you realize that it isn’t everything.” Munguia said of that moment when the euphoria wears off. “[You realize] it’s barely the beginning and there’s many more things to accomplish.”

Munguia wants to win championships across different weight divisions and “leave his footprint on the history of boxing.” And he wants to do it by fighting any and every one. “As a Mexican, there is an inherent pride that comes from being known as a fighter who does not fear or back down from taking on the best in the sport,” Munguia wrote for ESPN in September of last year.

Mexican boxing has had plenty of young champions who claimed they would and did fight anyone. But Munguia is different. You can see and hear it in how fans react when he fights. Thus far in his young career, inside the ring, he epitomizes the aggressive style of Mexican boxing. Outside the ring, he has qualities that have helped earned him a following on both sides of the United States-Mexico border. He has a charisma that isn’t flashy. He appears humble. There is a relatability about him.

With a world title wrapped around his waist, it’s easy to forget how young Munguia is. He lives with his parents. His youthful face has yet to accumulate the punishment that will turn into that familiar look shared by all those who fight for a living. At 22, he is younger than some touted prospects and yet, he is already a world champion who will defend his title for a third time.

He is young and despite what he’s accomplished he has room to improve. Defensively, he remains vulnerable. To correct those deficiencies, Roberto Alcazar — Oscar De La Hoya’s former trainer — has been helping Munguia since before the Ali fight.

“More than anything I’ve worked on my boxing, on my defense, on my conditioning. He’s a great trainer,” Munguia says of Alcazar. “He knows lots. We can improve with Roberto’s style.”

If Munguia continues improving, he can become the next great Mexican boxer that some envision. With names like Jermell Charlo, Jarrett Hurd, Erislandy Lara and even Tony Harrison in his division, the competition is there for him to prove himself worthy of such great expectations. At middleweight, he wants Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez. If he can get through them all, the making of the next Mexican boxing idol will become a reality. He will go from being a boxer with qualities that remind many of past Mexican greats, to one that lives among them. Among those who have inspired folk songs, movies and telenovelas. Those who helped forge an entire style of fighting that’s recognized anywhere boxing exists.

It’s all there for Munguia — all he has to do is keep winning.

Canelo, at Young

Roberto José Andrade Franco

December 27, 2018

The sound inside the arena that calls itself the world’s greatest—Madison Square Garden—was deafening. People cheered and yelled loudly. Many did so in Spanish and each with a distinct accent from a different part of Mexico. They waved Mexican flags throughout the arena. Others took those flags and tied them around their necks to wear them as capes. Some of those impromptu capes had a Mexican state written across them to show where the fan was from; Michoacán, Oaxaca, Chihuahua, and others. Those that did not wave Mexican flags wore something red, white, and green, matching the colors that lit up the outside of Madison Square Garden. Many wore red headbands and sang along to the Mexican national anthem. A few sang so enthusiastically they looked close to crying. With the national anthem over, the announcer introduced him. El Legendario Campeón Mundial, the Legendary World Champion, he called him. They had never called him that before.

Except for the large monitor above the ring and the light emanating from cell phones recording the introduction, the arena went dark. It felt sudden and natural though it was obviously practiced. Canelo Alvarez—wearing a red, wool poncho with the Mexican flag’s emblem on its front—came out of the dressing room and just as he did, his entrance song played, “Mexico Lindo Y Querido.” Everyone stood. He was the reason they, the beautiful celebrities sitting ringside and the not-as-beautiful sitting everywhere else, were there. And when he finally came out to fight, the latter waved their flags more and yelled and cheered even louder.

Leading up to the mid-December 2018 fight, the nickname—El Legendario Campeón Mundial—aligned with how advertisers and promoters where selling Canelo. It was part of the push to make him a global icon. Thus, he fought in New York City, near Madison Avenue; the place that wanted nothing to do with that Mexican Julio César Chávez. But Canelo was a different type of Mexican. He is the kind whose ambiguous raza makes him more of a tabula rasa where you could advertise a lot more on his white skin. He is José Vasconcelos’ culminated cosmic race if the theory took a capitalist turn.

Unlike El Chapo, whose trial was held in a Brooklyn federal courtroom less than a thirty-minute drive from Madison Square Garden, Canelo will never be a folk hero. He will be more than that. What that is remains unclear, largely by design. Suffice to say, some Mexicans enter the United States through tunnels. Others arrive in private jets. Some of the former wear the easy to identify, fake, brand-name sweaters sold at swap meets. Some of the latter wear the genuine article, pay $900 for it, and fit right in. Until they do not. There may come a point when Canelo finds out that a Mexican is a Mexican is a Mexican. Or just maybe, for once, his new money will buy him old money’s respect. Maybe Canelo is different.

Around Midtown Manhattan, everywhere you looked, among the Christmas-time decorations that immediately made you think of romantic comedies set in New York city, you saw Canelo’s bare and muscled torso. His youthful face and body among the lights that advertised everything from food to clothing to vehicles and anything else you could think. Canelo was there, for all to buy and sell, and perhaps because boxing and society’s demographics have changed, it suddenly did not matter that like Chávez before him, Canelo only communicates in Spanish.  “It hasn’t affected me, thank God,” Canelo explained how his lack of English did not keep him from becoming the world’s highest paid athlete and the face of boxing. “The only thing that I worry about is training and putting on good fights. I think people like that more than talking. You can speak English but if you can’t fight, it doesn’t matter.”

Even in commercials for the fight, Canelo spoke Spanish. It was up to the viewers to read the English subtitles to understand what Canelo was selling. And what Canelo is selling, does not necessarily need vocalization. “More than anything, he has a clean image,” Erik Gomez, president of Golden Boy Promotions, says of Canelo. “The sponsors like that…Because the message is strong: He’s disciplined, a clean person, educated, this is often more important than language.”  To hear Gomez explain it, Canelo sounds like a Mexican that arrived here, already assimilated. Someone easily promoted as the opposite of the Bad Hombre; that archetype of a Mexican dating back to even before 1846, that has become a stand-in for those eternally swayed by propaganda. Canelo has become a symbol of a good, non-threatening Mexican. Ironically, Canelo fights for a living.

Fifteen seconds after the fight began, the crowd chanted in unison. “ME-XI-CO! ME-XI-CO!” Always cautious, Canelo had not even thrown a single punch against his much taller opponent, the Liverpudlian Rocky Fielding. Once Canelo made certain of what he already knew—that Fielding could not hurt him—he became uncharacteristically aggressive. When he did, Canelo attacked Fielding’s body. A mere hundred seconds into the fight and Canelo landed a body punch that floored Fielding. He fell to his knee and at that moment it was clear that Fielding would not live up to the lies that promoters tried hard to sell as truth.

“Rocky,” as a name, has cultural currency. Outside of “Ali,” that name is likely the most recognizable one in boxing. It was with Ali’s recognition and what he symbolized that he became the model for Rocky’s nemesis, Apollo Creed. The loud, bombastic, and skilled Creed was the opposite of the humble and limited-in-skill but hardworking Rocky. Creed was Ali, perhaps even parts of Jack Johnson. Rocky was a fictionalized version of a fantasy. And because even the wealthy who have inherited millions believe they are self-made, Rocky embodied two of the United States’ foundational myths. Those who think their exceptionalism comes from pulling themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps see a part of themselves in Rocky. Thus, when you see the name, “Rocky,” you cannot help but to think of the underdog. The Great White Hope. It is subconscious. It is why promoters claimed Fielding, whose birth name is Michael, was a dangerous opponent and why, rather than the customary use of last names, “Canelo vs. Rocky” became the tag everyone saw.

As the second round began, Canelo continued attacking Fielding’s body. As he did, Fielding’s right elbow dropped closer to his body and his survival instinct took over. He stopped fighting intelligently. He abandoned the one tangible advantage he had—height and arm reach—and fought Canelo like they were both of similar stature. With about fifty seconds left in the round, the crowd chanted Canelo’s name who had become the first Mexican boxer to fight in Madison Square Garden as the main attraction in over thirty-five years.

Before Canelo, Salvador Sánchez was the last Mexican to headline in the mecca of boxing. Three weeks after his July 1982 fight, Sánchez crashed his Porsche at 3:30 in the morning. He died, aged twenty-three, and immediately crossed into the folklore of Mexican boxing.  But not even the already-great Sánchez sold out Madison Square Garden. He fought on a Wednesday which says all you need to know about how many people watched, attended, and the fight’s importance outside of the boxing world. As the headliner, Canelo was the first Mexican boxer to fight in front of a sold-out crowd in an arena rich with boxing history. “I am proud to fight in Madison Square Garden,” Canelo explained in the weeks before the fight, “a lot of great boxers have fought…That I’ll be the main attraction there, for me, it’s a point of pride.”

Twenty-thousand-one-hundred-and-twelve; that is how many people came to see Canelo fight. When a boxer can draw that many people—in New York, during the Christmas season, a week after another important fight in Madison Square Garden, albeit in one of the arena’s smaller theaters—most of them are not there to see competition. They want to see domination, which was what Canelo gave them against Fielding. And with less than thirty seconds left in the second round, another one of Canelo’s body shots dropped Fielding to his knee. Since that was what they paid to see, the crowd roared.

Boxing can only appeal to a broader audience once sold as something else. The moral ambiguity that is the essence of boxing’s existence must be removed. To sell it as what it is, violence, even if athletic, limits its appeal. The truth adds layers of complexity that makes selling the simple much more difficult. Boxing must become something that is more artful than savage, more life affirming than debilitating, and something—just like those shoes, that burger, or that car you see advertised everywhere from Madison Square Garden to Times Square—that you need to experience to feel entirely alive. All involved in boxing must sell it this way, dressed-up, masked, and perfumed, or else you notice the stench of brutality that permeates throughout the sport.

“It was about time that the biggest star in boxing headed to Madison Square Garden,” Oscar De La Hoya said during the fight’s announcement. “Nearly every great fighter has fought at this historic arena. Canelo is establishing a historic legacy, and I’m excited that fans in New York will be able to see this great talent in such a famed place for boxing.”  Besides facing “Rocky,” as soon as managers and promoters made the fight, they portrayed it as Canelo’s march toward greatness. He would move up a weight-class—to one-hundred-sixty-eight pounds—and challenge a world champion. It did not matter that Fielding was a secondary champion and that his title belt was little more than a second-place trophy. The people who watch Canelo or rather, the type of people you want to watch him fight, do not care enough to make that distinction.

When a boxer reaches Canelo’s level of fame, they transcend the “prizefighter” label. They slowly become a household name. He becomes someone who demands your attention and when he has it, you tell yourself that moment is special. That you will be able to say something like, “I was there the night he headlined in a sold-out Madison Square Garden. I was there, and I felt chills when it sounded like the entire arena sang the Mexican national anthem. I was there.” And then when it ends, and because this is boxing, you cannot help to wonder if it played you as a mark.

Being around, close, and constantly thinking about boxing—a requirement if you wish to write something like this—changes how you interact with the sport. Sometimes you wonder if watching people fight for a living, takes a certain humanity from you. It is not a loss of empathy; that would be simple. It is something else, something you cannot name. It is you watching despite knowing the inevitable. Watching, despite seeing boxers getting used in different ways. Watching, despite seeing the unfair matchups. Watching, because you understand why those facing such disadvantages cannot afford to pass on the opportunity.

You watch even though you can see who will end their lives damaged by the sport. You watch while understanding that those who fight and can earn a comfortable living, are rare. Ever fewer are those who gain glory. You question if the justification that boxing is a positive outlet for many, is little more than an excuse that someone made long ago—someone there to exploit. You see it all and you continue to watch, telling yourself that that choice does not mean you have made peace with the bullshit. It only means you have made peace with boxing’s many contradictions.

You tell yourself that you watch, what is essentially two half-naked men beating the life out of each other, because more than any other endeavor, boxing resembles the conflict and contradictions that come with living. You will never have irrefutable answers to the questions that matter most. So you watch, cheer, and even love some of those who fight, as if tacitly noting that though you understand what is happening, their struggle is worth your entertainment. You are a writer covering the Sisyphus beat. You write about it, despite knowing how it ends, because you think it will help deal with some unresolved issues that stem from your own God complex. And you watch because those with a vested interest in who he is, say Canelo is great. Such claims are rarely clear in the present so the best you can answer only makes things more convoluted. “Well, they may be not-wrong,” you think.

The bell rings. The third round begins and just as he does before every over round, Canelo—the good, devout Mexican Catholic—crosses himself. He met the Pope last year. After this fight, who knows who else he will meet. Undoubtedly, he will get introduced as one of the greats, just like the electronic advertisement that wraps around a building on the corner of 7th Avenue and West 33rd Street says he is. It is a short video advertisement for Hennessy that begins with a close-up of Canelo’s face. “A Legendary Champion,” written across his mouth. He does not even have to move his lips for all to hear what they want to say. The message is clear, and Canelo does not even have to betray that stoicism that feels like an inherent part of Mexican identity.

With about forty seconds left in the third round, Canelo landed a right hand to Fielding’s head. Again, the Brit fell to one knee. He looked at his corner. He stared with a befuddled look on his deep-set, brown eyes. He stood up again and gave a slight smile of embarrassment. Canelo attacked, and again, Fielding fell to a knee. Fielding always fell to one knee, like he was bending it to submit. And even while in that position, the much taller Fielding’s head reached Canelo’s jaw. While he knelt, Fielding looked up at Canelo. He looked so bewildered that he suddenly looked innocent. You felt sorry for Fielding. You thought of the mother of his young children, who sat ringside and at times yelled, “Come on Michael!” Other times she grimaced and looked away. The break of his career, the potentially life-altering money he received from it, and their plans of celebrating as a family in Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom—all of it, suddenly felt different. Rocky had become a pawn to further Canelo’s brand. Rocky would not shock the world as he had claimed.  There would be no feel-good movie ending. Instead, he would be part of Canelo’s highlight reel of victims.

After the fourth knockdown in three rounds, the referee immediately waved off the fight. Canelo hugged his opponent then climbed the corner ropes where he, again, crossed himself and waved his gloves to the crowd. The crowd cheered. Some of them sang along as Vicente Fernandez’s “Mexico Lindo y Querido” played loudly on every speaker in Madison Square Garden.

Everywhere you see Canelo, no less than half-a-dozen people follow. Two of them are his co-trainers, one is a publicist, another is his translator. He usually has at least one of his older brothers with him, and there’s a couple other people always with Canelo. You do not know all their names, but you see them in the background so often that you know their faces. They are likely most of the few people who Canelo can trust. They surround him like it is their job to protect boxing’s most valuable jewel. There are, after all, hundreds of millions of dollars invested in who Canelo is and how he gets portrayed.

In the corner, right after the fight, that group, along with cameramen and people in expensive suits, surrounded Canelo. He smiled and shook hands with them. The referee raised Canelo’s hands as the Mexican became a three-division champion. Ignore the asterisk. Four of Canelo’s cornermen raised the boxer’s title belts above their heads. A fifth member of Canelo’s team waved a large Mexican flag. “What I want to do is make history with my career and life,” Canelo said in the post-fight, in-ring interview. “I want to leave the name of Mexico and Canelo held high.”

Young, potentially great boxers in their prime think they can live forever. They believe it so thoroughly that they even make you consider that impossibility. Had he come out and explicitly said it—that he will live forever—at that moment, in Madison Square Garden, after having destroyed Rocky’s fantasies, we would have considered it for longer than had anyone else made that claim. At that moment, it would not have been an outright delusion of grandeur or hubris. Rather, most would have understood that it was the ego that comes from all of this.

Canelo, who first earned money from fighting at age fifteen, is boxing’s version of a child star. But rather than fade, his shine has only increased. He fights for a living and based on what he earns, he is great. It seems unavoidable that an ego would come from this. It is an ego that is visceral because there is a beauty about him that is primal. Both are born from knowing if we lived in a state of nature—far, far away from the bright lights of Midtown Manhattan—he could force others into giving him anything he wants. To be there, among the nasty and brutish, and watch him fight may even be close to a religious experience during such a short life. Watching him, as seemingly anything he desires he will get. That he refers to himself in third person only adds authority to the immortality he seeks. This type of power and ego makes you think no one can beat you. This type of power and ego, combined with youth, makes you think you will never die.

Canelo, today, is at his apex. For those who, today, dislike Canelo there is likely nothing he can do tomorrow, that will change their opinion. Canelo is here, today, and because of it, this is also the apex of Mexican boxing. Canelo is, for now, that moment before the reversal of fortune. He is El Chapo, the dollar after he surpassed his first million and before he was first caught. Canelo is Salvador Sánchez a few minutes before the crash when he still dreamed of quitting boxing to become a doctor. He is Julio César Chávez a few days before Frankie Randall and years before a suicide attempt. Canelo is De La Hoya a few moments before someone first told him he was not Mexican enough, and long before those months in rehab stints that force a self-reflection upon you—or at least, they should.

Canelo can be anything, so long as it is good, because that is how he is sold and because he is not passive in any of this, it is how he sells himself. Seemingly, the farthest thing from his mind is that he, like every past champion who also thought themselves immortal, will eventually be beaten and worse, forgotten. They will be the last ones to know boxing is a goddamned tragedy. That eventually, they will realize the high of being young and called great, is impossible to replace. And that the everyday mundane life that follows that feeling, for them, may be worse than death. But maybe Canelo is different. If you squint hard enough, use your hand to shade the bright lights from your eyes, you may even see that Canelo will live forever in the spring years of his life.

The evolution that brought Canelo Alvarez to Madison Square Garden

Published on ESPN.com


On Saturday, for the first time in a decade, Canelo Alvarez will fight outside Mexico or the United States’ southwest. The last time he fought in the east coast, it was in 2008 in Miami. Canelo looked different. That was 3 weight divisions ago. His hair-helped by his brown trunks and shoes that complimented the color atop his head-appeared redder than it does now. Three years into his career, the baby-faced, 18-year-old Canelo had yet to even sign with Golden Boy Promotions. When that contract came, about 2 years from that night in Miami, Oscar De La Hoya envisioned something great.

“We believe Saul is going to be a star,” De La Hoya explained, still calling him by his birth name and not by what’s placed him among the few athletes referred to by a single name. “He’s already a big attraction… in Mexico and we’re going to do everything we can to help him become a champion and a star in the United States.”

This Saturday, when Canelo fights Rocky Fielding at Madison Square Garden, he returns to the east coast as boxing’s superstar. And for the first time in its long history, a Mexican fighter is one of boxing’s most marketable fighters. Add his record-breaking DAZN contract and Canelo may well be the most powerful too.

To appreciate what this means, we must look back at the best fighter in Mexico’s history: “El Gran Campeón Mexicano” Julio Cesar Chavez.

Even today, Chavez draws a crowd. Picture and autograph seekers rush towards him, more often than crowds do to even most active boxers. Most of those who race toward Chavez speak Spanish. Inside the boxing world Chavez is a living legend. A giant. Outside of it-at least, on this side of the U.S.-Mexico border-Chavez can get lost among the crowd. This was true then, during his fighting career, and now.

“Chavez seems willing to die out there and there aren’t too many guys left like that,” Larry Merchant told KO Magazine. “He’s just so goddamned tough.” But Chavez’s toughness was never in question. Rather, it was his inability to take the respect he earned from that toughness and turn it into a popular appeal among crowds in the U.S.

Since Chavez’s fighting days, the era of great Mexican boxers that followed him, have increasingly communicated in English. Even if they relied on translators to help, boxers like Juan Manuel Márquez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales all spoke English. More recently, other Latino boxers have done the same, specifically Miguel Cotto — who fought at Madison Square Garden 10 times, half on the eve of New York City’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Canelo can speak English but, for whatever reason, chooses to communicate in Spanish. Unlike boxers before him, especially Chavez, this decision hasn’t hampered Canelo’s marketability.

“What worries me is fighting and training and I think people like that more than talking,” Canelo said about his communicating almost exclusively in Spanish.

Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy Promotions, agrees with Canelo while also stating their fighter continues to work on his English.

“He’s the only fighter right now who directly has sponsors,” Gomez says of Canelo. “His style of fighting, the way he is, the fact that he’s clean, all that is better than the language… He’s disciplined, clean, educated and that’s more important than language.”

Canelo does, in fact, have important sponsorships. And part of that reason is the changing demographics of both the U.S. and boxing’s fan base.

In the early 1980s, when Chavez began boxing, according to the Pew Research Center, Hispanics accounted for a little over 6 percent of the U.S. population. Most of that Hispanic population lived along the U.S.-Mexico border-the southwest that was once the northern parts of Mexico. By 2016, that number increased to almost 18 percent. A study from the U.S. Census, released earlier this year, projects that number will increase to over 21 percent by 2030.

With this change comes the rising purchasing power from U.S. Hispanics, now over $1.6 trillion per year, according to Nielsen data and analytics. And while not every Hispanic speaks Spanish, the increase of Spanish-language radio and television reflect this change. According to Forbes, the first full-time Spanish language radio station launched in 1945 and today, there are now over 500 radio stations that broadcast exclusively in that language. And considering the strong boxing history and tradition across Latin America and that a 2017 Washington Post-UMass Lowell poll stated that 61 percent of U.S. Hispanics consider themselves boxing fans, compared to just 17 percent of whites, the sport has also felt these changes.

Everything — from the major sponsors to how managers and promoters sell their boxers, from most names you see fighting on cards, to the language you hear in the upper decks of the venues hosting them — has changed with the increase of Hispanics in the U.S. Not least of these changes is when the sport’s most important fights occur: during Mexican holidays. Incidentally, Chavez helped popularize fights held on the weekends of Cinco de Mayo and September 16 (Mexico’s independence day), two traditional boxing dates.

When Chavez fought, speaking English was all but required if you wanted to appeal to a wider audience. That too has changed. Of course, it’s difficult to gauge how much more popular Canelo would be if he communicated in English. Or, if he tried to sell his fights and not keep up his Mexican stoicism-again, reminiscent of Chavez-where he says he’d rather let his fist do his talking. Still, Canelo is the only active boxer that sells on pay-per-view, or sold, since he left that platform for DAZN’s subscription-based model. Incidentally, on a DAZN commercial featuring their newest, high-paid fighter, Canelo only speaks Spanish. English subtitles translate his few words.

Golden Boy Promotions have helped Canelo become both the champion and star De La Hoya hoped he’d become. They’ve promoted and matched him well. They’ve even protected Canelo. The latter is no slight against him. Canelo wasn’t the first nor will he be the last boxer helped by the perks of becoming the face of boxing. Other boxers have had those same advantages and have failed because of either lack of discipline or talent.

Canelo is Mexico’s most commercially successful boxer, and it’s not even close. Still in the prime of this career, he’s also entering the realm of being discussed among Mexico’s all-time top 10 boxers. It’s easy to confuse mass popularity with lack of skill, but as his star has risen, Canelo has steadily improved. He’s certainly a different fighter now than he was the last time he fought in the east coast.

For every major fight held at Madison Square Garden, there are thousands of others in small, half-empty venues. Ballrooms and casinos in the U.S., palenques and ferias in Mexico, each filled with boxers hoping to win and earn more the next time they fight. This was Canelo, a decade ago and around this same time of year. Back before he made his fulltime home in San Diego, back when the hype — which with each subsequent fight since, has become reality — had not crossed north of the Mexican border.

That night, with a minute left in the first round, in front of what appeared like only a few dozen people, Canelo landed an overhand right that knocked his opponent, Raul Pinzon, into the ropes. With arms that no longer attacked but instead protected, Pinzon covered his face. Baby-faced Canelo, with only one promotional patch on his trunks, pounced. Seven straight punches, right and left hands alternating, landed on Pinzon, causing him to fall.

Before the fight, a cocky Pinzon said he wanted to play the villain to Canelo. He wanted to expose him, take Canelo’s undefeated record and his regional title belt. But as the referee’s count reached 8 and Pinzon stood up from the canvas, he looked humble.

Not even half-a-minute later, young Canelo, who has always seemed quiet and who, before the fight said, “donde se habla es arriba del ring” [the talking occurs inside the ring] floored his opponent again. Referee Pat Russell waved his hands and kneeled by Pinzon.

The fight over, there was no one chanting Canelo’s name. No mob of cameras in his face to match the mob of people wanting to stand near him. Just Canelo with his trainers — who have remained loyal to each other — hugging and smiling. As they did, Pinzon used a towel to cover his face.

When Pinzon’s face reappeared for the camera, he looked like he was crying. The referee raised Canelo’s hand. Canelo looked focused and confident, even more than he had in the days before the fight, when he vocalized his deepest ambitions. “Not only do I want to become a world champion,” Canelo told the Miami Herald, “but I want to be a boxing idol.”

On Saturday, Canelo returns to the east coast. He’s fighting in “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” a good sign that tell us he’s evolving into the apex of Mexican boxing.

 

Canelo Alvarez and the mostly tragic history of Mexican boxers at Madison Square Garden

Originally published on Yahoo Sports.

On Saturday, when Saul “Canelo” Alvarez fights Rocky Fielding for the WBA regular super middleweight world title in Madison Square Garden, he’ll be the first Mexican boxer to headline there in over 35 years.

“It fills me with a lot of pride,” Alvarez said of fighting in the famed arena, “because I know great fighters have fought there, like Muhammad Ali … to mention more fighters would be unnecessary. But to be the main event there … it fills me with pride.”

Once considered the epicenter of the sport, some of the greatest boxers have fought in “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” But also, the site has hosted important fights that resulted in more than just simple wins and losses. They’ve added to the folklore of Mexican boxing and within those fights are mysteries and unanswered questions along with moments of hope, lost opportunity, tragedy and revenge.

“I want to tell you all a story,” Alvarez’s co-trainer, Chepo Reynoso, said during an October press conference announcing this Saturday’s fight. “The date was June 24, 1968 … Mexico was paralyzed on that date.”

On that night, Manuel “Pulgarcito” Ramos faced Joe Frazier for the NYSAC world heavyweight title. “Pulgarcito” — Spanish for “Little Thumb” — was the ironic nickname for the 6-foot-3, 208-pound Ramos. He was the rare Mexican heavyweight and a clear underdog when he faced Frazier.

Ramos was not the first Mexican to fight in Madison Square Garden. That was Alberto “Baby” Arizmendi, who earned his nickname after beginning his boxing career at age 13. During the 1930s in what was the third version of the Garden, Arizmendi won only one of his three fights there. Ramos fought in the arena’s fourth incarnation and planned to knock out Frazier.

“Frazier was rocked,” the television announcer yelled after Ramos connected with a right hook in the first round that made his opponent tremble. The crowd, including the 500 Mexicans who wore sombreros with “Pulgarcito” stitched on the brim, roared as Frazier retreated into the ropes. For a few seconds it appeared Ramos would fulfill his pre-fight promise.

“It looked like our hopes would come true,” Reynoso recalled 50 years after the fight.

But not long after Frazier looked hurt, he threw one of his trademark left hooks that stopped Ramos’ momentum. He regained control of the fight. The following round, Frazier knocked Ramos down twice. After the second knockdown, the referee stopped the fight and with it, Mexico’s hopes of claiming a heavyweight title.

Years later, Ramos told a Mexican journalist that when he hurt Frazier, he felt a sudden scare. And because of it, he couldn’t finish Frazier despite his trainer yelling for him to keep attacking. This was the same trainer who received a mysterious phone call before the fight. “It will not be good for your fighter if he wins,” the voice said. “We have one bullet for you and two for him.”

Ramos would go on to fight in the Midtown Manhattan arena twice more, and again, he’d lose both fights. But 12 years after Ramos fought Frazier, Mexico enjoyed a different result. On that night, in 1982, Salvador Sánchez fought for the first and only time at Madison Square Garden.

At just 23 years old, Sánchez was already drawing comparisons to other great featherweights. He, along with Julio César Chavez and Ricardo López — both of whom fought in Madison Square Garden twice but never as headliners — is considered one of the greatest Mexican boxers.

Unlike the cliché for what the Mexican boxer has become, Sánchez was not a brawler. He had incredible discipline, which, inside the ring, led to superb conditioning. Outside the ring, Sánchez’s discipline translated to saving and investing the money he earned from fighting. It seemed his only expensive habit was buying cars, of which he owned nine, including a Porsche 928S.

With his finances in order and a young family — a 21-year-old wife and two kids, 3 and 15 months old — Sánchez planned to retire at the end on 1983. “I’ve always wanted to be doctor,” he told The New York Times, “I’m only 23 and I have all the time in the world.”

Like all Mexican boxers before and since Sánchez, the opportunity to fight in Madison Square Garden was a career milestone. With Sánchez becoming the first Mexican to headline there, it further validated his greatness.

The fight was a hard-fought battle against Azumah Nelson. It wasn’t until the 15th round that Sánchez defeated Nelson by technical knockout when the referee stopped the fight. But it was what happened after the fight that turned Sánchez into a tragic figure in Mexico’s boxing history.

A few weeks after, on the morning hours of Aug. 12, Mexico and the boxing world awoke to news that Sánchez had died in a car crash. At 3:30 a.m., while traveling from Querétaro back to his training camp in San José Iturbide, Sánchez lost control of his Porsche and drove into a truck. Why he left training camp remains a source of speculation. Some say he left after receiving a phone call that left him uneasy. Others say he was evading boredom by going to a movie, or to visit friends. Another explanation says he left to check on the repairs for one of his cars. And yet another story says Sánchez was traveling to meet his mistress. Whatever the reason, Sánchez left training camp and never returned.

A quarter-century passed between Sánchez’s fight in Madison Square Garden and the first time Antonio Margarito fought there in 2007. But it was Margarito’s second fight at MSG, facing Miguel Cotto, that’s best remembered.

By the time he faced Cotto in their 2011 rematch, Margarito was no longer one of the most feared and avoided boxers. His damaged eye matched his diminished reputation that came after officials caught his trainer trying to use plaster of Paris in Margarito’s hand wraps for his bout with Shane Mosley in 2009. The boxer claimed innocence, essentially blaming his trainer. He served his suspension and after a tune-up fight, faced Manny Pacquiao who proceeded to break the right side of Margarito’s face.

While all of this happened, Cotto claimed during their first fight in July 2008, there was something different about Margarito’s hand wraps.

“Margarito took a lot of things from me,” Cotto explained about his struggles after suffering his first career loss to Margarito. “Trust, confidence and other things that made me the boxer I was.” When their rematch happened, Cotto believed Margarito had cheated in their first fight. He sought payback.

Like their first fight, Cotto dominated Margarito during the early rounds. Cotto — who fought 10 times in Madison Square Garden, half of them on the day before New York City’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade — was the crowd favorite. They cheered every punch he landed on his Mexican opponent. By the third round, Margarito’s eye, the damaged one that Cotto promised to target, began to bleed and swell. By the start of the seventh round, Margarito’s eye looked completely closed.

Two rounds later, while his cornermen pressed the cold enswell against Margarito’s right eye, they pleaded with the doctors to let them continue.

“That was the best round!” they repeatedly screamed as the doctors huddled and talked to themselves. “One more!” Margarito and his corner begged before the referee called off the fight.

Margarito, with his one functional eye, let out a low groan of disappointment. A stoic Cotto walked to about 10 feet from Margarito, the man who had taken so much from him, and stared. He savored his revenge. When asked how he felt about Margarito, Cotto responded, “He means nothing to me.”

Alvarez will add to the short but eventful history of Mexicans fighting in Madison Square Garden. But more than likely, his fight against Fielding won’t provide the same drama as previous fights.

“It’s not a secret that I’m a better fighter and that I’m more experienced,” Alvarez responded when asked about Fielding. “But I’m taking a risk by entering into a comfort zone of a champion and his weight.”

Unlike his countrymen who fought in the Mecca of boxing before him, Alvarez is in a unique and privileged position. Alvarez is fighting an opponent picked by his trainer whom he’ll almost certainly beat, in Madison Square Garden for a title belt that’s more symbolic than representative of Fielding’s dominance among super middleweights. It marks the first bout of Alvarez’s 11-fight deal with DAZN that’s made him the highest-paid athlete in the world. Simply put, this is a fight to extend Alvarez’s popularity and brand while also giving him the opportunity to end his tumultuous year on high note.

From the lows of being suspended over a failed drug test and his May rematch against Gennady Golovkin getting canceled. To the highs of defeating Golovkin, signing a record contract and being recognized as Mexico’s top athlete — an honor that, remarkably, a boxer had never won — 2018 has been an eventful one for Alvarez.

“I learned a lot in my personal and professional life,” Alvarez said about what 2018 taught him. “I learned to be tenacious and train hard and [have] a strong mentality, it can take you from one extreme to the other, and I’m happy with all that I’ve achieved … what I’ve done has made me the man and the athlete that I am today.”

Alvarez will enter 2019 as, arguably, the most powerful and popular boxer in the world. And for all the great boxers Mexico has produced, including the few who fought in Madison Square Garden, Alvarez — in terms of power and appeal — is distinguishing himself from the rest.

 

Chuco Style

It’s a Saturday morning at the edge of the state, close to where Texas, New Mexico and Mexico meet and blur. In the small town of Anthony, about 20 miles north of El Paso, houses have backyards measured in half acres, and the Franklin Mountains stand out on the horizon without the distraction of tall buildings. It’s the type of place where a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag flies next to those of the United States and Mexico. On this hot July morning — after a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns and menudo — 13 members of the 915 Pachucos y Pachucas Unidos begin their monthly meeting.

They gather around a large kitchen table. Yvonne Patino, the group’s president, starts by asking for receipts for recently made T-shirts and collecting each member’s $5 monthly dues. Seated to her left are Gracie Guzman and her husband, Victor, the hosts of this month’s meeting. Victor has slicked-back jet-black hair and an easy smile. As each guest arrives, he repeats the same question: “Did you have trouble getting here?” All answers reference GPS and the beauty of the area.

To Patino’s right is Frankie Herrera, whose baby-blue shirt and black pants are without a wrinkle. He always sports a hat and looks like he’s never worn sweatpants in his life. Asked if he’s the best-dressed person in his office, where he’s a medical support assistant for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Frankie answers, “Well, there’s a few others that are close.” Herrera and Patino, like many others here, are carrying on a family tradition. “My father, my great-grandfather, my uncles were pachucos,” Patino says. “My youngest son is a pachuco.”

With the meeting underway, Yvonne’s 6-year-old son plays with other children whose parents are members of the group. They are growing up around pachuquismo — a subculture that began in El Paso and whose hallmarks include a flamboyant style of dress; parties with swing dancing, retro music and vintage cars; and, more recently, community service. These men, women and children are sustaining a tradition that started in the 1930s. They also symbolize what’s distinct about the borderlands. Mexican Americans in El Paso have long straddled multiple worlds: Texas and New Mexico, Mexico and the United States, English and Spanish. The pachuco lifestyle celebrates these differences while passing on Chicano pride to the next generation.

Pachucos are often thought to be gangsters or criminals. A 2017 story by a Los Angeles television station had the telling headline “Pachucos: Not Just Mexican-American Males or Juvenile Delinquents.” In fact, the first pachucos weren’t usually gangsters, but rather Mexican and Mexican-American teenagers and 20-somethings who developed their own style in the 1930s and ’40s. The subculture originated in the El Paso-Juárez area and spread westward with migration. Zoot suits, or tacuches, have always been the most distinguishing feature. Adapted from 1920s African-American jazz scene attire, tacuches come in loud colors and patterns. Bright yellow, sky blue or blood red aren’t unusual; neither are pinstriped or checkerboard patterns.

Traditionally, pachucos wear double- or triple-pleated high-waisted pants. Accessories include a silver or gold cadena, or chain, that loops down over the baggy leg and hangs a few inches above the ankle. Also common are vests, gafas (glasses), resortes (suspenders) and a long, multicolored feather tucked into the band around a tandito, a hat. Add some tablitas — shiny, colorful shoes, often in two tones — and you have the standard pachuco uniform for men. Women can wear a zoot suit, baggy pants with suspenders or simply a jacket with a long, tight-fitting skirt. Beyond the style of dress, pachucos talk in a slang, or caló, closely related to the Spanglish spoken along the Texas-Mexico border.

Pachucos are best remembered for the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. Over several nights in early June, in downtown Los Angeles, sailors stationed at a nearby base attacked anyone who wore a tacuche. Amid the jingoism of World War II — legislation leading to the internment of Japanese Americans was passed less than two years before the riots — pachucos aroused fears that they were unable or, worse, unwilling to assimilate. Oversized and baggy tacuches were also deemed a direct affront to the War Production Board’s clothing regulations, which aimed to conserve fabric. This all fed into the tensions that culminated in the Zoot Suit Riots. But even that name is misleading, as it places the responsibility on those who wore tacuches.

“Perhaps it’s time to revise that narrative,” says Ruben A. Arellano, a historian at the University of Texas at El Paso. “Instead of perpetuating the myth that it was [pachucos] who were responsible for the riots, we should call it what it actually was, which was the Sailor Riot. Because it was the young sailors who were out in caravans and carpools and sometimes even assisted by the local authorities to go out and beat up and strip these young Mexican Americans of their zoot suits.”

The caravans Arellano refers to are what Carey McWilliams called taxicab brigades. McWilliams, an activist and journalist who covered the riots, described the sailors as traveling in groups of at least 20 cabs. When they spotted anyone wearing a zoot suit, they jumped out and beat him up. “The sailors then piled back into the cabs and the caravan resumed its way until the next zoot-suiter was sighted, whereupon the same procedure was repeated,” McWilliams later wrote.

Because of the riots, there’s an assumption that pachucos were from Los Angeles. The belief that they’re gangsters also persists. These are misconceptions the 915 Pachucos (whose name references the El Paso area code) are trying to change. “We educate our youngsters about the culture,” says Patino. “Some of them still have this image of us being cholos, and that’s not what we’re about.”

The El Paso group is a nonprofit that has donated Thanksgiving meals to the hungry, Christmas toys for children and food for the homeless, among other efforts. Members have spoken in history classes at area colleges and raised money for families who can’t cover medical or burial expenses. Pachucos y Pachucas Unidos continues to expand, with chapters in Tijuana, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, among other cities.

Pachucos have long evoked consternation on the southern side of the border as well as in the United States. Mexico’s northernmost states have long felt the geographic and cultural distance from the central parts of the country, in particular Mexico City. Pachucos — and Mexican Americans as a whole — were even more outcast.

“The pachuco has lost his whole inheritance: language, religion, customs, beliefs,” argued Octavio Paz in The Labyrinth of Solitude. “His disguise is a protection, but it also differentiates and isolates him: It both hides him and points him out.”

Other Mexican intellectuals — José Revueltas, Carlos Monsiváis, Salvador Novo and José Vasconcelos, to name a few — also noted the precarious position pachucos occupied. They weren’t quite Mexican but clearly neither were they fully American. This is a tension that never ceases.

For Victor Guzman, the memory of a trip he made in the late ’90s to Camargo, Chihuahua, about six hours south of El Paso, still stings. “I was wearing my pants, all the way up to my belly button. I had suspenders, I had my hat on,” he says, “and I would get a lot of bullshit: ‘You guys are all pinche gabachos. You guys think you’re all that.’ And that’s not the case.”

At Lincoln Park in south-central El Paso, the lawn is shaded by a tangle of highway overpasses. One route connects the city to the rest of Texas, another leads to New Mexico and a third goes south to the international bridge with Juárez. Dozens of formerly drab highway pillars are emblazoned with colorful murals. There’s John F. Kennedy, a bald eagle, Cesar Chavez, and the black eagle that began as the United Farm Workers’ symbol and is now synonymous with the Chicano movement. Another painting shows a pachuco with his hand in his pockets, leaning back. Nearby, there’s a pachuca in a sleeveless shirt and suspenders. She holds an American flag in her right hand, while her left arm is draped with a Mexican flag.

The park is home to many of the El Paso pachucos’ public events, where curious onlookers often stare and ask questions. “I know we attract a lot of attention because of the way we dress,” says Victor Guzman. “But attention is not really the main thing. It’s us enjoying ourselves, being together with people that, that…” As he struggles to find the right words, Gracie finishes his sentence: “That enjoy the culture. And respect the culture.”

Members often pose for pictures in exchange for donations to whatever cause they’re there to support. They dance to music by the likes of Cab Calloway, Tommy Dorsey, Pérez Prado and Glenn Miller. “You can’t go wrong with oldies,” says Victor. When they dance, people gather around to watch the impressive sight. The tacuche’s bright colors and patterns make kicks and dips stand out, and the chain hanging from a pachuco’s waist glints while he moves.

I couldn’t help noticing that most members of the El Paso group were in their 40s or older. They speak often of passing the tradition on to their kids, many of whom tag along to events, but will it stick? Matthew San Roman, 27, is a sort of freelance pachuco, unaffiliated with the 915 group, who says he rarely meets other young pachucos. A Chicano studies major at the University of Texas at El Paso, he wears his tacuche most days. When classmates ask questions, San Roman sees an opportunity to start a conversation on Mexican-American history. “I get all kinds of reactions,” he says. “I really want them to know [about pachucos] because it’s part of them too.”

One hopeful sign: Back at the monthly meeting, conversation turns to an upcoming trip to San Antonio, where the El Paso pachucos are helping to start a new chapter. All 13 members will make the eight-hour drive to meet like-minded folks in “San Anto,” as they call it. They’ll sell enchilada plates and T-shirts to pay for a rental van, and then they’ll gather at a bar. Yvonne tells everyone to bring their two best tacuches. “Los mero mero, mas chingón,” she says — roughly translated to “the most badass.” They all laugh but know exactly what she means. Everyone here takes the symbolism of the tacuche seriously.

“My first suit, I bought it when I was 16,” Victor tells me. “I was so proud, man. I was wearing that thing to high school, I would only wear to las quinceañeras, las bodas. At that time, I was 16 so I couldn’t go to any bars or anything, so before that, I would only wear my pants, my suspenders, my tie, my little tandito, unas tablitas que me dio mi abuelito. But I loved it.”

Pachucos tend to remember the first time they wore a tacuche. “I’ve been dressing like this since I was 13,” says Frankie, now 53. “In 1982 and 1983, guys from California would come in and compete for the zoot suit contest. Those two years, I got first place. They couldn’t beat me and they would get all mad … because they thought the pachucos were from over there.”

But pachucos come from El Paso. The city’s semi-official nickname, after all, is El Chuco. According to lore, when someone asked traveling Mexican laborers their destination, they’d respond, “P’al Chuco.” To El Chuco. This westernmost edge of Texas that’s much more like Juárez than it is like Austin. Where a wall clearly marks the political borders but the cultural ones continue influencing each other.

Near the end of the meeting, members recap everything they’ve discussed. Someone quietly translates for the members from Juárez — la familia Pérez, as they’re referred to — who cross the border to attend meetings and any planned events.

José ya no va poder brincar” — José will no longer be able to cross — Francisco, the father of la familia Pérez, says of his young son. His visa will expire around the same time as the San Antonio event. Its renewal is already in process but “con todo lo que está pasando,” it could take months. Members offer their help in any way they can. “We look out for each other,” says Yvonne. “Gracias,” Francisco answers.

For now, the group’s focus is on founding more chapters. Asked if these will expand beyond the Southwest, Yvonne nods. “That’s our goal, to extend as far as we can nationwide, and keep going,” she says. “It’s something we love to do, it’s in our roots and hopefully our younger generation … they will carry on the legacy of the pachuco.”