Eduardo “Lalo” Sánchez: the mask maker without borders
The mystical power that many attribute to the masks of the fighters begins in the patient hands of a seamstress who has dedicated his life to give a face to the Mexican superheroes.
Long before Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, the pre-Hispanic tribes established in the northern and central parts of the continent used masks as a form of expression.
The masks were then used to represent their gods, to participate in religious rituals and dances, but also in battles or wars among the tribes.
The fierce Aztec warriors used them as a symbol of bravery, honor and military rank when confronted against gladiators of another tribe or people.
Initially the masks were often made of mud with simple or elaborate designs, but full of great significance for their people.
A warrior was one who, as a good gladiator, wore his identity covered with a 'hood' to infuse fear.
But they say that if you have a history you have a future, so it’s no surprise that in this particular case, the masks still remain in the popular culture of the descendants of those first tribes, although no longer in the same terms in which they were initially used.
Today the Aztec and other warriors of the world face in a ring, in a three-falls combat and without any time limit. And of course, the masks have their space in this scenario: they remain as a sign of prestige, mystery and honor.
According to newspaper archives, it was in 1933 that the first masked wrestler appeared in Mexico, the American "Cyclone McKey", who commissioned the design and making of the mask to Antonio H. Martinez, a shoemaker from the city of León, Guanajuato, in the central part of Mexico.
"Cyclone McKey" was looking for a hood that would be tied to the head to cover his identity but the experiment was a failure.
Six months after the first attempt, the American wrestler returned with more capital and asked Martinez to work on another project. Together they created the mask of the fighter "The Masked Marvel", the North American’s new battle name.
Since then, the masks of the wrestlers have evolved in design, preparation and meaning: from an implement of work they have now become pieces of clothe endowed with powers that transform anyone who wears them into superheroes.
But who are the characters who have helped to forge such enduring myths as "Masked Marvel," "The Holy One," or "Holy Ghost"?
At almost 60 years of age, Eduardo Sanchez has capitalized on his passion for wrestling.
Originally from Santa Bárbara, Chihuahua - a mining town located almost 400 miles south of the border - "Lalo", as they affectionately call him, has developed a taste that has allowed him to have a good lifestyle.
"Lalo" Sánchez has been working professionally for 25 years in the elaboration and manufacture of wrestler masks in his workshop, located in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, right on the border with Texas.
His creations have gone almost around the world and have come to the hands of collectors in places as distant as Paraguay, Costa Rica, Spain, Germany and, of course, the United States.
Places where his work as a "mascarero" has been recognized, not only by fans of wrestling but by various medias who, attracted by the quality of their materials and designs, have traveled to the Juárez border to learn more about the Man behind the masks.
The origin of his love for the sport of fight keys and masks goes back to 1974, when the good "Lalo" had the opportunity to meet for a brief moment his greatest idol in Mexican wrestling, 'El Santo'.
"Seeing the color of the mask of 'El Santo', the energy that radiated, all the mysticism around this character led me to a fascination for this sport and to admire the importance of a mask and the additions in each fighter," said Sanchez .
'El Santo' was the battle name of the character created by Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, a fighter and Mexican actor who for more than four decades gave life to one of the most rooted characters among fans of wrestling, who in addition to witnessing his bouts in the ring were regular consumers of his comics, television series and film productions.
Such was his popularity, that 'El Santo' was considered a Mexican superhero with the peculiarity that, unlike Superman or Batman, this one was of flesh and bone. Every weekend some wrestling arena witnessed the keys and acrobatic flights of the so-called 'Silver Masquerade'.
On the subject of 'El Santo', the late Mexican writer and journalist Carlos Monsiváis described this popular personage and his roots in Mexican society, in his book 'The Rituals of Chaos'. "It was the rite of poverty, of the consolation of quarrels within the great misery that is life, the exact mixture of classical tragedy, circus, an Olympic sport, comedy, variety theater and labor catharsis."
Without being a stranger to the fever unleashed by this character, Sánchez had no problem in accepting that it was precisely the frustration of not having the economic means to acquire a mask of his idol, which led him to start making masks for himself.
"As a child I always wanted to have a mask of 'The Saint', but I had no money to start with in order to buy it and on the other hand those that existed were of very poor quality," he says.
Like every beginning, it was not easy to start an activity that – even though nowadays is his true passion – he didn’t know back then how to develop, since he lacked the basic knowledge to make masks.
"I started as a helper of a 'mascarero' and I learned the trade, it was not easy, I did not even know how to sew," said Sanchez while sewing the details of the mask of the fighter Canek.
Sánchez’s masks are a hundred percent handmade product, and in addition to using export fabrics brought from New York, they require the proper calculations to place the eyes in the correct angle, the symmetry of the details and to avoid the 'hood' to become a visual confusion.
"I order the fabrics directly from a store in New York. They have a very good quality and the peculiarity that they can be stretched. I buy them in places where they specialize in evening dresses for women, expensive dresses," said Sanchez.
"Lalo" commented that the time to elaborate a mask goes according to the difficulty of the design, but on average it takes between 3 and 4 hours to finish one with a good quality.
Its market is increasing, because besides that more and more people start to collect them, you can now see in any sporting event someone masked supporting his team in the benches.
"Masks are like an addiction, you buy the first one and then you want another one and so on. There are people who ask me every week for a particular one just for the pleasure of increasing their collection, "he said.
When asked about the most requested masks, Sánchez says that the demand for masks goes according to the personage that is fashionable and in the taste of the public, for which there are several variables, from which one has greater coverage in the media to the one that best behaves with the fans.
"Currently the mask of Blue Demon is much sought after, I think it's because of the television series based on his life. Besides, the mask is beautiful. People hold him in high esteem.
By contrast, ever since Rey Mysterio Jr got involved in the "Puppy" issue, nobody asks for his mask”, he said.
A little more than two years ago, on March 25, 2015, in the city of Tijuana, Baja California, the fighter King Mystery Jr. faced a fight of relays to the Son of the Dog Aguayo (Perrito). As a result of the confrontation, Aguayo suffered a fracture in the cervical vertebrae, which in the end cost him his life.
Although it was considered an accident and no responsibility was assigned to King Misterio Jr., the event marked the Mexican American fighter's career.
To talk with Sánchez about wrestling is to spend hours listening to anecdotes and details of a sport that drags the masses worldwide.
"The fighter is the superhero, it’s a fight of good and evil represented by the rude and the technical. There’s a three-falls battle every week, and in that brief space of time, the amateur unleashes his emotions. And it's a global phenomenon", said Sanchez.
"In the United States the masked Mexican fighters still remain because it’s the third or fourth generation of Mexican Americans that has transmitted to their children and grandchildren the tradition, keeping it alive."
According to Sánchez, the American fight doesn’t use the masked fighters as much because the Anglo-Saxon society relates the mask to a 'bandit', so it is based on wrestlers who, script in hand, maintain an almost eternal rivalry with their opponents.
The masks made by 'Lalo' Sanchez have an average cost of $ 50 and given the increase in demand a page has been created on Facebook (Mascaras Eduardo Sánchez) in which you can admire his creations in addition to communicate with him and exchange collectible items such as magazines films or figures of fighters.
Sanchez says with pride that his occupation is not a job. It’s a passion that shapes in each of the masks that he elaborates.