Fighting against homesickness
All pictures by the author.
In the past ten years, I have moved eight times in four different countries. As a result of this mobility, I define myself as a transmigrant. To some extent, I feel that I belong to all four countries. I can easily place on a map my favourite library, coffee shop, or restaurant in Mexico City, Oxford, London, Paris, and Brussels. I have emotional ties and memories embedded in these multiple territories that I once called home.
However, I must say Mexico City is quite different from the others. Mexico is my homeland and I feel rooted to it. I was born and raised there and am still drawn to the particular smell of roasted chillies covering Mexican kitchens each weekend. But what I miss the most about Mexico is the spontaneity of its people best manifested in the lucha libre arenas.
Mexican wrestling is more than a simple fight: it is a colourful show between fighters engaging in dramatic stunts in the ring. Each of their moves and somersaults is accompanied by an intense interaction with the public who is rapturously screaming to support their favourite wrestler. The euphoric and convivial atmosphere captures the joy and improvisation that I miss the most about my homeland. Since I left in 2010, I decided to always travel with a wrestler mask in my suitcase. With it, I have been able to reminisce about the happy moments spent with my friends back in Mexico, to feel close to the surreal traditions of my homeland, and to share the particularities of lucha libre with my new friends. It has also become a regular fixture in my travel photographs. Lately, I have used my mask to create original designs and pictures to put a smile on people’s faces during this time of crisis.
Wrestling masks have stories and meanings. For a Mexican wrestler, a mask defines his persona and it even symbolises his pride and honour. Indeed, one of the biggest embarrassments for wrestlers is to lose their mask during a fight in the ring. For me, my mask shelters/contains memories. It makes me think about my childhood weekends in Mexico City when I had to accompany my mother to some special sports events. She is an orthopaedist specialised in sports medicine, so she occasionally tended to the injuries of the wrestlers.
Masks also remind me of my ritual visits to the Sonora Market in Mexico City since 2010. Every time I visit my family in Mexico, I try to go to this eclectic market to get masks and other curiosities for my friends in Europe. This market is a unique place since it specialises on the one hand in supplies for parties such as balloons and costumes, and on the other hand in esoteric and religious artefacts that people use for pagan rituals including ancestral herbs, candles, and ‘magical’ objects.
Masks have also enabled me to build a bridge between my homeland and my hostland. One of the best examples was in 2015 when the Royal Albert Hall organised a lucha libre show. From my experience in Mexico, I could have never imagined that one of the most prestigious venues in London would host such a folkloric and exuberant event. I was excited, and I rushed to tell my family in Mexico about the event. To make sure they understood the nature of the show, I used analogies: ‘The Royal Albert Hall is like the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City or the Opéra Garnier in Paris’. The event was a success and it is still one of the most memorable nights out with my friends who contributed to the atmosphere by shouting from fancy red velvet armchairs.
Last, my mask has accompanied me in important life events such as the celebrations after my last exams at the University of Oxford, my wedding, my first academic conference, and my travels. When visiting new places, I always wear my blue mask and take a picture in front of major landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum or Machu Picchu. Besides the images, what I love the most about this tradition is the way it arouses curiosity among people and how it elicits conversations with other travellers or with locals. Overall, my mask has become a vehicle to reaffirm my identity, a vessel for happy memories, and a tool to share stories that make people smile.
Larisa Lara Guerrero
Larisa Lara Guerrero is a PhD Researcher at the University of Liège and at the University of Paris. Her fields of interest include emigration policies, diasporas in conflict, and political transnationalism. She loves art, photography, and data visualisation.