Category Articles Past to 2005

Mexico’s Real-Life ‘Superheroes’ Are Caped Crusaders for Justice

Originally posted:
Campaign: Taking inspiration from cartoon crime stoppers and wrestling stars, a string of social activists is donning outlandish costumes to fight for worthy causes.
MEXICO CITY — Faster than a bolt of lightning? Doubtful. Able to leap tall buildings? Not a chance.
Mexico’s newest superhero rushes into his headquarters, the office of the Union of Electrical Workers, flustered and breathing heavily under his leather and nylon mask after jogging from his car.
Even Super Luz–Super Light–can have trouble finding a parking space.
But when duty calls, this mere mortal slips into tights and cape to campaign against the government’s plan to privatize the power industry and to defend the interests of his fellow pole-climbers and linemen.
Just what compels a grown man reared in a macho culture to dress up like a cartoon character–and do it with a straight face?
“Precisely that the human being, the Mexican . . . needs the existence of heroes to be able to continue enduring a common and ordinary life,” Super Luz says.
Putting up with years of rampant crime and widespread government wrongdoing has left many Mexicans exhausted and cynical. But the sight of Super Luz thrusting his fist into the air can cause weathered electricians to crack a smile.
“Go, Super Luz!” one man cheers when the masked man bounds through–not over–the union building in downtown Mexico City.
Super Luz is just the latest in a string of Mexican social activists who have taken inspiration from comic book crime fighters and stars from the country’s unique genre of professional wrestling movies.
They trace their origin to El Santo (The Saint), a wrestler named Rodolfo Guzman whose silver mask propelled him to fame on the silver screen starting in 1958.
Guzman starred in dozens of films battling criminals, demons, witches and zombies before his death in 1984. “El Santo Against the Vampire Women” of 1962 is a kitsch classic, and his character continues to inspire a cult following as well as lyrics in Mexican rock music.
The passage from screen to streets came in the wake of Mexico City’s horrendous 1985 earthquake, when an incarnate superhero sprang to life to rally support for the thousands of homeless neglected by the city’s overwhelmed government.
He was Super Barrio, a paunchy figure in red and yellow spandex who became a cult idol for his attacks on the administration of the dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party. He led protest marches and rallies and helped form the Assembly of Barrios–a neighborhood coalition that defended the rights of the poor.
Super Barrio has kept a low profile since the leftist opposition won control of the city government in 1997, and he declined to be interviewed.
Other masked heroes have followed his path: Super Universal Ecologist fought to save the environment; Super Puppy explained the need to treat pets humanely; Super Policeman railed against corruption; Super Woman cheered women’s rights; and Super Gay denounced homophobia.
One of the longest lasting has been Super Animal. Like El Santo films in which the bare-chested, masked hero met desperate clients in his bookshelf-lined office, Super Animal welcomes visitors in costume from behind his desk in a disturbingly normal middle-class neighborhood.
The costume, he explains, is a sure-fire means of attracting attention to his cause: fighting for the rights and lives of animals–a battle he admits is difficult in a society enamored of bullfights, cockfights and meat-filled tacos.
But the mask and outfit are not only attention-getters, he says. They are a necessity for Mexicans who adore ritual.
“If they were to go to a church and see a priest come out for Mass in a T-shirt and jeans, would they like it or would they ask, ‘What’s going on, Father?’ He has to put on his vestments to reach the faithful,” Super Animal says.
“Here in Latin America people really like characters–professional wrestling, the films of El Santo. People like the masks.”
Super Animal and Super Luz, both of whom ask to have their real names kept secret, say they have taken the common man’s love of entertainment–specifically, professional wrestling–and sharpened it into a means of attacking a government they contend is intent on keeping the masses sated with bread and circuses.
Mexican television, with its history of state control, has been used to divert public attention from real problems, Super Luz says.
“What the mass media have given us is simply trash,” he says. “We are saying: Fight! Fight for economic stability for your families. Don’t remain asleep because the federal government is trying to bombard us so that the people will be stupid, conquered and forgetful of problems while they are focused on wrestling, soccer and soap operas.”
For Super Luz, Mexico could use even more superheroes–with or without masks.
“I believe everyone has an important fight because in Mexico there are many things that should be done,” he says. “And if there isn’t someone who says, ‘Here I am to do it,’ then no one will.”

Defender of justice Superbarrio roams Mexico City

poorMEXICO CITY (CNN) — He’s faster than a speeding turtle, able to leap small speed bumps in a single bound. Look, up in the sky … Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Superbarrio — a flabby caped crusader in cherry red tights who traverses the streets of Mexico City, defending the lower class.
A high school dropout with a humble upbringing, Superbarrio has become one of Mexico City’s greatest folk heroes. For the past 10 years, he has stood as the champion of the working class, the poor and the homeless.
Superbarrio roams Mexico City
“I opened my eyes and found myself as you see me with a voice telling me, ‘You are Superbarrio,'” he said, explaining that his name means super-neighborhood. “I can’t stop a plane or a train single-handed, but I can keep a family from being evicted.”
His true identity remains a mystery, masked behind his quirky outfit. By day, he’s a street vendor, but at any time he can squeeze into the flashy tights to fend off evil. Little else is known about the masked man, fitting of a true superhero.
His role is primarily symbolic as the protector of low-income neighborhoods. But on behalf of squatters and labor unions, Superbarrio leads protest rallies, files petitions and challenges court decisions. Rumors also have circulated that he attempted to run for the president of the United States to better protect Mexican workers.
He says his mission is simply to protect the right of ordinary people.
Superbarrio, meanwhile, continues to stroll the streets of Mexico City seeking to uphold justice and defend the weak.
Correspondent Chris Kline contributed to this report.

Supergay outs macho Mexicans

Orignally Posted:
Who is that masked man – in the spandex pants? Phil Davison on a new folk hero
Phil Davison
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a professional wrestler? No, it’s Supergay, caped crusader for homosexual rights in macho Mexico.
Dressed in black spandex with a pink-sequinned cape, black mask and rainbow symbol, the country’s latest colourful folk hero stepped out of an underground comic book and appeared as large as life in the capital last week.
“It is time to come out of the closet. I am a symbol all gays and lesbians can identify with,” he said as he and two fellow rights campaigners, Superbarrio and Superecologist, symbolically “closed down” the Mexico City headquarters of the strongly Catholic and conservative National Action Party (PAN). The country’s fourth caped avenger, Superanimal – who fights for animal rights – was indisposed.
From as far back as the Aztecs, on through the days of Spanish colonial rape, Mexicans have traditionally hidden behind masks in more ways than one. In the cases of Superbarrio, Superecologist and Superanimal, the outfits are a publicity-grabbing gimmick. But in a country where men still wear cowboy boots, often tote pistols and prefer their wives to stick to making tortillas, Supergay’s mask may serve the strictly functional purpose of saving him from being beaten up. Some locals immediately branded him Supermaricon (Superpoof).
Superbarrio, formerly an all-in wrestler, was the first caped and pot- bellied crusader for the oppressed. He emerged when the government was slow to rebuild poor barrios in the wake of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. So popular did he become that he has twice been cloned – three men now take turns to wear the costume. Superecologist and Superanimal followed over the last few years. Then along came the slimline Supergay, pronounced by some as in English, by others as in Spanish, when it sounds like Superguy.
“We symbolically sealed off the PAN building because of the party’s gay- bashing policies,” says Rafael Cruz, spokesman for Mexico’s Circle of Gay Culture organisation. “They forced the cancellation of a meeting in Guadalajara of the International Lesbian and Gays’ Association and continue to block individual rights.”
In the face of Mexico’s long-standing machismo, where borracheras (drunken binges) and la casa chica (“the second home,” or mistress) are what make a man a man, Mexico’s gays and lesbians are emerging only slowly.
“Homophobia still permeates Mexican society. Repression is total,” says Mr Cruz. “Five years ago, maybe 300 people took part in our annual Gay Rights March. “Last year, we got 2,500. But that was a group phenomenon. Individually, almost everyone is still in the closet. And we have a saying in Mexico: ‘El closet mata’ (The closet kills).
“Some gay groups think that, behind the macho facade, 10 per cent of Mexico’s 90 million people may be gay or lesbian, but who knows? Among politicians, entertainers et cetera, there are strong rumours as to who is gay. But no one has come out. Everybody knows that Juanga [popular singer Juan Gabriel] is gay, but he’s never said so.”
“You can’t hold hands or kiss here. The police extort money from us even if we stroll together in Alameda Park,” says Supergay, a 26-year-old computer engineer and graduate of the University of Mexico. His character began as a comic book hero in a free gay newsletter distributed by the Circle of Gay Culture.
“The only places we can really show our sexual orientation are the gay or lesbian bars but the authorities shut some down or blocked entertainment shows claiming they were ‘dens of prostitution’.” Gay men in the capital frequent bars such as el Taller (the Workshop), or Tom’s, favoured by “the black leather set”. Lesbians hang out in Enigma or El Gab, named after its owner, Gabriela.
“Gay transvestites have been murdered and the cases were never cleared up,” says Supergay. “Earlier this month, the owner of a gay bar, Bar 14, was horribly murdered. Someone bored a hole through him with a drill.”