In the age of US President Donald Trump, Mexican-American wrestler Rey Mysterio hopes to promote Latino pride, whether it’s his colourful luchador attire or his iconic mask.
It was a major reason that pushed Mysterio back to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) last year, after having left the WWE back in 2015.
“I am representing my people. I feel it, I know it, I’ve known it from day one, and it’s the most important part of my journey,” he told Al Jazeera.
Arguably the most successful wrestler of Mexican origin in WWE history, Mysterio had 12 title reigns during his previous 13-year stint. He has also won the world championship three times.
But today, he recognises his presence in WWE means a whole lot more than just championships, given the difficulties facing his community in the United States.
“Doing my part in the entertainment world to be able to be a distraction whether for a second or forever for my people, it’s a blessing to be able to do that,” Mysterio said. “It’s very hard to have everybody tuned in in the same state of mind, where we all get equal opportunities and we all get equal love from each and every race that is out there. Unfortunately, some people do not think that way.”
At a time when the US federal law enforcement says hate crimes are spiking, many critics point the finger at President Trump and his administration’s rhetoric and policies.
Trump has attempted to drum up fear of migrants and refugees, deploying troops to the border with Mexico and vowing to build a wall along the frontier.
Mysterio, who spent part of his childhood crossing the border from Tijuana to San Diego each day to attend school, worries that Trump “is definitely not helping”.
“A lot of people have been protesting about it,” he said. “A wall is definitely not the solution.”
Mysterio’s return couldn’t have come at a better time, according to broadcaster Cristian Moreno of ESPN Deportes, the network’s Spanish language sports channel.
“Rey Mysterio, being the great charismatic figure that he is, does a great job promoting how Latinos are hard-working, good people that come to this great country to try and make a better life for themselves,” Moreno told Al Jazeera.
“While some of the points of the Trump administration make sense, much of their rhetoric is absurd, and I believe other Latinos with big platforms should feel encouraged to follow Mysterio in shining to the public eye the good that Latinos contribute,” Moreno added.
Mysterio nearly crossed paths with Trump 12 years ago as part of a WWE storyline, according to former WWE creative writer Court Bauer.
In the supposed plot, Trump was at war with WWE chairman Vince McMahon, which culminated in a showdown at WWE’s showpiece event, Wrestlemania. Each would select someone to fight for them, and Mysterio was in line to represent Trump. But in the end, Trump picked Bobby Lashley.
Explaining that he was unaware of those plans, Mysterio says it is difficult to imagine himself representing Trump in such a scenario.
“Imagine some of those images popping up at this time if I was that person,” he joked. “It would have been interesting to see those pictures floating around these days; Donald Trump with the Mexican-American wrestler Rey Mysterio.”
|Rey Mysterio says he takes pride in his Mexican ancestry [Courtesy of WWE]
Mysterio’s motivation to continue making a difference stems from his own personal struggle. Standing at just 5 feet 4 inches (162.5 cm), he admits that he didn’t have a “normal” physique for a business filled with giants.
But he didn’t let that stop him. Having started training at just eight years old, he would practise every day after school for hours; honing his high-flying craft under the tutelage of his uncle Rey Mysterio Senior, who was a famous luchador in Mexico.
He debuted on the independent circuit at just 14 years old, earning less than $20 a fight in those days. His persistence eventually paid off: he moved on to professional circuits like ECW and WCW before landing at WWE.
‘Leave something behind’
Now a shoo-in for the WWE Hall of Fame, Mysterio believes one of the best ways he can serve his people is making sure the company has a Latino core on its roster that will be there long after he’s gone.
“I want to leave something behind. A lot of fans will still be talking about Rey Mysterio after I am gone. But my purpose isn’t just to leave memories behind,” he said. “My purpose is to help those up-and-coming Latino superstars that are bringing in this lucha libre style, and help them revolutionise the sport.”
Despite being just months into his full-time comeback, Mysterio has already had a string of matches with promising Mexican talent Andrade.
Although not a single Latino performer featured on Wrestlemania’s main card last year, the battles between Mysterio and Andrade have created a buzz in the online wrestling community, which is often difficult to please.
“After going head-to-head with Andrade, the fans are expecting more great matches, and that’s what we’re hoping to do,” he said.
Arguing that he is still at the peak of his career, Mysterio hopes to maintain his recent calibre of performance in order to positively affect his people and inspire future luchadores.
“I know I’m there to represent how I was raised, the lucha libre style… I will know it until I have to hang up my mask.”