If everything goes well for RJ Brewer on Friday night, an HP Pavilion crowd
will boo him senseless. His job is to antagonize the mostly Latino audience
during the pro wrestling tour known as Lucha Libre USA.
Among his hobbies, Brewer lists volunteering for the U.S. Border Patrol with a pit bull named Visa. During a recent stop in San Jose, he vowed again to unmask the tour's traditional Mexican heroes taking away American jobs.
"I've asked countless times for these guys to take their masks off, show me their passports, show me their IDs, show me that they're legal to work here in the United States," Brewer thundered during a promotional news conference.
Brewer's political rhetoric is good for business:
Promoters expect to sell out all 8,000 seats this week.
It also tests the bounds of satire. Lucha Libre USA organizers, as well as the tour's fans, say that an over-the-top villain is as old as pro wrestling itself. But immigration activists wonder if this particular punch line goes too far.
"It is absolutely detestable that they would condone repeating such vile hate just to improve ratings and 'get a reaction' from the audience," said Laura Rivas, a spokeswoman for the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights based in Oakland.
By design, Lucha Libre USA is a culture clash, combining the colorful acrobatics of lucha libre, Spanish for "freestyle wrestling," with the English-speaking bravado of American pro wrestling.
Heather Levi, an assistant professor at Temple University in Philadelphia who wrote a book on the sport, noted that matches are essentially a showdown between good and evil -- the tecnicos vs. the rudos.
By that count, Brewer, 32, is a memorable rudo. His character is the purported son of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed legislation requiring immigrants to carry documentation or face arrest. RJ Brewer has been known to wear a copy of that bill, SB 1070, attached to his costume.
Brewer is credited with luring another non-Latino to the tour, Petey Williams, whose biography claims Brewer "convinced him that the Luchastars were taking away American jobs."
While in San Jose last month, Brewer cut off an emcee talking in Spanish to Latino media. "I have it in my contract that this has to start in English or I don't participate," Brewer snapped.
He also looked across the dais at his foe, the Blue Demon Jr., and wondered what would happen if the Mexican wrestlers dared to take off their masks. "Maybe we'll notice them from a kidnapping or a murder," he said.
Gustavo Arellano, a native of Mexico who has written extensively about lucha libre, laughed when told of Brewer's shtick, saying that the character fits the tradition of "a grotesque carnival where stereotypes are played to the hilt."
"Taking off the mask and deporting them? That's awesome. I think it's great," said Arellano, the editor for Orange County Weekly and author of the column "Ask a Mexican." "Yeah, it's offensive, but that's the whole point. (Wrestling) is supposed to be a place where the fan can let go of their inhibitions or let go of their nerves and just root for the good against the bad."
Lucha Libre USA, now in its fourth year, is making its first visit to the Bay Area. This Masked Warriors Live Tour is a 10-stop trek through Western cities with large Latino populations. Los Angeles and Fresno are next.
As the first English-speaking, lucha-style wrestling show in the U.S., the league's matches have aired on MTV2 and MTV's Tr3s, a network aimed at "bicultural Latino youth."
The masks are just one part of the lucha libre tradition, which dates to 1933, being introduced to U.S. audiences. There are also male wrestlers in drag called exoticos, female wrestlers called "Chica Stars," and "Mini Estrellas," who are often diminutive versions of other wrestlers.
The tour's most successful promotional tool, however, is Brewer, who has inspired stories by the BBC, among other outlets. The Los Angeles Times shadowed him for an upcoming profile.
CEO Steven Ship told The Huffington Post that the Brewer story line is a way to bring humor to a serious issue. "The majority of the media treats it in a very serious manner -- but there's no reason it can't also be sort of highlighted in a satirical manner at the same time," he said.
Lucha Libre USA is hardly the first pro wrestling tour to make use of an exaggerated character. The Iron Sheik, playing off the hostilities of the Iran hostage crisis, would inflame patriotic World Wrestling Federation crowds in the 1980s by spitting at the mere mention of the United States.
But Jazmin Segura, a federal policy advocate for the Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network, or SIREN, in San Jose, was taken aback the way Lucha Libre USA uses Brewer to drum up business.
"Even if this is intended to be a satire about Arizona's 'show me your papers' law, what is happening to our communities is no joke," said the UC Berkeley graduate who emigrated from Mexico. "We cannot overlook the fact that SB 1070 is responsible for tearing thousands of American families apart.
"It is a shame that they would support the use of sentiments that undermine and dehumanize hardworking people who are seeking a better future."
Promoters are cagey about phrasing Brewer's alleged affiliation with Gov. Jan Brewer, describing his character's "mother" not by name but as "one of the highest-ranking officials in the nation and holds great power and influence over the state of Arizona."
A spokesman from the governor's office, responding to an email about the wrestler, said "of course" there is no familial relationship and added: "We haven't commented on it and aren't interested in doing so now."
During a calm moment before his fiery news conference in San Jose, Brewer slid into a corner booth at an HP Pavilion restaurant and discussed his role as provocateur. His real name is John Stagikas, and he is a former real estate agent from Massachusetts.
He is coy about whether he believes what he says onstage. (Lizmark Jr., another rudo, apparently buys it, telling the BBC: "It sounds pretty real. People truly hate him, not just when he's in the ring.")
Brewer said that in San Jose he expects to be able to measure the quality of his work by the decibel level.
"You know you're doing your job properly when people are reacting," he said. "I'd rather that (fans) 100 percent hate me and make noise than not do anything at all. Because that leaves you with questions: Do they understand who I am? Do they know what I'm saying?"
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