Feature photo by Dan Zed
Years ago, when I was old enough to know better but young enough not to really care, I attended a mud-wrestling match. My friends and I had sat around for a few hours–talking, laughing, lounging, wasting time–before we decided we really needed to get up and do something. Anything. One of the boys had a flyer for this thing on Milwaukee near Ashland. Our group was mixed not only racially but there were boys and girls; gay, straight and not-so-straight. There wasn’t any type of entertainment that was strictly off-limits, but it was sometimes difficult coming to a consensus. The mud-wrestling match was cheap, it was nearby, and there were kegs. Sure, I had my objections. Young women in bikinis thrashing around in mud?! How demeaning and sleazy. But, then again, it was young women in bikinis thrashing around in mud!!! It also sounded as if it had the possibility to be titillating–or at least pleasantly kitschy, right? For the sake of advancing research, I decided to back the proposal.
We got there a bit early. The ring was being set up. The ring was basically a large black plastic tarp in the middle of the loft space. Two lights were centered above and there was a camera. I already didn’t like the looks of this. But, at least we were off the couch. Looking around, I noticed that while there were women there, it was mostly men. Mostly young, college-aged white men. Frat boy types. The women who were there were split mostly into two camps: girls dragged there by their boyfriends–against their will, judging by their faces–and others who were either, like me, curious, into this scene or supporting their friends who were wrestling. The loft space was large enough that my group of friends could chill off in the corner while everyone else did their thing in the rest of the space.
Once the match started, though, everyone in the space crowded around the tarp. The hooting and hollering began. Dudes yelled, high-fived each other and pumped their fists. I heard the thuds and grunts of the wrestlers in action. Camera flashes went off. But, I couldn’t see anything from my position so I elbowed my way up to the very front row after about three solid minutes of pushing and tossing my weight around–of which I have a surplus; it is most useful precisely in these situations.
Standing in the front row, shoulder-to-shoulder with the hard, pushy bodies of my new frat boy friends, I looked down at the spectacle. It was every bit as disgusting as I initially thought it would be. The wrestlers were putting on a show–a bad show–for the paying customers. They weren’t actually wrestling, but rather, they were merely taking turns pulling each other down into the mud until the timer went off and the next pair came to relieve them of their duty. One wrestler would pull hair. The other would grab one by the bikini top. Repeat. Once mud flew onto my jeans and shoes during a particularly messy move, I determined my research needed to be concluded. I elbowed my way out of the front row with more determination than I used to get in.
By this time, my friends were also ready to leave, catching word of some other party. I decided to try to use the restroom before we left. The line was 20 deep, but I really had to go. Seeing as they were mostly men, I decided they couldn’t take that long and stayed in line, drinking my beer, waiting my turn. I pulled out a cigarette. Out comes a lighter from the dude behind me. I turn.
“Thanks,” I say.
“Sure, no problem,” says the man behind me.
I try to turn back in the other direction, but it’s too late.
“Hi. I’m Mike. What’s your name?” the guy says as he steps next to me.
“Reyna.” Maybe if I keep my responses brusque, dude will realize I am not interested in talking to him.
“Cool. So, where do you go?” He asks after what was a short awkward pause for him, and a much hoped for relief for me.
“What?” I ask.
“Where do you go to school? I go to Notre Dame,” he says.
“I don’t,” I shoot back.
“Oh.” Another pause. Then he says “So, your name is Reyna? That means queen, right?”
“Yep,” I sip my drink.
“I speak Spanish,” he says proudly. “Are you Spanish?”
“I’m a Chicana,” I say while I wonder to myself, who the hell says Spanish anymore?
“Cool! You know, I love Latinas!” he said while his eyes widened.
“Oh yeah? Me too,” I mumble into my drink, really tired of this whole night.
“What?” he leaned in.
“Nothing, never mind,” I waved my hand dismissively and looked past him.
“Yeah, I mean, I just love Latin culture. And Latin food. And Latin women especially,” he said enthusiastically, and, well, stupidly.
Reaching my limit I say, sarcastically, “Latin culture? What do you mean by that? What are you even talking about?”
“Well, I’ve been to Costa Rica and I like Latin America in general…” he stammered out before I cut him off.
“You ‘like’ Latin America? Well, good for you. It’s a big place you know. Lots of different countries and different cultures and subcultures. And Latinos born here in the US are different still,” I say while trying to map out another available restroom in that neighborhood.
“I just have a thing for the culture overall, I guess. It’s so different from mine. The women are different. They are more passionate and fiery,” he tried to defend himself while my growing anger fit nicely into his paradigm.
“Yeah. I can see how you would say that. Hey, nice talking to you. Have a good night” I said, almost laughing. I waved and walked out of line, three heads down from where I needed to be.
Stepping away, I tried to sort through my anger–mostly for the sake of not pissing my pants. What does “I love Latinas” mean? How condescending is that? Should I be mad that I would have this exchange at all in a place like this? Should I be mad that I should have actually listened to my first reaction–which was not to attend this match? Should I be so angry at this guy? He didn’t seem rude, he just struck me as stupid. But couldn’t someone, in fact, genuinely love Latinas? What did I call myself doing all those times I thought that to myself; what does it mean when I call myself doing just that: loving Latinas? Was I just judging this guy because he looked like a random white dude that didn’t know what’s up? Is my conception of a Latina different from his? Probably, most likely, yes. Is anyone truly free of stereotypical thinking or prejudice? Probably, most likely, no. But, I was tired of thinking in general. Sometimes, it’s just best to walk away.