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From Tijuana to Madison Square Garden: Mexican Wrestler Rey Mysterio Jr. Celebrates 20 Years In the WWE

On July 25th, Rey Mysterio Jr. celebrates 20 years since his debut in WWE. Rey is the first Latino wrestler to be celebrated in a recent WWE initiative to dedicate a night to wrestlers' 20th anniversary in the company. In May and June, wrestlers Randy Orton and John Cena were celebrated, respectively. The company will celebrate Rey on Monday Night Raw in the “mecca of wrestling arenas” known as Madison Square Garden in New York City. The iconic arena has hosted close to 40 WWE events, including three WrestleManias, since the 1960s. 

These two decades are part of Rey’s larger 30-year career in pro wrestling. Trained by his legendary uncle Rey Misterio Sr. in Tijuana, Rey had his first match a the young age of 14 and soon signed to AAA. He later moved to Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), World Champion Wrestling (WCW), and independent circuits in Mexico and Puerto Rico before signing with WWE in 2002. 

As a kid growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s, pro wrestling brought together the multiple generations living in my household. My grandma did not understand the English language commentators, but she understood the action in the ring. Even when I watch now, I can still hear her commentary from the heavens as if she is in the room with me, yelling “Andale!” to the TV as she follows the back-and-forth exchange between the two wrestlers.

My brothers and I were drawn to the larger-than-life personalities emanating from the television screen. We loved Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero and their on-screen rivalries and friendship. We grew up Mexican American in Southeast San Diego and often spent time at the Chula Vista Mall, located in the city where Rey Mysterio Jr. was born. 

Rey Mysterio and Eddie were the first Mexican Americans I ever saw on television. Even though I was a young girl when I first met them through the television, I could relate to them. They spoke in Spanish and were undeniably proud of who they were in a company that championed (and still champions) much bigger men. Eddie’s lowriders, lingo, humor, and Texas pride made him a crowd favorite and gave him agency in a company that heavily leaned into Latino stereotypes for his character—one where he played a liar, cheater, and a stealer.

At 5’6, Rey played the quintessential underdog that won over fans through his creative lucha libre masks and matching outfits. His masks and outfits have ranged in inspiration from Marvel and DC characters to Aztec warriors. In recent years, he has drawn inspiration from the fancy Louis Vuitton brand and embellished LV onto his wrestling gear. Rey has also paid homage to other wrestlers through his ring gear. He wore Los Gringos Locos tribute gear, a Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA) tag team made up of Eddie Guerrero and Art Barr from the early 90s, at Wrestlemania 38. 

Since the beginning of his time at WWE, Rey set himself apart from his peers at WWE through his lucha libre style. High-flying moves like the West Coast Pop, the Hurricanrana, and the Tilt-a-Whirl gave him an advantage over opponents who could not keep up with his lightning speed.

For Rey to represent as he has for decades has and continues to be a monumental act of resistance against racism and exclusion.

Rey represents his roots every time he performs with his signature move—the 619–where he knocks his opponent down, so their head rests on the second rope. Rey capitalizes on the move by circling back and using the ropes to give him optimal momentum to kick his opponent in the face. When Rey prepares to deliver a 619, he throws one finger in the air, signaling to the crowd to dial in the 6-1-9.

At that time, in the early and mid-2000s, Latino representation was more limited than it is now, and I rarely saw any references to San Diego in the media. Rey Mysterio became an instant favorite for my family and me. He was our hometown boy.

As the years went on, I noticed that Rey had gotten the word “Mexican” tattoed across his stomach. This tattoo stretches out when as he stands on the second rope posing for fans during his entrances. His tattoo ensures that no one forgets that he is M-E-X-I-C-A-N. I later noticed that he added an Aztec calendar on the top part of his chest. I was in awe at how he used body art to make important statements about his identity on national television.

The layers of representation–that of being Mexican from San Diego— are meaningful for me on an individual level and in a broader context. As plenty of scholars and journalists note and as Mexican Americans know based on lived experience, anti-Mexican racism is rampant in society. For Rey to represent as he has for decades has and continues to be a monumental act of resistance against racism and exclusion. His legion of fans shows us that his impact is felt in cities and towns in and beyond San Diego too. 

Not only have you inspired and opened up possibilities for future generations of wrestlers, but you have also inspired young Mexicano and Mexicanas and Chicanos and Chicanas in different corners of the world, like me, to be fearless in our goals and true to ourselves as we challenge various inequalities in society.

Most recently, Rey’s son Dominik Mysterio made his WWE debut in 2020. Fans remember Dominik from Rey and Eddie’s unforgettable fake storyline where Eddie revealed he was Dom’s real father. To this day, fans wear “I am your papi!” shirts at live events to commemorate the storyline and Eddie Guerrero’s legacy. In 2020, Rey and Dom won the Smackdown tag team titles and became the first father-son duo to ever do so in WWE. 

Their tag team signature move is the Double 619. Rey and Dom handing out 619s from either side of one opponent. The double 619 simultaneously honors Rey as a wrestler and recognizes Dom’s entrance into the wrestling world. Father and son, juntos in the ring.

I have enjoyed watching how Rey and Dom protect each other against their opponents and the loving way that Rey talks to his son as he gives him advice on locker room video clips. On a recent Monday Night Raw, Rey gave Dom a kiss on the cheek. The love Rey shows for his son reminds us that although we see Dom as a young man who is taller than his old man, Rey sees Dom as his baby con immense cariño. In doing so, Rey challenges notions of macho masculinity present in pro wrestling and in society. 

To Rey, congratulations, felicidades on your career and on bringing families like mine together for decades. We appreciate your contributions to the art of pro wrestling and for your unwavering pride in being (as his entrance music says) “el vato cabrón de San Diego.” Not only have you inspired and opened up possibilities for future generations of wrestlers, but you have also inspired young Mexicano and Mexicanas and Chicanos and Chicanas in different corners of the world, like me, to be fearless in our goals and true to ourselves as we challenge various inequalities in society.

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