By Nell Haynes, on 14 October 2013
This is a case study from La Paz Bolivia, where I did research on local wrestlers for my PhD. When I first interviewed them in 2011, almost every one of them asked me at some point if I had “face”. Using the English word within otherwise purely Spanish dialogue, “tienes face?” they were asking if I used Facebook. I quickly became “friends” with all of them on the social networking site as a way to stay in touch, especially during times that I returned to the United States.
I quickly learned that for the wrestlers, Facebook functioned as a way to stay in touch with many people abroad. They saw the connections they were able to make on the internet as one of the most important ways of achieving international exposure. Whether inviting foreign wrestlers to perform in La Paz or organizing their own trips to perform in Lima, Santiago, or Buenos Aires, Facebook was a primary way of connecting with different international groups.
Often after a long afternoon of training in the ring, we would walk back to the main avenue and stop in a small shop with several computers set up as an internet café. As we stared at the screens, everyone had a browser tab open with Facebook. Of course the wrestlers would look at their friends’ pictures or send birthday wishes, but they spent most of their time connecting with wrestlers from other countries. They were members of online virtual facebook groups devoted to wrestling, which would occasionally have scheduled discussions. Discussion topics ranged from the latest WWE pay-per-view program to moves wrestlers were working on. But the most important were discussions about travel and the arrival of visiting wrestlers.
We would stay at the internet shop sometimes for almost two hours, as I silently whined in my head that it was already 9pm and I just wanted to go home and sleep after several hours of tough physical activity. But I slowly understood the importance of these interactions. For just 50 centavos an hour, the wrestlers were participating in what they saw as an international community of which they wanted to be a part.
These evenings spent in the internet café can be understood as a kind of imagined cosmopolitanism, in which the wrestlers desired to connect with others, overcoming spatial constraints to feel a sense of “worldliness.” For Bolivian wrestlers, their involvement with wrestlers in other countries allowed them to see themselves and the group as part of “international lucha libre” despite the fact that they rarely if ever traveled to perform outside of Bolivia, and visits by foreign wrestling groups were only occasional.