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Mexican Superhero Fighting Water Pollultion

(Photo: El Hijo Del Santo. Sergio Ortiz, Frontera Newspaper, Tijuana )

A Mexican superhero has signed up to help fight water pollution in Mexico. He made his debut earlier this week in a Tijuana canyon, about seven miles south of San Diego. KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson has the story.

Stepping out of his burgundy monster truck, El Hijo Del Santo looks like any well-dressed man. Pressed khaki pants. An olive linen shirt. But then, covering his head -- all but his eyes and mouth -- is his trademark silver mask. A mask that he says is recognized all over Mexico as that of an idol.

El Santo: Como Superman en los estados unidos. Pero la diferencia entre Superman and El Santo, es que El Santo es hueso y sangre.

Mc Cue: He is like the Superman of Mexico. But he is of flesh and bone and he is real. So he can come to the communities and fight with the people for social justice and for the causes in which their fighting.

Ben Mc Cue translates for El Santo.

Mc Cue manages coastal conservation programs for Wildcoast -- a non-profit organization that works on both sides of the U.S. Mexico Border to protect the ocean.

El Hijo Del Santo is a Lucha Libre legend.

Lucha Libre is like the World Wrestling Federation in the United States. Though, the fights take on a more mystical tone. All the wrestlers wear trademark masks to conceal their identity. Each fight is a battle between good and evil.

Mc Cue says El Hijo del Santo contacted Wildcoast after hearing about another one of their campaigns to stop people from stealing sea turtle eggs. Mc Cue says El Santo did not have to twist his arm to sign him up to fight for clean water.

Mc Cue: His record in the ring is impeccable and he also has a social conscience. And so him fighting, taking up this cause, is really the best thing to get people here motivated.

Here is Los Laureles Canyon where about 80,000 people live in mostly makeshift houses cobbled together out of discarded tires and old garage doors.

As the neighborhood kids mob him, El Hijo del Santo stands next to a big pool of raw sewage littered with trash. Twenty years ago there were just a few ranches in this canyon. Since then, the hillsides have been stripped bare.

Tijuana’s booming population has moved in. By some estimates, 2000 new workers arrive in the city everyday. Most people in Los Laureles squat illegally on their land.

The area is largely cut off from city services. Garbage trucks don’t come.

Most of the houses don’t have plumbing, like Castu Tejeda’s. He lives a few blocks away.

Tejeda: We live close to the ocean and we’re neighbors with San Diego. We should contain the pollution because everything runs there.

In fact, Tijuana’s runoff closed Imperial Beach in San Diego for 198 days last year. Tejada says it’s great his kids are learning about how take care of their neighborhood --things like where a plastic bottle goes when you throw it in the street.

Tejada: I’m going to talk with them about what they think and try to raise their awareness.

Tejeda adds government officials have ignored this part of the city for a long time. The wrestler, El Hijo del Santo, says there’s a fight to be waged on the part of residents in this canyon.

He says as a real-life luchador, he has to help battle for social justice, and he says he’s prepared to go head-to-head with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. 

Amy Isackson, KPBS News.

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