Spanish/Mexican Millenium Culture loses to 21st Century
Less than 50 feet from the U.S., the massive 25,000 seat Plaza Monumental bullfighting ring in Tijuana, Mexico, sits empty almost every day of the year. Movie viewers can see it in numerous low-budget movies where narcos shoot at each other and police.
The historic “El Toreo” ring east of Downtown Tijuana that hosted 14,000 bull fight fans — Mexicans and Americans – for six decades was torn down several years ago that allowed Monumental to thrive without competition.
The end, however, is in sight. Adios bullfighting. Four of the 31 Mexican states have passed laws outlawing bullfighting specifically. Some states have prohibited rooster cockfighting, as well.
The border state of Sonora, its southern neighbor Sinaloa and the famous state of Guerrero (Acapulco) has been joined by the State of Quintana Roo (Cancun, the Maya Riviera) in abolishing the “spectacle” that traces to the Minoan culture of the Mediterranian Island of Crete. Bullfighting, as we know it, was developed in Spain and brought to Mexico in the 16th Century.
Bullfighting became so culturally dominant in Mexico that the bullfighting ring in Mexico City holds 100,000 people. Ernest Hemingway introduced bull fighting to America in his first published book, THE SUN ALSO RISES. Hollywood was not far behind with BLOOD IN THE SAND with Rita Hayworth and Tyrone Power.
Sundays in Tijuana during American Prohibition was Hollywood South.
Famous Hollywood people filled trains at LA’s Union Station heading the 150 miles south to the Tijuana’s Agua Caliente Resort and Casino, North America’s largest casino at the time; the Agua Caliente Country Club where $100,000 golf tournaments were invented with fairways lined with slot machines, to the Agua Caliente Race Track where the first $100,000 purse race was held and to every Tijuana bar and restaurant that served every alcohol-based drink made in the world.
Summer Sundays in Tijuana included bull fights at the “El Toreo” Downtown ring within two kilometers of the aforementioned Hollywood “playgrounds.”
By the 1960s, Prohibition was gone, rich purse horse racing and golf tournaments arrived in California and Las Vegas was born. Nonetheless, Hollywood still came on summer Sundays to Tijuana for bull fights.
As part of my Public Relations job at Caliente Race Track, I hosted Hollywood’s best to Summer Sunday bullfights. We sat in the shady side of the ring where the seats cost $50 American dollars; seats in the sun drenched side, paid $20.
I loved bullfighting, it was in my blood. Shortly after arriving in the U.S. from my native Mexico, my grandmother signed me up for Mexican dance classes (Folklorico) at San Diego’s Neighborhood House, an eastern-style settlement house for poor neighborhood children. I didn’t want to go, I wanted bull fight lessons. I was six years old. Grandmother won.
During the years I worked at the Caliente Race Track in Tijuana (1967-1971) I hosted luminaries from the arts, entertainment, European royalty and men and women from American politics and government. That included hosting many at the Sunday bullfights during the summer. I enjoyed the “spectacle.”
Then one day in September of 1970, I took my three brothers and we drove east over the San Diego mountains to the agricultural Imperial County to hunt doves. That day I realized how dumb it was to shoot beautiful birds. I quit hunting.
Three years later, I took my new wife to a bullfight and she said never again. When I started a San Diego to Tijuana tour company I offered a bullfight tour and was swamped with customers, but I never went to one again. I quit.
Now Mexican legislators are ending the two millenium Spanish and Mexican “spectacle” that so enchanted Ernest Hemingway and millions on Sunday afternoons. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has even suggested a national referendum to outlaw bullfighting nationally.
Mexico has entered a new cultural paradigm. Certainly, it is only four states of 31, but it’s a start. Traditionalists are fighting the anti-bullfight movement but more states will come aboard because the new laws also provide better treatment of animals.
For example, they don’t just outlaw traditional bullfighting in which the animal is wounded many times then killed, but will protect animals used to carry goods, wood, or anything (horses, donkeys, burros) by limiting the cargo weight they carry to – with a saddle – not more than 25% of the animal’s weight.
Paradoxically, the four bullfight-prohibiting states, Sonora, Sinaloa, Guerrero and Quintana Roo, are four of the six most violent narco-states where shoot-outs with police and troops occur almost daily and where thousands of people die, victims of narco wars.
Cultures change slowly. Mexico is no different. The U.S. also changes slowly. It was just a few days ago that President Trump signed into law a bill that makes maltreatment of pets a federal crime.
It appears that the 21st American/Mexican Century will be kinder to animals. That is as good as it gets until we can end violence of people on people.