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ilbegone 08-22-2013 08:10 PM

Mexican dwarfs seek respect in bullfighting
Mexican dwarfs seek respect in bullfighting

ACAPULCO, Mexico — It was just after midnight, long past bedtime for the children in the stands, as the Original Bullfighting Dwarfs of Mexico began their show.

Ignacio Zaragoza raised his wooden sword at a calf that was almost his height. The calf pawed the ground, Zaragoza flicked his matador's cape, and the duel between man and beast began.

"Olé!" shouted the crowd, as Zaragoza spun away, knelt and snapped the cape again. "Olé! Olé!"

It's a spectacle repeated on weekends across Mexico as troupes of dwarf bullfighters thrill audiences at fairs, patron-saint festivals and nightclubs.

Some of the troupes tour the USA, where they bring a taste of home to Mexican migrants from Oregon to Florida.

Critics worry that the shows propagate stereotypes, but the troupes provide steady jobs in a country where employment discrimination is rampant. The bullfighters say they try to tread a fine line between being laughed at for their size and respected for their skill.

"When we run around, our movements are just naturally humorous," said Gustavo Vázquez, the manager of a troupe known as the Giants of the Bullring. "But we also put on a quality variety show, and the bullfighting is real. The goal is for the audience to see past the fact that we're little people."

Unlike traditional bullfights, the animals are not harmed. Calves are used instead of full-size bulls.

Competition among the troupes is so intense that many have added other attractions: The Bullfighting Dwarfs of Torreón jump through burning hoops on all-terrain vehicles, while a group from Guadalajara sings and does impersonations.

The tradition started in the 1970s when a Spanish promoter first toured Mexico with a troupe of dwarf bullfighters, said Livia Corona, a New York-based photographer who has documented Mexico's dwarf bullfighters for eight years. Her book about them, Enanitos Toreros, will come out in December.

There are 10 to 20 bullfighting troupes employing about 200 little people nationwide, said Rigoberto Madrigal, president of the Little People of Mexico, a support group for people with dwarfism.

"The shows are denigrating, but some of these people have no other way of making a living," Madrigal said. He said he worries the shows promote an image of little people as circus oddities.

A matador may make $100 a show, but other performers earn as little as $50. To make ends meet, one member of the Original Bullfighting Dwarfs troupe shines shoes during the week. Zaragoza, the matador, peddles DVDs on the street and taught himself bullfighting by watching television.

"Here, little people don't have the kind of support that you have (in the USA)," bullfighter Jorge Reyes said. "Here, a little person really has to work."

The Original Bullfighting Dwarfs do 100 shows a year. About one-third are in the USA, though manager Eduardo Ferandel said the U.S. dates have declined recently as Mexicans become more afraid of raids by U.S. immigration agents. Few non-Mexicans go to the U.S. shows, the performers said.

"I think Americans may not understand what we do," said Javier Landa, another performer. "They may think we go out there to be laughed at, but that's not the case.

"If a little person can fight a bull, he can do anything. That's what we're trying to prove."

Ayatollahgondola 08-26-2015 06:31 PM

I'm almost glad I haven't seen this. My aversion to mexican TV, and travel to mexico has spared me this spectacle :D

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