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Queretaro's Gran Charreada
Queretaro's Gran Charreada
"living history"

by Kathleen Bennett

Each day I scan the vast numbers of emails from San Miguel's Civil List, pausing only to read those with a subject catching my attention. Several months ago, my eyes spied an intriguing post: "Ride wanted to Queretaro's Gran Charreada". Though I've lived in San Miguel de Allende almost six years and previously in the Baja Peninsula for seven years, I had no idea what a "charreada" was. Little did I know that this routine perusal of emails would lead me to know an exciting, truly Mexican cultural experience.

Quickly I googled charreada (alternate name charreria)to learn that this is a competitive event likened to western-style rodeos in the United States.....yet very different. This spectacle's creation began on former Mexican haciendas and, for this reason, has been described as "living history". Influenced by Spanish traditions brought in the 16th century, the charreada evolved from the demands cowboys and cowgirls faced during their work.

After the Mexican revolution (1910-1920), when charro traditions were quickly disappearing, extended families who wanted to preserve these competitions, continued to meet. Techniques were passed on to younger generations within these families. Today the charreada consists of nine events for men and only one for women. All involve horses, cattle, or both and exhibit various fast and demanding skills. In 2016, the Mexican Charreria equestrian tradition was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Soon I replied to the Civil Lister that I was interested in seeing the Gran Charreada and offered to drive her to the Lienzo Charro Hermanos Ramirez near Queretaro. I did not hear back. I emailed a second time, asking her to let me know if she had found other transportation. I received no reply. When I awakened Sunday, while drinking my morning cup of coffee, I pondered the pros and cons of going alone. Would I find the venue in El Pueblito, Corregidora, a suburb of Queretaro I had never visited before? An online search revealed that advance ticket sales had taken place. Would a ticket be available for purchase at the entrance? On the other hand, when would I learn about another charreada only an hour away from San Miguel de Allende? At moments of indecision such as this, I usually recall Joseph Campbell's advice: "If one steps into the forest and knows where the path leads....there is no adventure!" In other words, to experience true adventures, one must be willing to follow the unknown. Within the hour, I was driving toward Queretaro and my first charreada.

I arrived early to Lienzo Charro Hermanos Ramirez, a large covered arena with seating, and purchased a ticket. Still two hours before starting time, I decided to drive a few kilometers into the center of El Pueblito, a charming old pueblo with a tranquil main square. Nearby is the historic Our Lady del Pueblito Convent wherein is venerated the Patroness of Queretaro. Sunday is market day, so the side streets were lined with vegetables, clothes and food stalls selling beef, chicken, and pork. Alas, I could see nothing for a vegetarian lunch. Though I was hungry, I had almost given up wandering about El Pueblito when a milagro appeared on a street corner: a small crepe cafe offering many vegetarian options and steaming cups of cappucino from an impressive expresso machine. My bill was less than 50 pesos. Another serendipitous adventure!

Returning to the Lienzo Charro Hermanos Ramirez, I found the parking lot almost full and inside an audience of men and women dressed in cowboy boots, wide-brimmed hats, and tight pants with large silver belt buckles. Melodies boomed from the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, a group of perhaps twelve musicians and singers perched high on a stage overlooking the circular performance arena surrounded on three sides with seating. On the fourth side was a straight, wide passage leading to the arena where competitors were practicing on horseback. I found a seat opposite this passageway, in the center of the arena, and was soon surrounded by Mexican couples and families greeting one another with inquiries about ranch-life, cattle purchases, and pickup-trucks. I knew no one and, for a brief time, felt out-of-place. Very soon the couple on my left and the singing threesome to my right were offering me shots of tequilla and explaining how the charreada would proceed.

The colorful opening procession featured two male teams and the women competitors. The charros were dashing in their large sombreros, tailored jackets and slacks glistening with silver buttons cascading down the front and sides. The women were elegant wearing smaller sombreros, white frilly blouses, and full blue skirts allowing them to ride side-saddle.

A short white line had been created across the front of the arena perhaps two meters from the high wall protecting the spectators. One by one men on horses raced from the passageway across the arena, pulling their steads to a halt just before crossing this white line and crashing into the fence. Immediately after two men arrived with measuring tapes recording the distance from gallop to full stop. Next, each horseman started pivoting his horse, one way for some minutes and reversing direction for the same time. The rear feet of the horse scarcely moved, if at all, as circle after circle was accomplished.

An extremely fast event involved a cowboy on horseback, lasso in hand, chasing a calf from the rear of the passageway. Before the calf reach the circular arena, the rope was thrown, fastening the calf's rear legs as it fell to the ground. Quickly the cowboy jumped from his horse and completed the tying-off of the calf's feet. Many of the lassos missed the racing calf altogether; some caught only one rear foot. Both disqualified the competitor's score.

The bronco-bull riding seemed much like I had seen in many Wyoming and Oklahoma rodeos.
The most entertaining aspect of this event is that the supposedly wild-and-crazy bulls often turn out to be docile, unmindful that anyone is on board. In order to achieve a high score, cowboys must kick, prod, and slap these bulls, trying to evoke outrageous anger and a more difficult ride.

My favorite event, hands down, was watching the elegant charras create their quick and complex formations. Groups of women riders would instantly break into "stars", "crosses", or "wagon wheels", swiftly passing one another so closely that their billowing skirts touched. I longed to ride a horse and to feel again the exhilaration of barrel racing, the only rodeo event that had been open to a young Oklahoma girl.

The Gran Charreada in Queretaro was held February 5, 2017, to celebrate 100 years of the Mexican Constitution. This traditional practice is considered a significant aspect of the identity of many Mexicans, enriching their cultural heritage. Practitioners also see the charreada as a way of transferring to younger generations important social values, such as respect and equality for people in their communities. As I drove back to San Miguel Sunday evening, I too felt enriched to have experienced another aspect of Mexico's vibrant history. I truly know what a charreada is.

The Civil Lister whose email had originally piqued my curiosity contacted me the day after the Gran Charreada saying she hadn't checked her email. I thanked her anyway.

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Kathleen Bennett has been an active volunteer since 1988. She currently resides full-time in San Miguel de Allende where she is a well-known guide for Patronato Pro Ninos Historical Walking Tours. This organization helps 12,000 children annually with medical and dental care. She also presents a popular series of virtual walking tours to benefit the Biblioteca titled "San Miguel's Secrets Revealed!" Kathleen previously taught at the University of Colorado, owned a real estate business in Boulder, CO, and is a commercial pilot. She served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Poland, training English teachers, and taught English in China, Ghana, Kenya and Mexico. While living in San Miguel de Allende, Kathleen unabashedly confesses to an insatiable curiosity about its historical treasures.

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