The village of Ajijic is steeped in the Mexican cowboy (charro) tradition. Even when competing in rodeos, the charro presents a cavalier image. He wears a classic sombrero, a silk bow tie, and a well-tailored, silver-ornamented costume that evokes the chivalry of an earlier age. So when I heard that the Ajijic Charro Association was hosting a Mother’s Day bash at their local rodeo arena, I wondered what it would be like.
The stands were overflowing. The “banda” music was blaring. The tequila was—well, let’s just say available. This was, after all, a family affair. Every mother in the crowd received a free ticket for the dozens of prizes that would be raffled off that day.
For entertainment, the crowd got to cheer on teams of mothers who competed for prizes ranging from food baskets to shiny new pots and pans. What? You were expecting perfumes and jewelry? We’re talking traditional motherhood here. The charro culture has barely emerged from the fifties… the eighteen-fifties!
The competitions began with the old standards you might see at any Mother’s Day picnic: musical chairs, tug-of-war. These gradually degenerated to more contemporary contests, such as the foot race where you had to chug a 14-ounce can of malt liquor and spin around three times before you started running. As a result, the distance they ran was considerably longer than the length of the track. Now that the contestants were sufficiently lubricated, they were invited to participate in a not-so-traditional competition—pole dancing. “Gee, Ma, where’d ya learn that?”
But if mothers wanted to graduate beyond the pots and pans and compete for the big bucks (about $100 apiece), they had to sign up for a more charro-oriented competition. The picnic was over. We were now talking full-body-contact sports.
All they had to do was retrieve a red bandana that was tightly tied around the base of the horns of a 300-pound bull calf. How hard can that be? Well, you might ask the charro who opened the gate releasing the bull. He wound up being chased clear across the arena where the bull helped launch him over the wall to safety.
The bull’s horns were padded, but there were still several hundred pounds of prime beef on the hoof ready to take on all comers. This was not like flag football, where you just needed to snatch the bandana as the bull passed by. The only way to get the bandana was to wrestle the bull to a standstill and do your best to untie what my sailor friends used to call a “knife knot.”
The women, each armed with only a blanket, strode bravely into the arena. I’m not sure to what extent the malt liquor helped. Perhaps the bull would have trouble catching them because they couldn’t run in a straight line. Some women tried the matador approach, but that only irritated the bull. It did nothing to stop him in his tracks. Some lined up like bowling pins, only to end up with a 7-10 split. A few thought they could tackle the bull by themselves, only to join the rest of the bowling pins.
Eventually, the women got organized and began acting as a team. One grabbed hold of the bull’s tail, slowing him down. The bravest woman came in from the front, covering the bull’s eyes with her blanket. Others promptly came in from the sides, throwing their arms around the bull’s neck and holding on to the thrashing horns. Eventually, the front woman managed to untie the knot and wave the bandana in a victory dance. The crowd went wild. Hats and seat cushions were thrown from the stands like at a bullfight. The women paraded around the arena like proud matadors, tossing back the hats, and nodding in appreciation.
Bruised and battered, these women had won the honor of shaking the hand of the town mayor as he handed out the cash prizes. But I think the real prize for these women was having earned the respect of the charro community. Their families and friends would forever remember that they were victorious in a rough-and-tumble sport worthy of the charro tradition. And one can only hope their families would forget that their mothers had ever participated in a pole dancing contest.
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