In the heart of California, the Portuguese community keeps the bullfight alive, bloodless

TURLOCK, USA: As in any Portuguese bullfight, the elegant rider deftly swings his horse around to avoid the horns of the charging bull, then bends down to stab him. with an ice.

Except there was no bleeding – the Velcro-equipped bandage was just hanging from a pad attached to the bull’s back – and most of the audience spoke English.

Because the setting takes place in the small town of Turlock, in the heart of rural California, where tens of thousands of Portuguese-Americans have established over the decades and continue to uphold their traditions, among which The most prominent is the bullfight.

No bloodshed, required by California law.

“The first time I went to California, fifteen years ago, I said +wow! +. It’s unbelievable because they have everything like in Portugal,” said Joao Soller Garcia, a professional racer specially from Lisbon to participate in the Turlock bullfight.

“Go to a bullfight in Portugal and you’ll find the same thing,” he said, shortly before entering the arena to a standing ovation of about 4,000 spectators.

The majority of them came from Portuguese immigrants – mainly from the Azores archipelago – who began settling in this agricultural area in the early 20th century.

The community has continued to grow since then, with newspapers, radios, associations, etc.

– A bull with horns –

Nunes, Gomes, Martins, Oliveira … the names attest to this heritage that some 350,000 Californians (out of a total of 39 million) proudly claim to be theirs, who are often fiercely attached to the culture. and their language.

This is the case of José, 30, who came to watch a bullfight with a group of friends. The young California-born man switched from English to Portuguese without even knowing it. “It came naturally to me. Many people here speak Portuguese in their daily lives, even the youngest (…) For me, sometimes it’s easier to express my feelings or make jokes in Portuguese. Portugal,” he explained.

In the Turlock arena, the Portuguese flag flew alongside the American flag but when the party started, the Portuguese national anthem was played first, proof of Portugal’s importance in this small part of central This California.

Former president of the Turlock religious association that organizes bullfighting, Antonio Mendes revived the tradition in the city in 1993.

“We’re Portuguese and it’s part of our way of life, especially on the island (in the Azores) where I’m from,” said the English speaker, who spent decades in Turlock, love to speak their mother tongue and get translated.

A cattle rancher, Mr Mendes also helped create a line of bulls still used today in Portuguese bullfighting in the area.

As in California, bulls cannot be stung by real bugs, they are not weakened as much as in Portugal and need to develop specific strains that are both strong and less heavy.

“Here the bulls weigh from 400 to 450 kg, because it has no blood. In Portugal, they weigh about 600 kg, they are huge”, explains George Martins, captain of a “forcados” team.

These “fortresses”, who were always accompanied by teams of eight men, all amateurs, were supposed to immobilize the bull with their bare hands, thus symbolizing its death. Because unlike Spanish bullfighting, in Portuguese style, the animal is never killed in the arena.

These daredevils are nicknamed the “suicide squad” for a good reason: one of the “fortresses” is literally the job of being rushed by the bull and taking it by the horns, receiving it. an impressive head-butt to the stomach, before his companions began to swarm.

George Martins notes: “It’s not just brute force, it requires a lot of technique.

– “All his strength” –

A bullfighting enthusiast since he was a child, Joao Soller Garcia said he loves the classic Portuguese style as well as its bloodless California style. But “compared to Portugal, it’s a bit more dangerous because the bull is uninjured (…) He’s got all his strength,” insists the rider.

Maxine Sousa-Correia, whose rancher family has been producing bulls for bullfighting in California since the 1970s, loves the use of Velcro on bandages, which is regulated by law.

“Unfortunately, it’s just an imitation but it’s the best we can do (…) But we don’t do justice to this animal,” said the bull enthusiast.

“It sucks!”, her husband, Frank Correia.

“We should do it like in Portugal. But we can’t, because we’re in the United States and they don’t know how to appreciate this art,” grumbled the cowboy-like man.

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