California’s Portuguese community keeps bullfighting alive without bloodshed

in Community

TURLOCK, California — Just like any other Portuguese bullfight, the elegant rider deftly guides his horse around the charging bull’s horns, before bending down to plant a bandarilha in its spine.

Except that no blood is spilled — the small spear is velcro-padded, and sticks to a cushion attached to the bull’s back — and most of the spectators’ cheers are in English.

The scene takes place in Turlock, a small town in the heart of rural California, where tens of thousands of Portuguese-Americans have lived for decades, keeping the traditions of their ancestral homeland alive, not least bullfighting.

But due to Californian law, there can be no bloodshed. 

“The first time I came here in California, 15 years ago, it was like ‘woah, amazing’ because they have everything like Portugal,” said Joao Soller Garcia, a “cavaleiro” or horse rider, who travelled from Lisbon to take part in the bullfight.

“Go to a bullfight in Portugal and it’s the same thing,” he said shortly before entering the arena to be applauded by some 4,000 spectators.

The majority of the crowd are of Portuguese descent — mainly immigrants from the Azores Islands, who began to settle this agricultural area in the early 20th century.

The community has been growing ever since, with its own newspapers, radio stations and associations.

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