Andres Lozano and his friend Antonio Gonzalez Sr. tried to shade their eyes from the scorching sun as they watched Gonzalez's 10-year-old son, Antonio, execute a series of rope tricks and then leap onto his horse, Rufian.
As the younger Gonzalez, wearing a sombrero, raced the white quarter horse back and forth in front of his father's cramped stables, Lozano wiped his brow and shrugged.
"It's a shame he doesn't have a place to ride," he said in Spanish. "It's like having a 68-foot yacht and no water to put her in."
The two Wilmington residents hope that won't be the case for long.
Lozano, Gonzalez and about 20 other Latino businessmen, all members of the Charro Assn. La Altena of Pico Rivera, are searching for a place in Wilmington where they can build a 6,000-seat arena to hold charreadas.
Similar to the American rodeo, the charreada is a traditional Mexican sport in which charros test their skill and courage against wild bulls and broncos.
After a year looking for a site and being kicked out of a city-owned lot where they had practiced, the men are desperate.
'We Need to Find Land'
"We have tried everywhere," said Lozano, who estimated that an 8- to 10-acre parcel would be needed. "We are willing to take out loans on our homes and businesses to pay for it. We just need to find the land."
Susan Prichard, an aide to Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, said the city is willing to help, but finding land is difficult.
"There are very few lots available that would be suitable for this," she said. "It would have to be far enough from residents that it wouldn't bother them."
Because of the proximity to the Port of Los Angeles, land in Wilmington is in high demand by shipping and transport companies, she said.
"I would call this a positive institution for our area," said Jo Ann Wysocki, vice president of the Wilmington Home Owners Assn. "It would be a definite plus for Wilmington."
For months, several of the charros met twice a week on an empty lot at 1400 N. Gaffey St., Lozano said. But a month ago officials from the Building and Safety Department and the Sanitation Department told the men they could no longer practice there, Prichard said.
Gonzalez said that the men had authorization to keep horses there, but that city officials kicked them out when the men began to practice riding and roping.
Pico Rivera Arena
The charro association in Pico Rivera has an 8,000-seat arena where regular charreadas are held, but Gonzalez and Lozano say that arena is too far for Wilmington residents. They say they want an arena closer to home where they can bring in big-name Mexican celebrities like Vicente Fernandes and Juan Gabriel. Not only will the charreadas raise tax dollars for the city, but they will bring family entertainment to an area visited by foreigners year-round, they said.
And although the men are desperate, they want an arena they will be proud of.
"We do not want to build a charro arena in some junkyard and show the Americans a pigpen," Lozano said. "We want to show them something of dignity."
Like bullfighting, charro riding is a ritualized spectacle that is seen by participants as not just a sport, but a dangerous test of courage and skill--and an opportunity for a celebration.
In the United States, the sport is perhaps best known for its colorful uniforms. Charros are decked out from head to toe in wide-brimmed sombreros, scarfs, leather chaps, vests, jackets, specialized boots and a variety of spurs.
Tradition Runs Deep
Americans often liken charros to cowboys.
But the tradition of the charro is much deeper, Lozano and Gonzalez said. Mexico's national sport is the charreada, the national costume is the charro outfit and the national dance--the Mexican Hat Dance--is associated with the Mexican rodeo. Today the charreada remains the favorite celebration for such Mexican national holidays as Cinco de Mayo and Mexican independence day, Sept. 16.
The rules and manner in which the charreada is run also differ from those of an American rodeo. In a rodeo, a bull rider tries to stay on for 8 seconds. A charro stays on until the bull stops bucking. A rodeo rider on a bronco leans back and hangs on with one hand. A charro hangs on with both hands and leans forward.
All told, there are nine different events, or suertes, performed by the charro s, including various tests of horse-roping, horse-riding and bull-riding skills. Judges score performances based on a point system.
Most popular in Mexico, where charro rings are found throughout the nation, the sport has a national federation that oversees activities north of the border. There are more than 35 charro associations in the Los Angeles area, with the nearest one in Pico Rivera.
Jump Through Hoop
At his father's stable in Wilmington, Antonio demonstrated some of the charro's more difficult moves. Wearing the charro sombrero, Antonio spun a rope hoop, leaped through it, and then tried to lasso an imaginary horse.
"There is supposed to be a horse running past," he said. "You get more points if you jump through the hoop before you lasso it."
More than anything, Lozano and Gonzalez want the arena so they can have a place to demonstrate to family, friends and visitors a significant part of Mexican culture.
"The time is overdue to show everyone that we are proud and respectful of our traditions," Gonzalez said. His son, Antonio, who has been training and participating in charreadas for three years, agrees.
"I am American," he said. "But my heart is Mexican."