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Oceanside Reins In Plans for Ethnic Rodeo

October 20, 2002|Beth Silver | Special to The Times

OCEANSIDE — There's the traditional textbook picture of a charro, or Mexican cowboy, who pays homage to his warrior ancestry in disciplined rodeo maneuvers that take years to master.

And then there's the view of some City Council members, who conjure up a swaggering, beer-guzzling and tequila-toting misfit who displays his machismo by lassoing his horses by the legs.

The images clashed last month when a local group of charro and their families, in full rodeo dress, pitched a plan to make a four-acre plot of city land their permanent home.

The charros and their children told of a sport that has become an art and of weekly events that have become family gatherings with folk dances, music, lasso tricks and, of course, the rodeo itself.

One council member came back with accounts she had read of a tradition of alcohol and macho behavior.

The charros say that's a racist view.

The councilwoman, Carol McCauley, says it's reality.

"I'm not a prude by any means and I love tequila," McCauley said. "[But] one of their traditions before these charreadas, or rodeos, was heavy drinking. There's no bones made about it that the true tradition of the charros is that. It gives them the courage to go out and participate in the sport without any fear of the broken bones and injuries. That's unacceptable to me."

The council laid the plan aside indefinitely at its Sept. 18 meeting. It will be at least January before the council votes on the proposal.

At issue is a patch of city land, designated for recreational use, called Ivey Ranch Park. It is covered with dirt and a stubble of brittle grass. It's surrounded by a horseshoe of ramshackle buildings and gardens, an aviary, a tiny jungle gym, a group that provides care for children, many of them disabled and a center that trains dogs for the disabled.

The Asociacion Charros de Jose Mario Morales was formed 25 years ago. The group was orphaned in the mid-'90s when a developer bought the Encinitas site of the association's stables and rodeo arena to build strip malls and mega-stores.

The charros have since scattered around the area, using nearby Escondido's facilities, boarding their horses in their backyards and practicing only at meets, said Michael Chez, a charro and the group's spokesman.

But the issue goes beyond location, he said. It even goes beyond tradition.

Although drinking may occur at other Mexican rodeos, called charreadas, he said, it would be banned at Oceanside's. It's against the charros' national association rules. The same would be true of some of the more controversial rodeo practices, such as horse tripping, in which a charro ropes a horse at the legs, pulling tighter and tighter until the animal drops to the ground. The practice is illegal in California.

"What do they have against us? This is a different breed of people. If we are changing, why not give us a break?" Chez asked.

Esther Sanchez, the only Latino member of the council, said her fellow council members' comments hurt and surprised her. In a city of 170,000, a third of whom are Latino, she said it showed an insensitivity to a major portion of the population.

"Those statements were the most racist statements I've ever heard from this council," Sanchez said.

McCauley cringed at the accusation of racism, which she denied. And she was joined by the rest of the five-member council, except for Sanchez, in voting, for a variety of reasons, to defer action on the charros' plan.

"It has nothing to do with [the charros'] background," said the city's mayor, Terry Johnson.

The field is one of the few remaining pieces of city-owned parkland. The City Council had envisioned a ballpark or soccer field, not a dusty rodeo that would attract, among other things, flies and traffic, Johnson said.

The charros wanted to set up a lienzo, or arena, where they would practice and perform, along with stables for 18 horses. In addition to the rodeos, the charros would provide therapeutic riding time for the disabled children at the nonprofit Ivey Ranch Park Assn. and from the area.

The charros and a volunteer group that has allied with them called PRIDE, or the Pacific Rim Institute for Development and Education, would invest about $190,000. The city would be responsible for about $120,000 and giving the charros a 30-year lease on the field.

Portable stadium seating would be erected around a microphone-shaped dirt stage. That, too, presents a problem, Johnson said. The charros estimate 500 people could attend their events, and there is not enough parking for such numbers in a spot already crowded with houses, a nearby church and the historic Mission San Luis Rey, Johnson said.

Johnson said the city may still be able to accommodate the charros, just as is done in many cities in California and around the country. Although he said he thought nearby cities with more available parkland might be more compatible, he said he plans to meet with the charros in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, Sharleen Maldonado, of the PRIDE charity group based in Carlsbad, said the only alternative that would satisfy her would be to elect a new City Council. McCauley and another councilwoman are up for reelection next month. Maldonado said she plans to organize a political action committee and start collecting donations to unseat the incumbents Nov. 5.

"We're just taking on Oceanside," Maldonado said.

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