Michele and I went to the Woodside Jr. Rodeo on the 4th and I kept thinking Nobody can look at this and not think that California is a western state in a way that I should have realized was already trying to talk myself into liking it. Less than 5 miles from our home is the home to The Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County and every year they hold a junior rodeo that Michele and I went to for the first time this year.
The parking lot was full of oversize SUVs and pickups towing horse trailers and people wandering around wearing cowboy hats.As an aside, this was probably the first time in, atleast, ten years that I have been to a California event that the trash barrels were not segregated by recycling and trash. End aside.
California’s Rodeo Heritage goes all the way back to the late 1700’s when we were a province of New Spain. Less than a year after we became a state in 1850, the legislature passed the 1851 Act to Regulate Rodeos formalizing rodeos as part of our culture. As another aside, I grew up saying ro-day-oh and people still use that pronunciation, which comes from the Spanish, when talking about the San Francisco Grand National Rodeo or the California Rodeo in Salinas, or the Beverly Hills street, but most of the time, rodeo is pronounced ro-dee-oh which comes from the Texan mispronunciation. End aside.
As Gail Cousins said, Rodeo is great entertainment, at a horrific cost to the animals. I’m not so sure about the great entertainment part, but it was hard for me to sit there, watching a rodeo and not think about racism and animal abuse.
For starters, when the contestants are introduced, the ones on foot are mostly Mexican-American and the ones on horses are mostly European-Americans.I assume that is because, owning a horse is a rich person’s enterprise and, if you want to do something in a rodeo but don’t have a horse, you are left with bull riding (or calf riding since this is a junior rodeo). Calf riding seems terrifying for the kids and calves alike. Its one redeeming factor is that it has a long heritage – going all the way back to bull riding in Crete about 4000 years ago – going back to a time when we , humans, had a different sensibility. In my book, that doesn’t offer much redemption.The horse events are more fun to watch, not because they require more skill, but because everybody, animal and rider alike, seem to be having a better time. Then came the pig scramble in which young children chase even younger piglets. This being Woodside at the hyper wealthy, northwestern, edge of Silicon Valley, the piglets were heritage – Red Wattle and Berkshire – free range, pigs from a local farm. My hope is that they return to a more peaceful life on the farm, but, while they were here, the squealing piglets were tracked down, for our pleasure, by the marauding children. It was fun in a sort of Why am I enjoying watching these pigs get terrified? way. Watching the rodeo, I kept thinking rodeo is part of California’s heritage, but I kept saying to myself, But it’s not our only heritage. As even another aside, rodeos are not just a Western US thing, somehow, the Germans became fascinated by Cowboys and Indians, over a hundred years ago, and now have their own rodeos as the picture of Gina Schumacher, the daughter of the great German Formula One driver from Germany, Michele Schumacher, riding in a rodeo on their family ranch in Switzerland, testifies to. End aside.
When I started this, the Confederate Battle Flag was in all the headlines and Heritage not hate was the shibboleth of the day for those people still flying that hateful flag. The combination of the rodeo and the flag got me thinking about heritage and, especially, California’s heritage. When the Europeans discovered California, it was already occupied by people who had discovered California about 15,000 years earlier.
There was no European Native American Thanksgiving, in California the opening sequence of our contact was for the Europeans to set up a series of slave camps. The indigenous people were rounded up and forced to build the Missions that we so love. When I was a kid, somewhere around the fourth grade, we were taught that the Spaniards were here to bring Culture to the Indians. Now, I am glad to say, the fourth graders – approximately – are being taught the real story; that these were slave camps.
We must have liked those camps, however, because we re-instituted rounding up people and putting them in camps when World War II started. Once again, the people rounded up weren’t Europeans. This time, they were Japanese. To be clear, these were American citizens , most of their families having come to California before the Immigration Act of 1924 banned the immigration of almost all people from Asia, so they were second or third generation Californians (I am sure that alot of their families had been Americans and Californians longer than my family which only came here in the 1890’s).
Everything I read tells me that racism in California was and still is milder than most of the country, but we still redlined housing for all people of color until integration was shoved down our throats when the Feds started enforcing the The Fair Housing Act of 1968. All in all, much of my heritage, as a Californian and an American, is pretty shameful.That collective heritage is not something for which I am proud and I wonder why anybody would be.
I want to think that all the people who fly, wear, decorate their car or jet ski, or otherwise let us know their Mission Statement with a Confederate Flag, aren’t racists, but they make it hard. They keep talking about heritage, but that heritage is nasty, misogynistic, homophobic, and racist, pretending that it isn’t doesn’t change it. Still, as bad as I think our California heritage is, I am still very proud of being a Californian and I suspect that is the same for many Southerners.