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Mexican-style rodeos can move forward in Boone County, but challenges lie ahead

Maria Gardner Lara

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Rodeo owners were able to give a sigh of relief earlier this month when the Boone County Board failed to pass a measure eliminating the cultural and sporting events from the county. Discussion around the measure took over an hour as amendments to the measure were introduced and voted on individually.

The hours-long meeting drew rodeo fans and foes alike who packed the meeting.

In the back of the room was Terry Rossi who was handing out purple ribbons she made herself that stood for animal cruelty awareness.

“We've been coming here for about a year,” Rossi said. “It all started with a noise issue with some residential rodeos. But then we found out that there were animals that were having broken bones.”

Rossi says the person involved in the alleged mistreatment of the steer was charged.

The alleged incident was referenced by board members as an example of animal cruelty, while rodeo supporters argued it’s a matter of one alleged incident and it was unfair to draw a broad stroke against the whole sport.

Standing among a group of rodeo supporters was Juan Rodriguez Enriquez. He’s a charro, a sportsman in charreadas -- the Mexican-style rodeo. He said he’s been involved in the sport since he was a little kid.

“As an athlete, you don’t want to get hurt and you don’t want to hurt the bull,” Rodriguez Enriquez said. “The same goes for American cowboys, you don’t want that. If one in a thousand times an injury occurs, you know that it’s an accident.”

He said the legislation at hand is an example of discrimination against Latinos.

“I believe they’re misinterpreting our sport,” he said, “and that’s why we’re here, to see if it will make them value our presence in this country.”

He said he understands the need for regulations, but believes the measure goes too far by eliminating the rodeos.

Charreadas have been hosted in Boone County for at least 25 years, according to several rodeo operators.

If the measure had passed it would have reduced the number of permits from four to two and would have eliminated all competitions involving animals -- basically eliminating the rodeos. Last year the board reduced the number of rodeos from six to four.

The legislation failed to garner majority support with a five to six vote and one member abstaining. Chairman, Rodney Riley supported the legislation to reduce the rodeos, while the former chairman Karl Johnson led the opposition to the measure.

The measure would not have applied to any style of rodeo held on Boone County Fair Grounds. Thus, bull riding events hosted during the Boone County Fair would not have been affected by the legislation.

Ed Randall, a Boone County resident, addressed the curious way the measure would have applied in his remarks during the public comment period.

“I think it's very strange that we can have a county rodeo in our county every year,” Randall said. “But yet, when you look at the heritage of a Mexican rodeo, that is a problem.”

County Board member Marion Thornberry was the loudest supporter of the measure and rebuked that argument.

“Whether it's 1,2,3 or six, aren't following any human humanitarian principles,” Thornberry said. “So, it's up to us to establish those commonsense principles.”

Charros told WNIJ the local rodeos follow the rules and regulations of the Mexican Federation of Charreria. These local events serve as training grounds for the charros preparing for regional and national competitions held in the U.S. and Mexico.

County Board member Alisa Patterson questioned the board’s approach to the rodeos I.e., small business owners, at a time of economic uncertainty in the county. In February over a thousand employees were laid off when the Stellantis auto plant went idle.

“There are rodeo events that are being done right and are willing to work to make their events better and more suitable for all,” Patterson said. “Is there not a solution that better fits the situation and all of those involved including their neighbors?”

Gracie Robles, a rodeo owner for the last 12 years, said during the public comment period that the shows positively contribute to the county’s economy. She pointed to the business the rodeos bring to the area as spectators stop by gas stations and local shops. She said rodeo costs to cover security, permits and waste management generate more than $100,000 in revenue to the region.

She told WNIJ that neither the board nor staff invited her or other rodeo owners to discuss issues and negotiate changes to rodeo. The Boone County Board has no Latino representation after Freddy De La Trinidad, who was viewed as a champion for the community lost his election bid in November. She called on the board to remember their role as board members.

“You are on this floor to make decisions for the entire Boone County community,” Robles said.

“And as much as people don't like it, we are part of this community too -- all 10,000 plus of us. Please think about that when you're voting tonight.”

Rodeo owners will soon put in their applications to hold their first rodeo of the season. But Robles sees more challenges ahead as the county wrestles with the widely differing views about them in the community.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.
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