A pair of Sundays ago, Plaza El Toreo de Tijuana presented an “afternoon of youth”. While the empresa is to be applauded for giving opportunities to young, unknown toreros, the afternoon opened a can of worms that summarizes one of the biggest problems in Mexican bullfighting, today.
When a young torero begins, he tries to be invited to every tienta that he can find. For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, understand up front that Toro Bravo receives its strength and size from its father, but its killer instinct from its mother, the vaca. There’s nothing unusual about that in the animal kingdom. In most cases, the female of the species does all the hunting and gathering, while the male lies around, relaxing until its next breeding instinct puts it on the prowl. He may even drink a beer, while watching sports on television.
In the case of bull breeding, every ranch of brave bulls holds annual tientas, or tests of bravery of its young cows. The tientas are usually festive events, with plenty of beer and food. Those who attend them include young wannabes, active matadors getting some extra training, and retired matadors who participate, just for the fun of it.
Anybody who has ever participated in a tienta knows that the vaca can be a treacherous beast. Many very experienced toreros frequently find themselves on the ground, while the vaca does a flamenco dance on his body. Cows can be very nasty critters.
In any case, after the young wannabe has fought in a number of tientas, and gained a certain amount of experience, he graduates to the role of “maletilla”, an aspiring matador. In Spain, he begins by performing in novilladas sin picadores, facing two-year-old bullitos, without the benefit of the horseback picadors.
Eventually, he hopes to graduate to the status of full novillero, or Matador de Novillos. He joins the union. And, he campaigns, sometimes as long as two or three years, in the non-picador events. He usually earns very little money, sometimes only his actual expenses. He then graduates to novil-ladas picadas, facing larger animals, presented with picadors and more demanding crowds. He may even have his expenses paid by the empresa.
Given success, he may work several years as a novillero, gaining experience and celebrity. Eventually, if he has the right stuffthat is if he attracts enough ticket buyers he seeks his alternativa, in which the Doctorate of Matadorship is bestowed upon him. He must then compete with matadors of much greater experience. The fans, who pay the extra costs of watching full corridas de toros justifiably anticipate that the matadors are professionals. They are no longer afforded the benefit of the doubt that allows greenhorns to coast.
But, in Mexico, aspirants are not afforded opportunities to learn and practice their trade in novilladas without picadors. The novilleros are cast into the fray, to sink or swim. If they are the sons of wealthy matadors or bull breeders, many doors are automatically opened to them. But, if they are poor, their chances of success are slim, indeed.
In most cases, not only are they not paid even expenses, they frequently must buy their own bulls. It’s expensive to be a novillero. The dime store novel of “poor boy
becomes wealthy matador and rescues sister from whoredom” is no longer valid. It’s doubtful that there will ever be another “El Cordobes” saga.
If the novillero shows any talent, whatsoever, he receives many “opportunities”. If succeeds, he receives financial and political backing. He may be contracted for life, by a profit-minded “benefactor”. But, with the exception of unusual cases, novilleros earn very little money, so their benefactors push them into taking their alternativas, long before they are qualified to receive them.
Thus, corridas de toros, such as that of two weeks ago in Tijuana, present chances for young matadors to receive attention, to be recognized as professionals, to obtain more contracts, even though their talents and experience are more akin to those of novilleros. They reflect the U.S. Marines’ motto of “many are called, but few are chosen”.
What can be done to resolve this mess? Well, for one thing, the taurine powers that be in Mexico could initiate their own series of novilladas without picadors. They could be more patient, allowing the aspiring toreros to develop their talents and become truly qualified to receive the professional Doctorate of Matadorship.
Will such ever come to pass? It’s very doubtful. For that reason, generally speaking, Spanish matadors will always be superior to Mexican matadors. The only thing that can change it is a re-examination of priorities and investment in the futures of the talented toreros of tomorrow. Such is the obligation of the powers that be, but also that of the ticket buyers who must be willing to turn out to support the kids.
Will it work? Ask the NFL how well the European Football League has evolved. It has been an unqualified success.
Next Tijuana Corridas
Plaza El Toreo de Tijuana closes its share of the summer season, Aug. 28, with an afternoon that will feature Rafael Ortega, Omar Villaseñor, and Ismael Rodriguez. The season will then resume, Sept. 4, at the “Beautiful Bullring by The Sea”, in Playas de Tijuana. The card will feature Eloy Cavazos, Jorge Gutierrez, and Alejandro Amaya. The bull ranches for both afternoons were not announced.