by Rob English
One summer afternoon in Syracuse I was fixing my old car with a good friend when he said, “My man, soon this car will be so far gone that we won’t be able to fix it, so let’s see how far we can drive it before it dies!” Two weeks later we rolled into Mexico City. In that car. We were twenty-two years old.
On our first afternoon in the city we went looking for two things: hamburgers, which we found to be spicy; and friendly girls, who we found to have boyfriends. We played football in Chapultepec park with the boyfriends while the girls cheered us on.
We bought things in the Gran Mercado, drove my old car in the crazy city traffic, and, oh yeah, we went to a bullfight.
We had been advised to buy tickets for the shady side of the arena where the people are sober and well behaved. Instead, we bought tickets for the sunny side. Besides watching the matadors kill six bulls that afternoon, we joined our sunny-side friends in shouting Ohhh-lay, saw our neighbors throw fistsfulls of pistachios at the security guards, and later, outside the arena, we ate picadillo sandwiches made from the meat of the bulls we had just seen killed.
And then my life changed.
Returning to the hotel we discovered that animal rights activists had slipped colorful brochures under all of the hotel room doors. The pamphlets were entitled, “What You Just Saw.” In brief, here is what I learned, and here is what knowledge changed my life and started me caring about what we do to animals:
Each bull is proud and fierce as he charges into the arena. He is bred and raised to be large and in charge. He doesn’t know why he has been transported to a sand pit, or why his handlers smeared petroleum jelly in his eyes, but his instinct is to ignore his partial blindness and charge around to establish dominance.
And look! Through the thick jelly haze, he makes out the shape of a horse and rider enter his space! He charges the horse broadside, slamming his head and horns against the thick mattress that protects the equine, maybe lifting horse and rider in the air and throwing them several feet. The crowd cheers. The rider reigns his terrified horse to again present the target, but this time the rider places the blade of his long lance directly into the neck muscles of the charging bull, severing many of them.
This makes it difficult and painful for the bull to lift his head. Empresarios say that this is done to make the bull more dangerous since the victim’s horns are now pointing straight out. In fact, because of the severed muscles the bull is now reduced to seeing nothing but the ground much of the time, and that through a haze of jelly-smeared eyes.
The horse and rider leave the arena, and a series of three banderilleros come out to taunt the bull. Each of them carries two arrow-like spears which they place in the charging bull’s damaged neck, supposedly so that the six arrows create a circular target for the matador’s sword. In fact, the arrows are placed deep to sever blood vessels, and the antics of the banderilleros cause the bull to charge around losing gallons of blood.
Soon the bull is struggling with exhaustion, near total blindness, and feeling severely faint from loss of blood. Only then does the “brave” and colorful matador step into the arena to taunt the victim and stab it to death. The crowd cheers as he works his fraudulent act.
But why is the crowd really cheering? That a team of people with big human brains can be pitted successfully against a victim with a dull, bovine brain? Instead, why not just cheer the taking of candy from a baby? Is the bullfight dangerous for the torturers? Yes, even a blind and exhausted, stupid bull has weight and horns. Is it tradition? Yes, but so was placing Christians in lions’ dens at one time. Is it a con-job? Yes, the empresarios make millions from selling the fantasy of “La Corrida.”
I had paid my money and after the show I ate the picadillo of muscle cells that barely knew they were dead, cells bathed in the toxic stress hormones of a confused and frightened creature of God that was mocked and tortured to death for the amusement of unenlightened souls such as I was at twenty-two year old.
Today the anti-bullfighting movement is growing and succeeding in prohibiting such spectacles, thanks to dedicated activists placing their brochures, their votes, and their bodies against the cruel “tradition.” Now, when people ask me as a vegan where I get my protein, I remember those poor bulls and that corrida picadillo and I want to turn the question around and ask, “Where do YOU get YOUR protein from?” Because meat not only makes people old and sick before their time but also its production is incredibly torturous to billions of confused and terrified animals.
My pal and I went back to Chapultepec park with our football as changed men.
And the car? We had to fix it a few more times on the trip, and it died when we drove it down the highway ramp as we arrived back in Syracuse and its radiator fell out at the stop sign. It was a great old car.
Rob English is a member of People for Animal Rights, a grassroots organization comprised entirely of volunteers.
Contact People for Animal Rights
P.O. Box 3333
Syracuse, NY 13220