There are dozens of performers in this year’s San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo lineup, but no one is more devoted to the longevity of their craft as Tomás Garcilazo. For him, the charreada is a cultural expression of the vaquero, or cowboy, a heritage that is deeply rooted in the United States and Mexico, his native land.
Charreada, the national sport of Mexico, dates all the way back to the Spanish colonization of Mexico, and involves horsemen, or charros, performing rope tricks with the animals for entertainment or competition.
The charreada is Garcilazo’s passion and his livelihood, but it also led him to become a world-renown performer and, more recently, a naturalized U.S. citizen. Performances aren’t just about perfection, Garcilazo said, they should bring a little piece of the Mexican tradition to every person in the crowd.
After living and working in the U.S. for more than 25 years, Garcilazo received U.S. citizenship in 2013, a process that he said would not have been possible without his career as a charro. He’s proud to be a dual U.S.-Mexico citizen, he said, since it gives him an ongoing opportunity to represent a collision of culture, language and customs. The charreada continuously reminds him of who he is.
“You really see the value (of charreada tradition) when you travel all over the world, even in the states,” Garcilazo said. “People have nostalgia, a homesickness, because they think ‘someone is representing us.'”
This marks Garcilazo’s first year at the San Antonio Rodeo, but he has already performed to large audiences during the evening rodeo competitions over the past week. His brother Jesús, a fellow charro, occasionally joins him in the dirt arena.
“Charreada and rodeo pretty much go side-by-side,” Garcilazo said. One doesn’t exist without the other.
As a third generation charro, the Mexico City native grew up watching his uncles and older cousins compete in the sport. He and his five siblings were raised with knowledge of proper horse maintenance, a rite of passage for the young charros-in-training.
“That was the base of growing up for us,” said Garcilazo, as he cleaned his horse’s stalling area on Tuesday. “This is where we start — grooming, cleaning, taking care of them — and then maybe you get to ride them, maybe not. It was pretty strict, but it was a really good foundation.”
Now, he has it all down to a science, saddling his horses, polishing their hooves, and even shoveling out their stalls with finesse.
“See? I’m a real charro,” he said, laughing.
Garcilazo’s countless hours of training have allowed him to share his horsemanship and roping skills with audiences all over the world. As a 21-year old, he came to the U.S. to compete in charreada events and learn English. After a year of rigorous competition there, he still felt he needed more time.
“I didn’t gain anything… so I said ‘I’m not going to go back (to Mexico) with empty hands,'” he said. “I wanted to challenge myself.”
Eventually, his hard work paid off. Garcilazo has performed in everything from award-winning Broadway shows and Disneyland Paris, to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, and a special White House house event where he performed for President Bill Clinton.
He has grown accustomed to a life on the road, often traveling with his wife Justine, who he met while traveling in France, and their son Louis. The family always keeps his four horses — Hollywood, Cholo, Bolero, and Bonito — in tow.
Traveling has opened his mind, he said, and has also given him a special appreciation for his own customs that he feels are slowly being diminished. That’s why he sees performing the charreada as much more than entertainment; it’s a way for him to preserve his Mexican culture.
“It’s a big commitment for me as an ambassador for the charros all over the world to display and to cultivate this tradition,” he said. “It’s my mission to keep up with those roots.”
Before his rodeo performance on Tuesday, Garcilazo donned his fitted outfit and wide-brimmed sombrero and mounted his horse with a sense of calm and control. Unlike those around him dressed in Wranglers and button-down shirts, the charro looked regal as he rode through the rodeo grounds with his wife at his side and his child sitting in front of him.
He waved goodbye, stroked his horse’s mane, and rode through the dirt tunnel to the performance arena.
Soon, it would be showtime.